Campus: CSU Fullerton -- May 31, 2002
Cal State Fullerton Thesis on Surf Culture Rides a
Wave of Success
A cinematic morality tale called "Gidget," the music of the
Beach Boys and Dick Dale, and the rise of the surf-wear industry all
play prominent roles in a thesis that has earned author Leslie Boullon
a Giles T. Brown Outstanding Thesis Award from Cal State Fullerton.
Boullon, a Costa Mesa resident, who wrote "Surf Narratives: California
Dreamin' on a New Frontier" to earn a master's degree in American
studies in 2001, will be presented with the award at the university's
annual Honors Convocation Friday, May 31. She is one of two recipients
of the 2002 outstanding thesis award, which is named for the now-retired
founding dean of graduate studies. Also being honored is Davis resident
Stephen W. Larson, who earned his master's degree in biology after writing
on a subject quite different from surfing: "Identification of Heat
and Light Degradation Products of Aqueous L-Tryptophan by LC-PDA-ESI/APCI-MSN."
Now an English teacher at a La Palma junior high school, Boullon traces
her interest in "surfing narratives" to an ex-boyfriend who
was a surfer with a romantic sensibility, a love of nature that had
its genesis in the woods of her native Michigan, and the lure of breeze-swept
beaches in Hawaii, Greece, Portugal and California.
Her 149-page thesis grew out of assignments for oral history classes
taught by Art Hansen, professor of history. "I interviewed Doug
Craig, a founding father of the San Onofre Surf Club, and it seemed
to me that he lived the idyllic California dream," she says.
In her thesis, says Michael Steiner, professor of American studies,
"Ms. Boullon traces the myriad manifestations of surfing from the
1940s to the present - from film and music to literature and journalism
to architecture and fashion - and she brilliantly detects deeper cultural
meanings and imperatives within each of these forms."
Boullon says that she has "read just about everything ever written
about surfing," a list that ranges from Surfer and Surfing magazines
to Kem Nunn's "surf-noir novels," Tapping the Source and The
Dogs of Winter. She also sat through innumerable movies, such as "Gidget,"
"How to Stuff a Wild Bikini," "Beach Blanket Bingo"
and Bruce Brown's epic documentary, "The Endless Summer."
Released in 1962, "Gidget" tells the story of a teen-ager
who "is attracted to the freedom she
sees among the cool, rebel surfers at the beach" and "longs
for entry into their world and the world of experience." Boullon
says the movie never presents a surfing lifestyle as a "viable
alternative or valid choice, even though surfers, then as now, arranged
occupations, schedules and lives around surfing and still were contributing
members of society. Rather than the celebration of a healthy, authentic
interaction with a natural environment, surf ideology is trivialized
and reframed as superficial, negative and detrimental to the dominant
ideology of mainstream culture." In the end, adds Boullon, Gidget
"retreats to the sanctity and safety of home" and becomes
"the perfect image of '50s femininity."
Nonetheless, the movie's success led to a whole new genre, what Boullon
calls "surf-sploitation films."
In a chapter titled "From Surfboard to Boardrooms to Realms of
Myth," Boullon writes, "Surfers have come off their surfboards
and into the boardrooms of million-dollar corporations. The competitive
and lucrative surf-wear industry, mostly based in the Orange County
cities of Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa's 'Velcro Valley,' and San Clemente,
generated $1.7 billion in revenue in 1998."
Surf images crop up frequently in advertising for other products as
well. "The surfer has been seized upon by Madison Avenue as a new
icon of rebellious non-conformity," she writes. "The countercultural
outsider has long been a marketable commodity."
In her concluding paragraph, Boullon writes, "Out of the fragmented
and enigmatic ocean called the American Mind, the image of the surfer
seems to be emerging as something more than a man on a wave. On what
shores of the imagination he finds landfall remains to be seen. I submit
that in the image of the surfer, a cultural icon is rising from the
regenerative ashes of the Western hero."
Media Contact: Orman Day at (714) 278-3798 or email@example.com