As a legendary rock band from Hawthorne, the Beach Boys likely picked up some good vibrations when District 66 Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi introduced a bill in January that would make surfing the official sport of California.
Surfing is inexorably linked with the state’s DNA through artists like the Beach Boys, movies like the 1991 Kathryn Bigelow classic “Point Break” and tourism ads suggesting people live out the California dream in places like Malibu Beach.
However, the idea of making surfing the one and only representative activity of the Golden State at a constitutional level discounts the richly diverse tapestry of Californians and the sports they enjoy.
Certain aspects of surfing’s prevalence in popular culture can be considered problematic, said adjunct American studies professor and Studio for Southern California History director Sharon Sekhon.
Tourism focuses primarily on the narrative of the “great white man,” Sekhon said, which leaves out the stories of women and Asian surfers especially. It is also an expensive hobby for people who don’t live next to the beach or own a surfboard.
“Surfing does seem to be the (sport) you would immediately go to when you think of California,” Sekhon said. “But I grew up in Orange County and Fullerton, and getting access to the beach was very difficult.”
It also isn’t the only sport that can be regarded as something intrinsically connected to the beaches of California.
Olympians Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor, who both come from California, have been designated the “greatest beach volleyball team of all time” by the United States Olympic Committee after they won three consecutive gold medals in 2004, 2008 and 2012.
However, the beach is only one facet of California’s landscape and identity.
California is the only state where people can snowboard at Big Bear in the morning and surf in Hermosa that same afternoon. It only takes about three or four hours to go between the mountain resort community and the beachside city.
Those who decide to brave the shifting snowpack over the shifting sand dunes have brought California into the limelight as well. Look no further than Chloe Kim, the 17-year-old Torrance resident who won a gold medal in the Ladies’ Halfpipe at this year’s Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.
The acclaim brought back to California by snowboarders is just one example of how the sport deeply pervades the culture of one sect of the state just as much as surfing defines another.
But there is something missing from solo sports like surfing and snowboarding that also characterizes the ideologies of the Golden State: a push for collectivist diversity. For Sekhon, that hitch makes the answer to what would be an ideal California state sport simple.
“It would have to be something that was a team sport,” Sekhon said. “I think about who has access to it and who do we see representation from every sphere of our population: basketball.”
Basketball, while in part promoting the power of teamwork, is another sport that represents California’s consciousness. For many, the Los Angeles Lakers are a household name thanks to the players they made famous: Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant and so on.
Team sports like basketball might be more apt choices for a state sport in terms of representing the state’s diversity, but they doesn’t quite scream “California” as much as surfing. Plus, the same problem of only showcasing one facet of the myriad of interests across the state remains.
Perhaps it would be best to borrow from Occam’s razor: The simplest solution is often the preferred one. If no sport represents the entire diverse tapestry of California culture, maybe no single sport should be chosen through legislation.
Besides, Hawaii has already claimed surfing to be its official individual sport.