By Cori Schumacher
Watching the deciding event of the Women’s World Longboard Championships unfold in China from a distance was difficult. Truth be told, it was impossible. There were no live webcasts, no live interviews and very limited photographs of the event itself as it unfolded. Though live scoring was available, bans by the Chinese government on social networking sites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) made any unofficial updates nearly impossible. Additionally, it was strange to view the photos of the opening ceremony where uniformed, color coordinated crews occupied the majority of the seats in the audience. Contests are usually huge promotions for the companies that fund them. This did not seem to be the case in this situation… at least in the traditional sense. Indeed, I would argue that this may have been the least spectated event of this size in the history of the ASP and not simply from a lack of interest in women’s longboarding, although this may have been a point taken into consideration…. Can you imagine the uproar from folks who could not watch Kelly Slater live from China?!
The point here is to highlight the censorship and propaganda that were at play throughout the event. What was being sold, supported, commodified was surf-fashion/lifestyle-in-China and Hainan-as-Hawaii as defined by the ASP and SIMA and the government of Wanning.
What is not known are the details of the deal that was struck between Chinese officials and the ASP/SIMA other than that this event will be held, at least for the next two years, at this same venue. I am curious to see if the Chinese government will be footing the bill for the 32 competitors each year.
A few key points I’d like to highlight:
1) In response to those who thought I did not want surfing brought to China- It doesn’t take a contest to introduce surfing to China.
2) Those Chinese who were present at the contest (and not involved with it somehow) were not those who are most oppressed by the government. Hainan is being tailored for the luxury class, the upper class, the growing class of Chinese with a disposable income. A class being magnetized to the surf industry, not by a desire to surf, but through clothing that is marketed as Western and modern; as evinced by the choice to hold the bikini show rather than holding a surf clinic.
3) What of those who were pushed out of their homes in order to make room for the hotels on Hainan? This is happening in many places in China, people’s land being taken from them through a Chinese version of eminent domain.
Simply leaving the hotel and wandering around the local area isn’t going to expose the underbelly of Chinese society. Suppose I were to have a contest at Queens, in Waikiki and decided to take a walk around because I had heard stories about the rampant poverty in America and I wanted to “see for myself” if this was true. Would I find it? I would either have to fly over to the mainland and do some traveling or I would need a Hawaiian local who was unafraid to tell me where I could find these pockets of poverty in paradise, then take me, for example, to the tent cities on the West side of Oahu.
We see this class distinction in surfing even here. While many tout the low cost of surfing as compared with other sports (the “all you really need is a plank and you are able to ride waves” mentality) the larger context of what is needed is lots of leisure time and proximity to the ocean. Many of those who might enjoy surfing don’t have this leisure time because they are working. This isn’t a choice, nor is it a cultural difference. They are barely scraping by, working long hours at extremely low wages to sustain even the most meager of existences in order to simply survive.
I do not see China as some homogenous amalgam or judge it through the lens of the western media. Chinese Human Rights Defenders is one example of a great direct resource for human rights defense from within China. I make a distinction between the Chinese people and the Chinese government, between the central government and local governments… and always keep in mind cultural relativity. But there are some things that are universal, such as how to treat human beings and I try to make my choices based on my best knowledge of a situation. Not everyone will agree with how I made these decisions but ultimately, they are my decisions to make. In no way do I think surfing should be kept from China, but do I think that the ASP, SIMA, clothing manufacturers/corporations, etc. ought to be the ones introducing it? No way.
Photo Credits: Chris Grant / Jettygirl.com
Backbone in a Tilted World. The Cori Schumacher Interview.
Cori Schumacher’s Blog
Cori Schumacher on TheInertia.com – Champions in China and Meaning-Making
Cori Schumacher on TheInertia.com – Why I’m Boycotting
Special Thanks: to Girls4Sport for their support of the original Backbone in a Tilted World feature!