Mickey Mu�oz, another big-wave rider, was drinking white wine out of a bottle wrapped in newspaper. "I got to be drunk to watch this," he said. "I'd get a heart attack otherwise."
"These guys are doing something!" said Phil Stubbs, a surfer and lieutenant of lifeguards at San Clemente.
"It's so unbelievable," said Walter Hoffman, "you can't believe it."
According to Dr. Harvey Powelson, the chief psychiatrist at the University of California at Berkeley, members of the middle class have taken over surfing in the last five years because they saw in it an expression of a freedom that they felt they had been deprived of—it seemed to them to be one version of the Great American Dream. Last year Powelson and Erving Goffman, a sociology professor at Berkeley, proposed a surfing study, but it was not approved by the university administration. (Apparently the only scholarly works on the subject are an M.A. thesis in sociology by an ex-safecracker and a dissertation by a Ph. D. candidate in anthropology at Harvard.) Powelson, who wears a beard and a crew cut, was to have been the participant observer, a role for which he is well qualified. He was an occasional surfer until his board was stolen—or, as he admits, until he permitted a situation to exist which made it probable that his board would be stolen. Goffman is renowned for his work as a participant observer. He spent a year incognito as a patient in a mental hospital, and another year as a dealer in a Reno casino.
Powelson and Goffman wanted to study the three distinct surfing subcultures that existed in southern California before the last of them was obliterated by the middle class. Powelson says that the first, which obscurely flowered prior to World War II, was an almost invisible fraternity composed mostly of fairly intellectual young men from the upper middle class. The second Sub culture arose after the war and consisted of discontented ex-athletes ostensibly going to school on the GI Bill. They became a kind of monastic order of beach bums, practically taking vows of poverty and chastity. "They were parallel-play-type guys who shied away from intimacy," Powelson says. "They were inarticulate until they got on their boards. Then they became almost eloquent. They developed a nomadic society based on skill as a surfer, one which had its own myths, mores and folk heroes. They said the hell with the ordinary ways of making it, but they were left with nothing. Surfing seemed to them a bodily statement of what they felt. They were looking for the limits of control—the edge where you feel out of control but are really in control. Surfing put them in this position, but ultimately it didn't involve them in any statement about themselves. For an older guy, this kind of life is no longer meaningful—he has to be committed to something. Nothing's sadder than a 50-year-old surfer."
In the '50s the surfers' way of life became irresistible to the semidelinquent lower-class kids from the beach towns—known as hards—who infiltrated the sport and comprised the third subculture. In turn it was overwhelmed by the middle class. What had once been a means of rebelling against the pressures of society had become a form of social acceptance. "Now it's a way of being with it," says Powelson. "It's the In thing to do and know, like the frug."
"We've been having to rescue surfers the last two or three years," says Lifeguard Stubbs. "They've bought the boards, but they can't swim. They're being pushed socially. You can tell by the faces they make when they're paddling out through the soup [the white water of a broken wave] that they don't enjoy water."
"To surf you just have to swim well enough to get into the beach if you fall off your board," says Joyce Hoffman. "It's not very ladylike to fall, but if you're not falling you're not learning how to surf. Surfing's kind of an art form. It takes more judgment than brute muscle. You can't be a complete spas', though.
"I can't imagine what I'd do if I didn't surf. There's nothing else to do here. It's really a bore. I sure wouldn't work. I have a phobia against work. Get married, that's what I want to do. It sounds so much easier.
"Surfing's convenient, but if it wasn't surfing it would have been something else—I need an outlet for competition." When Joyce was 10 and 11 and living in Newport Beach, Calif., she used to work out with the Orange Coast College track team. In her scrapbook are ribbons for winning the baseball throw and the broad jump; she even owned a shot. "Surfing is more interesting than running around a track," she says.