As was alluded to in our piece on ‘The Ultimate Surf Culture Gathering’ a few years ago, surfing is as much about culture and lifestyle as the actual action on the board. Avid surfers know that it’s more of a way of life than a sport. And yet surf culture is a hard thing to define, beyond vague acknowledgements of laid-back attitudes or environmental consciousness. It’s the sort of thing you can’t quite put your finger on despite being intimately familiar with. For that matter, even people who don’t surf tend to be able to recognize the lifestyle.
What surprises me whenever I actually think about what comprises this lifestyle and what surf culture means is how few specific activities or tendencies are involved. Part of me grasps that this is, in a sense, the point; we simply don’t busy ourselves with too many specific obligations or defined shared activities beyond surfing. Even as much as I understand this though, it still surprises me. And as what appears to be a rare hybrid — part surfer and part amateur poker player — I wonder sometimes as to why my own second-favourite hobby hasn’t seeped into surf culture a little bit more.
From my perspective, it’s an oddly perfect fit for a few reasons….
First, and most importantly, poker doesn’t have to be a commercial exercise. We’re somewhat conditioned to think of it as a gambling exercise, with that impression helped along by decades of televised pro tournaments and constant advertisements for high-stakes websites. But it’s important to remember that many if not most poker players still play just for fun, or at least for low stakes. In this regard I’d suggest looking to the United States as an example. The entire country banned real-money poker some 10 years ago, and according to Poker.org there are still only a few areas in the country that allow it. And yet we know that huge numbers of Americans still play the game in other ways. It just doesn’t have to revolve around money, and it’s a lot easier to buy as a surfer’s side hobby without the commercial aspect.
Taking the game more casually, I also like that it’s incredibly minimalistic. That is to say, all you really need to get a game going is a deck of cards, and a case of chips (they make them pretty compact) if you like. This gives me a sort of ideal vision: coming in off the water with a group of friends, gathering on the beach, having drinks and setting up a game. Basically, those end-of-day scenes from Point Break infused with poker. Granted, things aren’t always as easygoing and cozy as they’re portrayed in parts of that movie, and a lot of us aim for early morning hours rather than riding into the evening. But the pure portability of poker makes it a pretty good fit for surf culture in my book as well. Evening games on the beach aside, it’s even easier to pack along for a full surf trip than virtually any other game.
It’s not a particularly big deal, but on the subject of only needing a deck of cards on hand, it’s also worth mentioning that those cards can still be interesting enough to provide a sense that the game is unique. What I mean is that there’s sort of an artisan playing card industry that’s sprung up over the years, and a lot of people who play poker wind up having a few favourite packs with specific themes or designs. ReviewGeek.com has a bit of a sampling if you’re curious what these decks look like, featuring mountain, animal kingdom, and space travel themes. As for matching surf culture, I personally gravitate toward the “Navigator” pack from a company called Theory 11, as well as the Seafarers pack from Joker And The Thief. Again, not a huge deal, but there is something pleasant about playing with marine-themed cards near the ocean or on the beach.
If you’re still not convinced that poker should be incorporated into surf culture, I’ll play my final card, so to speak: Kelly Slater himself is a player! Just last year, The Intertia ran a story on Slater sitting down to a celebrity charity game alongside the likes of ex-NBA great Pau Gasol and chef-turned-humanitarian José Andrés. Granted, Slater didn’t play his best, but you don’t wind up in a $125,000 (about £91,000) charity game with major celebrities without a real interest in the game.
In the end, surf culture doesn’t need any help, and surfers aren’t starved for activity. But for the reasons here, I’ve found card games and poker in particular to be nice accompaniments to surf trips and the lifestyle in general. So why not consider a bit more poker in surf circles - just a thought!