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The Death of Indie

Sterling Spencer's Avatar

by on Wednesday 21st August, 2013   12796 Visits   Comments

It’s hard to put a finger on an exact date or time when it happened, but it sure felt like it sprung up overnight. We offloaded our cargo pants, basketball jerseys and Flex-Fit hats at Goodwill, replacing the whole lot with pre-worn cardigans and women’s jeans from the nearest thrift store. 

The “Indie” Movement, as it’s come to be known, references surfing’s cultural shift to the polar opposite of the days of wearing loud logos and representing the brand you like, strictly because the World Champ was on the team. So much more than just a sport, surfing represents a lifestyle envied by the world over. What we do, how we act and what we wear slowly oozes across the globe like a spilt can of PBR seeping through the carpet. I sit down one evening in my crow’s nest of a studio with one of the finer analysts of our sport, surfer/blogger/internet personality Sterling Spencer. Our ice cold cans crack in unison, and we try to figure out how it all started. Who, what, when, where, how and why, and then the bigger question, will it end?

The “Indie” Movement, as it’s come to be known, references surfing’s cultural shift to the polar opposite of the days of wearing loud logos and representing the brand you like, strictly because the World Champ was on the team.

We’re both well aware how guilty we are of watching every movement in the surfing world like a hawk on Adderall. We examine, we judge, we criticise and we blog about it. Pretty pathetic really, like watching reruns of Storage Wars, but there’s still this level of entertainment value that tickles us in just the right way.  Especially lately, everyone’s trying so dang hard to figure out how to stand out in a sea of drones whose surfing ability, style, even food preference have become indistinguishable. It’s only a compliment to the level that surfing has skyrocketed to over the past decade.  Everyone can do every trick in the book, and your career is now reliant on who you are, rather than how you surf. As the mountains on our beers lose their icy blue tint, we start to make some headway. 

“Dion.” Sterling hits the nail on the head. Surfing’s first official internet aficionado. Globe.tv/dion allowed the chic Aussie to show surf fans his talents in and out of the water. Abstract photos, lo-fi shredding and v-neck shirts that dared to go deeper than any surfer had gone before. What many people don’t know is six months prior to the newfound stardom, Dion was still sporting puffy skate shoes, track pants and gold chains.  Surfer/friend Paul Fisher reflects on Dion’s overnight transformation, “It was like he was wearing Hang Ten and Fubu, and then he did this flip in Bali, and he came out of it in a leather jacket, beanie, 10 chicks and contracts coming out his ass.” However he wanted to do it, Dion deserves the credit for igniting this new phase of self-promotion and marketing with his relatable DIY approach.  And we all watched, awe-struck by his indie ways.  Danereynolds.com (later marinelayerproductions.com), pinchmysalt.tv and hundreds of others followed his example. This little dude was out there doing what he wanted and giving the finger to all the critics.  It really was cool, and tangible, but most of us were still timid of the drastic transformation, because a giant still loomed out there.

Andy Irons didn’t give a shit.  He wore the logos. He did karate kicks at the photo shoots. “Just tell me what to do so I can get the fuck out of here.” He’d say.

Andy Irons didn’t give a shit. He wore the logos. He did karate kicks at the photo shoots. “Just tell me what to do so I can get the fuck out of here.” He’d say. In fact, if your level of indie was based on how little you cared, he was the most indie of all of them. At this point in time, A.I. was still at the top of the world’s list of favourite surfers.  And whether it was a conscious decision or not, the masses bought it. The clothes with the giant logos, shoulder hits, and the loud trunks that hung down past the knees.  Why?  Because Andy did.

The World Tour paddle-out in honour of Andy Irons at the Puerto Rico leg upon hearing of his passing. © 2014 ASP/Kirstin

Cracking into the third round of coldies, We set an unofficial date of the indie takeover to be on November 2nd, 2010, the day that Andy died. While all that controversial hoopla surrounding his death was going on, Dane’s pants slowly tightened, Craig’s hair grew and the holes in Warren Smith’s thin little t-shirts got a little bigger.  While Andy was still with us, we were privy to fire, drive and passion. The competitive spirit was alive and well, uppercutting his way through life like Liu Kang in the final stage of Mortal Kombat.  But bright fires burn fast. And now that Andy is gone, we do what Dane does. 

He dangled his hologram pendant on the horizon, and we all sat mesmerised by his calculated quirk. So we followed like sheep to the shearer, chopping off the decade of ‘Andy vs. Kelly,’ and embracing a new breath of fresh air that soon came to be coined as “Indie.” He was doing it all, independently. Art, photography, his own website, which housed his own movies. It even looked like Quiksilver gave up, and just let Dane market the entire company. We loved it. We bought it. Sterling and I reflect on a recent thrift store adventure where he’d pull shirts off the rack and ask “Is this indie?” I’d reply, “Nah, not indie enough.” Not even jokingly, we were serious. I was within earshot of some teenage girls, and overheard, “Oh my God, he’s soooo indie.” That is what defined their attraction to the opposite sex, indie. The look, the mindset all came so easily. “Cuff the legs of those skinny jeans, walk out into that field with your feet close together and stand there like an ambiguous nothing.” Became the call from the marketing directors everywhere. Who cares about our level of surfing… We don’t have to care anymore, remember? And this is where one massive sector of surfing was heavily affected.

It’s way too hot for stuffy button-ups and leather boots, but if you wear these types of clothes in Hawaii, you get the shit kicked out of you, daily.

First of all it’s way too hot for stuffy button-ups and leather boots, but if you wear these types of clothes in Hawaii, you get the shit kicked out of you, daily. So all of a sudden the Torrey Meisters, the Granger Larsens and a mass of other incredible talents from the islands lost their sponsors because they just aren’t marketable anymore. Amazing surfers lost their jobs while the fashion-forward flourished. If you don’t embrace the identity of “today’s professional freesurfer,” you basically have to invent a new trick every month just to get brands like Oxbow and Ergo to bat their eyes at you. Tough times indeed.

So this state of affairs continues for a number of years, which carries us right up to the bottom of our twelve pack. Sterling and I have put together a massive puzzle on the floor, probably fudging a few pieces into place that weren’t right, but they’re close.  One major concern still lingered – when huge culture shifts like this occur so rapidly, they’re bound to snap back just as quickly as they started. So when is it going to happen? Who will be the tip of the sword?  Just as on point as he was in the start of the discussion, Sterling calls it again, “John John.”

It feels right  Doesn’t it? John John. Happily plastering Hurley logos wherever they ask him to. Not even remotely concerned about creating a persona for his on land performance. Anyone who’s witnessed a post heat interview knows he only needs to let his surfing do the talking. But Sterling and I still can’t deny Dane. He owns our hearts, and a little bit of our soul. And most of the surfing world is right there with us. We still check his blog three times a day, just in case that new edit goes up. We still wait at the edge of our seats for our Indie god to inspire us with his unpredictability. So as I say goodbye to Sterling for the evening, we part with that last question unanswered – the final piece of our puzzle that seemed to have fallen in the cracks of my couch. When will it end?

Then came the day that I consider to be one of the more significant moments in surfing history, on the level of Bob McTavish hacking off the top third of his longboard, or Simon Anderson glassing that third fin on. It was July 31st, 2013. The day that Dane Reynolds beat Cam Richards to win Semifinal #1 of an online video contest. Sounds ridiculous right? Well it’s not the result I’m referring to, but the actions leading up to the win. Similar to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, eventually spawning World War I, it’s the little things.

The man with the Pied Piper popularity. Behind that bank of camera-toting fans sits Dane Reynolds (France, circa 2012). © 2014 Lucia Griggi

Dane rallied anyone and everyone to smash his teenage opponent. His friend Craig Anderson, the nicest guy I’ve ever met, never said a mean thing about anyone, ever, was recruited by Dane’s campaign, and a very unexpected post came from @beniceandsmile.  Six hours later it was deleted. Emotion, drama, frustration. Caring about shit. Our Indie God and his disciples were showing signs of mortality.

Walking away from the World Tour in 2011, Dane shocked us all. Some of us disappointed, some of us relieved. He didn’t need that crap, didn’t have to. But here he was two years later, entered in a video contest judged by the public to give the winner a wildcard into this year’s Hurley Lowers Pro. Sure we’ll watch Dane do another contest, make it to Round 3 and give up on himself with a few hail mary’s. Nothing new. But 17-year-old Cam Richards had the entire East Coast on his back, and the voting numbers showed Dane far behind. I expected silence, the usual Reynolds.  I didn’t care that he was going to lose, because HE wouldn’t care. Boy was I wrong. Dane rallied anyone and everyone to smash his teenage opponent. His friend Craig Anderson, the nicest guy I’ve ever met, never said a mean thing about anyone, ever, was recruited by Dane’s campaign, and a very unexpected post came from @beniceandsmile.  Six hours later it was deleted. Emotion, drama, frustration. Caring about shit. Our Indie God and his disciples were showing signs of mortality. His roller coaster of a campaign ended with Dane­­ on top. Success. A win. Biting, scratching and kicking to do something he expressed was not important to him. Has the wool been pulled over our eyes this entire time? Did he always care? On one side I felt had and lied to for years. But on the other I was excited. It was a new chapter, an unexpected twist in our monotonous, drab and careless Indie novel. A sign of Andy’s spark in the eye of the anti-competitor. The next day, I received a text from Sterling. “That’s it. Indie’s dead…”

Now that’s a bold claim, but not untrue. Of course now that the precedent has been set by Dion, Dane and others – that forging your own path in this world is acceptable and achievable, everyone out there will forever feel free to surf how they want to surf, dress how they want to dress and eat whatever the hell they want to eat. But I have a feeling deep down inside me that the minute John John Florence hoists his first World Title trophy, our heads will turn towards a new path. I don’t know what it’ll be. Maybe we’ll start sewing cargo pockets on these comfy little jeans. But for now, let’s at least unbutton that tippy-top button of our dress shirts. We’ve got a little room to breathe.

Words by David Malcolm

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