The Pairing of surf and high fashion is unexpected, but is it a trend we'll see gain momentum?
With the Covid-delayed Olympics looming, October 16 saw Kanoa Igarashi post a photo captioned: “Start of an era. @dior fam,” announcing a partnership with Dior. Hurley’s recent abandonment of team riders makes the pairing of high fashion and surfing feel unexpected, but tweak the optics with a pair of Gucci sunnies and the move could represent a fitting trend.
Surfing is aesthetic. Appearances are everything. Intention is written into the scoring system of professional surfing because catching the intended wave and completing the intended manoeuvres represent the highest achievable goal. Without the appearance of intention, the thin membrane separating sport from hobby would become too aerated and the sport would crumble.
The appearance of intention in surfing equates to scoring a goal or making a basket. Intention is prized in surfing because, unlike soccer or basketball, the pitch in surfing constantly changes, and thus it seems intuitive that the object should also change. If the object constantly changes, then there is no sport, only pastime. Competitive surfing avoids that pitfall by dictating that the actual object is to accomplish the goal one set out to do. As judges do not read minds, the surfer sets expectations for the judges by appearing unsurprised. Surfers, above all, must look cool. John John Florence epitomizes this objective.
John John Florence’s surfing hinges on effortlessness. Effortlessness implies intention, so when Florence carries his signature blend of poise and ease through a contest, he wins the contest. Picture a gorilla, with arms planted on the earth in fists. The gorilla is rooted in the jungle while lording over the domain. Up and riding, Florence’s arms seem heavy with burden and the strength to protect that burden. In a black rash-guard, he could be a gorilla. Knees bent, leaning slightly forward, his long arms reach as though they wish to root him to the wave that he lords over. Florence surfs with a conviction that scores well because his heavy arms never convey surprise. Florence never experiences the unexpected on a wave and judges reward the coolness of his style. He drips sauce.
Considered from the perspective that success and appearance correlate in surfing, it is shocking that surfing and fashion took so long to become bedfellows. One thing impeding that relationship impedes all sports: sporting success requires training, fitness programs, supplements, and a good deal of sweat. Sweat, aesthetically, is not fashionable. Effort, in fashion and in sport, is not sexy. Though fashion has attempted to make the bizarre fetch, armpit stains and body odour are not highlighted in runway shows. So, it is the aesthetics of the results that matter to sponsors.
Many modern athletes meld fashion and sport by concealing the worked involved in achievement. Few seem to live that marriage as coolly as Roger Federer. Federer’s beautiful game is suited to the wardrobe accompanying it before and after matches. At Wimbledon, he is known to wear a sport jacket and a Rolex onto the lawns. Federer represents the pinnacle of tennis cool for achieving success while scarcely perspiring as, across the net, Nadal sweats through shirts, socks, towels, and shorts. As mainstream sports have seen upticks of high-fashion partnerships, surfing hasn’t carried enough water to garner such endorsements, perhaps because wearing a sport coat and Rolex to a contest would appear gauche. That may be, but there are surfing awards shows to attend in tuxedos, so there must have been a second impediment.
Lack of legitimacy seems to have been the second thing impeding surfers from landing chic, glamorous sponsors. Olympic inclusion represents a global validation, one that the sport yearned for. Those within surfing do not fret over whether it is considered a sport, but capital-minded folks wishing the sport to remain a viable occupational pursuit yearned for Olympic opportunity. Immense advertising dollars are spent on The Games. Inclusion rearranges the optics; Olympic surfing represents a budding market suited for low-cost, high exposure investment.
Effortless, sun-kissed, Olympic surf bodies are quintessential runway fodder. Japan will host the games and is an affluent, fashionable country with a growing surf population. Kanoa Igarashi, now representing Japan, is tall and handsome. Igarashi and Dior recognized an opportunity to capitalize on the appreciation of beauty. As the Olympics approach, expect more companies to pay for alignment with surf aesthetics.