The World in the Curl: An Unconventional History of Surfing Lecture
by Peter Westwick
Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, 113 Harbor Way, Santa Barbara, California
Lecture Series Sponsored by Santa Barbara County Arts Commission and Silvio Di Loreto
Surfing today is pursued by an estimated 20 million people worldwide and it supports a $10 billion global industry. The sport has acquired an inescapable cultural presence, and there are thriving surf communities from Iceland and Ireland to Israel and Indonesia—and, of course, Santa Barbara, which has been a surfing hotbed for over half a century. How did an ancient Polynesian pastime become a global commercial and cultural phenomenon?
Surfing is often portrayed as a refuge from modern society, but the sport’s expansion rode deep social currents: from colonialism, the military-industrial complex, and globalization to environmental engineering and race and gender roles. Surfing combines romantic counterculture ideals and middle-class values; it reconciles an individualistic communion with nature and a growing commitment to commerce and technology. This split personality, which pairs subversive social rebellion and the middle-class mainstream, dates to the earliest encounters between European explorers and Polynesian surfers and has characterized modern surfing for the last century. This talk will examine the history of surfing’s constant struggle to save its soul, with particular attention to Santa Barbara’s thriving surf community.
Peter Westwick was born and raised in Santa Barbara and has been an avid surfer for over thirty years. He received his BA in physics and PhD in history from Berkeley and is now on the history faculty at USC, where he directs the Aerospace History Project at the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West. He was previously the Eleanor Searle Visiting Professor in the History of Science at Caltech and an Olin Fellow in International Security Studies at Yale.
He is the author of Into the Black: JPL and the American Space Program, 1976-2004 (Yale, 2006), which won book prizes from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the American Astronautical Society; and The National Labs: Science in an American System, 1947-1974 (Harvard, 2003), which won the book prize of the Forum for the History of Science in America. He is also editor of Blue Sky Metropolis: The Aerospace Century in Southern California (UC Press, 2012), which was selected to the Best Non-Fiction of 2012 by the Los Angeles Public Library. Most recently he co-authored, with fellow Santa Barbaran Peter Neushul, The World in the Curl: An Unconventional History of Surfing (Random House, 2013), an LA Times bestseller and the subject of his talk at the SB Maritime Museum.