Colonial Surfer - STNC is a project about the contemporary globalized world and power structures within the surf industry and its realm. Surfing is not just a sport but also culture (producer and distributor). In current discussions you hear about the post-colonial but the situation today is better described as neo-colonial. Surfers do travel a lot and sometimes to places unknown to other tourists. The way surfers behave and represent themselves in the adventures search of perfect waves has a lot in common with ancient colonizers and their roles. To surf maintain and conserve already existing structures. History.

Editor: Kristoffer Svenberg

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Open Letter - Feel free...

In Europe from the 1600's to the early 1800’s traveling as "leisure" changed its form from a previous focus mainly on opportunities for conversation and discussion into then becoming more of an eyewitness observation. This development can be linked to the romanticism and its interest in landscapes and worshiper of recreation and personal enjoyment. Later in history photography made a strong entry, and traveling found its conceptual position as tourism. Travelling did then become picture. The project Colonial Surfer - STNC is about to seek out and generate a problematizing discourse within the globalized surf culture.

In 2010 I worked as a missionary for a Christian surf organization. I did this as a form of critical 
role-play and as an art performance. The organizations name is Surfing The Nations and has its base of operations on Oahu, Hawaii. The Same place as the colonizing English missionaries discouraged and forbade wave surfing in the 1800s. Surfing The Nations is an American organization but with a surprising over-representation of Swedes. STN:s (not to mistake for STNC) main focus is to bring people into religious conversion within what they call the 10/40 window. Countries that are located 10°-40° north of the Antarctic Circle. Countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India and more.

I perform as a “modern” Christian missionary in Sri Lanka. There is no one on site who knows anything about my intentions of my actions connected to my art practice. And my role could very well be described in other ways than an artist. I am there as a surfer. I am there as a missionary. I am there as an anthropologist. I am there as a tourist. I am there as a journalist. While none of these roles are completely true.

I am part of the same problematic situation as other tourists in the area. I get up in a particular group and my actions can be seen as anthropologists fieldwork, or as a researching and investigative journalist. But I am not there in the first place looking for something as a journalistic scoop. I see a symbolic importance in my role as an artist in this. And I do use the missionary role to demonstrate the neo-colonial political charge. 

A strong reason for why I am working with the surf culture as a subject is because of its in the contemporary very idealized position. Surfers role are extremely romanticized while the general consensus is that surf culture is an apolitical movement. That is something I don’t agree with. And because of constructed idealization and romanticism about surf culture, it gets difficult to tackle and problematize.

I usually bring those words into discussions: The less political you feel, the more political you are. What I mean is that the norm is the most political since it constantly, everyday influences us to who we are and will be. And the things that are as normalized as we can’t even see them effect us a lot. Surf culture is not, in a certain "western" context, a contemporary subculture, but rather a strong dominating male norm culture.

When I bring cultures around surfing into an art context I do put a (deconstructive) queer theory perspective on them. I am obviously playing a kind of role when I act as a missionary. But to me it seems in Sri Lanka like the others in the ministry group are playing their roles as well. And the local residents of Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka are playing their part to do businesses with our rich and privileged traveling group. I see this as a problematic unfair identity game of power and resources.

Feel free to invite STNC to organize seminars and discussions!

Best regards, Kristoffer Svenberg STNC.

Contact: info[at]


Happy Memes

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Saturday, October 29, 2016

By the temptation to analyze he sinks.

The surfer, “the horizontal man,” looks for meaning on the surface, more precisely in the series of waves that form the surface—one after the other after the other, now left, now right, higher and lower. As Baricco puts it:

If you believe that meaning comes in sequences and takes the form of a trajectory through a number of different points, then what you really care about is movement: the real possibility to move from one point to another fast enough to prevent the overall shape from vanishing. Now what is the source of this movement, and what keeps it going? Your curiosity, of course, and your desire for experience. But these aren’t enough, believe me. This movement is also propelled by the points through which it passes … [The surfer] has a chance to build real sequences of experience only if at each stop along his journey he gets another push. Still, they’re not really stops, but systems of passage that generate acceleration.

Unsurprisingly, if the diver is the person who reads Proust, Baricco writes, the surfer is the person browsing the internet.

More importantly, by introducing the figure of the surfer, Baricco develops Jameson’s notion of depthlessness from an experiential register to a modality of engagement. In order to stay above water, after all, the surfer needs to develop the skills that keep him on his board. One of these skills, one similar to Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome, is to perceive the ocean as a “trajectory” rather than either a territory (implying a mapping) or a telos(suggesting direction). (Indeed, Deleuze himself introduces the figure of the surfer in his “Postscript on the Societies of Control.”) Here the surfer stays on his board by choosing one wave after the other, regardless of the corals he scratches with the tip of his board or the direction the waves take him in. He literally lets the waves carry him—he “lives in the moment.” The second skill is the ability to constantly keep moving. If the surfer slows down or is momentarily stopped “by the temptation to analyze,” as Baricco puts it, he sinks.

He must progress, advance, experiencing each wave not on its own terms but as the medium, the catalyst for the next encounter, which is to say that each experience is experienced not in and of itself but in anticipation of the next experience, the next wave. What Baricco suggests, thus, is that the experiential registers of depth and depthlessness prescribe different modes of engagement: in the former you focus on one point in particular whilst in the latter you let your eyes scan over the surface; in the first you look for the special, in the second for the spectacular: the next wave, the next thrill. Though Baricco’s metaphor of the surfer is both limiting and reductive and certainly does not define all art from the eighties and nineties, it manages to put into words a sentiment often shared between certain artistic traditions and their audiences: the act of looking for a hint, not of what lies beneath, but rather of what lies ahead of us—the spectacle, the thrill, the controversy, the next wave we can ride and then the next, and the next.

By invoking the figure of the surfer, someone whose concern is not only to stand on the water but to avoid falling into it, going under, this duality is made manifest: to speak about depthlessness is to speak about the extinction of depth, not its nonexistence.

To return to Jameson’s case studies, Van Gogh’s A Pair of Boots implies another mode of engagement than Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes: in the former we are invited to look for traces of an experience; in the latter what we are left to see are points for discussion.

Vincent van Gogh’s A Pair of Boots (1887), Jameson wrote, expressed both, through its “hallucinatory” use of color, the artist’s “realm of the senses” and, through its use of “raw materials,” a world “of agricultural misery, of stark rural poverty, … backbreaking peasant toil, a world reduced to its most brutal and menaced, primitive marginalized state.”5 The painting, in other words,conveyed individual ideas, sensibilities, and social realities which continued beyond its borders. In contrast, Andy Warhol’sDiamond Dust Shoes (1980) communicated neither an authorial voice, nor a personal attitude or affect, nor a sense of the world it supposedly represented. The black-and-white photograph, with its shiny, isolated aesthetic, Jameson suggested, could allude to glamour magazines just as well as to a memory of the artist’s mother, to shoes left over from Auschwitz or the remains of a dance hall fire. If Van Gogh’s painting of peasant shoes pulled the viewer into another world of poverty and misery, Warhol’s photo of pumps pushed the spectator out back into his own.6 As Warhol himself is alleged to have said: “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface: of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.”

Extract from: The New “Depthiness” -  Timotheus Vermeulen

Friday, August 12, 2016


Thursday 11 August 2016

"The mayor of Cannes has banned the wearing of burkinis - full body swimsuits - on the beaches of the French Riviera resort famous for its annual film festival, officials said on Thursday."
- The Telegraph

Sunday 14 August 2016

"A second resort town on the French Riviera has announced a ban on full-body swimsuits - or 'burkinis' - at its beaches. (...) Anyone found breaching the order, in place until the end of August, faces a €38 (£32) fine."
-Sky News





Surfers who are staying and living on beaches with their neighboring regions are in some ways akin to The Occupy Movement. Yes, I mean the one that started in New York - Occupy Wallstreet, which then spread around the world. Surf culture has an even further and wider dissemination. And I can aesthetically from a rather romantic perspective compare it with the world's global occupy protest movement. However, there is a substantial difference. The surf culture is occupying in favor of capitalism and globalization. It doesn’t protest or work against unequal structures. The movement is rather about surfing on these unequal structures. 

In comparison, if we take a basis of a tourism industry in a fairly unexploited tourist site, but still populated by surfers. Surfers often live in tents and bungalows when there aren’t any hotels near the break. In these “camp” sites there are no protest banners or political placards like at the Occupy movements spots. Rather there are surfboards lined up in different ways. You can see advertisements for various small eateries and restaurants. And the area is flagged, here and there, with global surf company commercials. It is an advertisement that often tends to be very stereotypical, sexist and American, European "normative". 

The restaurants and places to stay are in the early stages mostly locally owned. But when the tourism exploitation by poor areas increases, it begins to attract international rich companies. Hotels and restaurants from the USA, Japan, European areas and Australia are then dominating a lot of the popular spots for surfers. And it goes as far as that places are getting fenced and proclaimed: Private.

It’s not rare that people express dissatisfaction with this kind of exploitation. But at the same time, it is almost seen as natural and inevitable. To get the best access to the surf than at these sites, surfers do pay to stay at the expensive hotels. I'm not at all opposed or against that those areas develop and become richer. I am critical on how the power relation is between tourists, wealthy businesses, and the local citizens. These areas get colonized by the tourism and surf industry. It is a massive and dominant cultural imperialism that finds its way through a traveling surf, “backpacker” culture to "remote" parts of the earth. 

Surf culture is today by no means a subculture with challenging perspectives on the world order. It is rather part of the norm, an ideal and a standard culture in the market economy. It is used in advertising for just about everything possible. Such as fast food, soda, beer, communication, training, sweets and whatever. It reaches a wide audience and it is no more norm breaker alternate-radical than IKEA. 

When we travel as surfers, we must ask ourselves about who we are, how we are privileged and how we impact the places we go to. And it's not about that we are supposed to spread stories in those areas about how we as great good tourists are helping or giving something back. The root of the problem is about how we are dominantly speaking, spreading our stories and culture. Thereby we get other voices and perspectives silenced and shut. This wave of dominance needs to be broken to create a better more equal world. And it has to be done through challenging and breaking free from colonial power structures and chains that extends far back into history. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Hang Loose! Enjoy Poverty! Please!

What does the sign that this guy is doing in the picture mean? A positive way of reading could be to say that this guy is breaking the surface in the image. A image of him as a poor. But the one in control here is the one who’s behind the camera.
And this is rather a sign that says Hello in a more specific way.
It’s a surfers sign. And in this case it's about the surface. Being above or under the surface.

A young kid  doing the hang loose sign from his perfect position as a poor.

Traditional. As used in the Hawaiian Islands, "Hang Loose or "Shocka" is used as a non verbal expression; or greeting. To tell the receipiant, that every thing will be OK, Relax, Stop looking at me w/ that stern look on your face. / from Urban Dictionary

Sunday, July 12, 2015

We Are Greater Than I

“We are greater than I.” Yes, I can agree on that. I guess we all can agree on that. But when this WE, is a way to narrow norm, it’s not just that great. What WE are in this video is not just anyone. Let me be the party crasher. Let me be the troll. But this video is very much about an “I”. Even though there are people from different areas in the world, girls and boys in this commercial there is an obvious I. Try to read the pictures more carefully and tell me what you see. I am a man in this video. The “I” is a white western man. The “I” is a successful white muscular western man setting up standards about the norm. The norm in this video is that I, and if there is a greater we in this video, that we, or us, are working on worshipping that I. We are that I. We are worshipping that I.  We are greater than I. But I am the norm in this surf video. I am the norm that we are surfing on, or trying not to get whitewashed in. I am the direction in this commercial. I am not free.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What do Adolf Hitler & Surfers have in common?

Surfing is a sport lead by and dominated by people within a privileged minority. The mainstream representation of a surfer is a white, rich and privileged man. Today surfers from former colonial powers and rich countries are surfing in the areas that used to be their colonies.

Some years ago I made a surf video that was showing at an art gallery. The video was built up by material from already existing mainstream contemporary surf movies. As a postproduction work I was editing those videos into a result that was showing everything from those flicks except the surfing and the waves. Left was something like a lifestyle material. This was made up mostly of portraits of surfers, surrounding landscapes and spectacular exotic images from different countries and cultures. Since surfing as an activity is taken away from the production it feels a bit abrasive. Through the concentrated form in the film, you get an idea about how this picture material is political.

The references I got from art critics was that it looked very similar to Leni Riefenstahls Triumph des Willens. I got told that the material was very much like the propaganda for Adolf Hitler and the Aryan race.

Cause if you deconstruct and analyze the filmed material from a typical surf video you get to understand that it is very similar in language as the propaganda used by the Nazis. A lot of photographs and filmed sequences from Leni Riefenstahl has the similar picture language as well. This was Adolf Hitlers favorite photographer.

This picture is taken from the surf organization Walking on Waters website. Christian surfers traveling the world while trying to bring people into conversion.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

STNC Critical thoughts on volunteer work

Partiet (med Navid Modiri) - Flippa ur

The guys in this video might not be surfers, but they are somehow surfing the world. The pictures in the music video are from a volunteer trip.

The volunteers are acting something out, while the locals are getting pictured in poor situations. The main characters in the video are presented as playful and without any big worries. They are leading something as a story while the ”others” are passive.

One of the volunteer guys is carrying around balloons and give them away to people. This is like a tragic joke. Or maybe a clever visualization by how this is not about helping at all.

Cause if you look on the structures here. The volunteers are privileged and rich. The work they do here in this area won’t change anything really. The only thing you get out of this is that the wealthy volunteers are framing themselves as ideal, happy and fortunate.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Surfers are Queer

The movies, pictures, commercials, and beaches of surfing are full of well-trained male bodies. It's also common with male nude torsos that meet in grabbing arms and encouraging hugs or intimate handshakes. To imagine and view surfing as a homoerotic culture is easy since it's mostly about men who socialize primarily with other men.

It's obvious that contemporary surfing is a sport that is dominated and leads by a larger number of white men. And there are clear differences in how men and women do get represented in pictures. If you do an Internet search for images on the word surfer, and then categorize them, the point is clear.
In the photos of male surfers, which are the most, there is a lot more focus on performance, muscles and the activity. For sure there are also some women heroines in this sport. For example female surfers deep in tubes on large massive waves such as legendary Teahupoo in Tahiti. There are a lot of really great women surfers. But the most of the pictures on girls do rather focus in other ways.

In the surf-films that are produced for inspiration (porn), there are sometimes sequences of women that get cut in during ongoing movie streams of male heroic surfers and their bodies in ongoing activities. A focus on how those women are surfing waves is rare. Instead, it is quite common with images that are filmed in secret from spying perspectives. Images that often are zoom views on girls breast and butts in bikinis. 
And this is an ugly abuse since those girls get filmed when they have no clue that they are getting captured, or know about their upcoming appearance in those films. Images that are edited into the screenplay in such a rude way that you do get to wonder about how things are? What is this really about? Although these images are highly doubtful and wrong to spread further they are in movies sponsored by large multinational surf companies.

- Look at us! We are surfers bonding with other guys, but we are definitely heterosexual men. Don’t think about us as gays. Cause we do have evidence!

Another speaking example in the same line is the far-reaching campaign that has been going on for several years by the shoe and clothing brand reef. In the marketing, they have been sending out large quantities of powerful images on male surfers in spectacular or ideal positions on great waves. In those commercial pics there are edited images of girls next to the men. In those pictures, the surfers names and autographs are written in proud ways. And the women's names are written as well. But the only thing we see of the women is their backside. They don’t even twist their head so we can see their eyes or faces. Present in the images is their butts. Pictures of fit shaped naked asses. Alongside with the men on the waves, this is the women performance.

The title of this post is: Surfers are queer. When I say queer I refer to a queer theoretical perspective on identity and gender that somehow explains that those roles are made up of constructions. For example in such a way as the famous theorist Judith Butler is focusing on sexuality as a cultural construction. This is then in a perspective on how our gender-roles relate to each other in forming (performative) matters. The surfing culture and its roles are created by how individuals mimic and imitate each other, as well as how surfers get influenced by the sport's repeating commercials, marketing and else.

A queer theory perspective is about that identity and gender is an act that has to be rehearsed, much like a script, and we as the surfers/actors make this script a reality over and over again by performing these actions. From this point of view, with a focus on those parameters, you can clearly say that the surf-culture, in repetition and by how it is constructed in obvious ways is something that is about acting.

“Life does not come with a script, so quit acting.”; is written as a tagline on a surfers twitter account STNC follows. The point in this text is rather that life certainly comes with scripts. Those scripts are sometimes forced into our behavior by ideals and social norms. I would like to say that it is rather about changing those scripts for how we play than stop playing. Since we are all playing and there is no essential true way. 

A good change for the surf culture would be about creating room for a greater diversity and generate a more inclusive, welcoming and equal culture. Right now the surf culture is a dominant, strongly normative, heteronormative and a white male culture. This is a very narrow construction.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Colonial Surfer on Twitter

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


The picture to the left is from Nairobi Kenya and was posted on instagram by the user asplundj. It brought up an immense amount of reactions on twitter a few days ago. This was because people considered it as a racist act and photo. The two white guys in the picture are from Sweden. Johan Asplund, which is to the right in the picture, is wearing a t-shirt with the text: BEVARA NEGERBOLLEN. Translated into English it means literally: SAVE THE NIGGER BALL. And the word negerboll (nigger ball/negro ball) has earlier been used as the common name for a Swedish dessert and sweet that is balls made on cacao as one of the ingredients. These guys demonstrate through the t-shirt in the picture that they are fighting for the right to be allowed to "continue" to say, and name this dessert, negro/nigger balls.
But why do they fight for such a thing? What does it really benefit the world if those two privileged guys are allowed (which they already are in a way) to express themselves with words that by others can be perceived as insulting, offensive and racist. Chocolate ball (chokladboll) is a more appropriate name and common in Sweden today.

In the picture to the right two professional surfers, Taylor Knox and Conner Coffin, are posing along with two women. The women in the picture are present without any names. And these women do not act independent in the picture as strong and free individual identities. The key reason for these women's presence in the image is that they carry heavy water on their heads and that they look exotic. These women do not get their own space for maneuver in identity by the picture. The surf company on the other hand, that is behind the Instagram profile, and the two surfers, do benefit. Cause on a level about identity they are somehow consuming these two women and the surrounding environment. The company and the surfers are strengthening their roles as free traveling nomads, while the ladies are depicted as exotic stereotypes. To read from the guy faces there is something humorous about the picture. But what does that humor relate to?

The problems with all these images are the same. They are part of a racist structure where hierarchies come into play and organize the world into power positions and already fixed roles. These problematic structures are abundantly present in our contemporary world and take part in how stories are being told. This is something important to break for a more equal world order. And it is about changing the history, or at least the future, since this is something that relates all the way back to ancient colonialism.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"Surfers: eco-tourists" ?

Surfing Indonesia, A search for the world's most perfect waves has for several years been a recurrent guidebook for large amounts of surf tourists in Indonesia. This type of book (there are several different and new editions but still very much the same kind of guide) have great influence over how ”surf” tourists look to their surroundings while traveling. This particular book, Surfing Indonesia, certainly contains a lot of generalizations about Indonesia. For example a woefully superficially reflected text by Rusty Miller on surfers as the world's first Eco Tourists:

Twenty-five years ago (or more than 300 full moons past) the Australian cinematographer Albie Falzon filmed two surfers riding large, perfectly breaking waves at a spot near the sacred Bali-Hindu temple known as Uluwatu.
 This 1972 icon film, ”Morning of the Earth”, included images of surfing and Bali’s animated culture that soon attracted many surfers to this magical island. During the next two decades increasing numbers of waveriders visited Bali, opened its doors to people back home, and introduced the island to the international world of surfing.
The first surfers to visit Bali – and later other parts of Indonesia – were among the world’s first eco-tourists, a unique group of travelers who came to Bali in search of its most sought-after natural resource, namely high-quality surfing waves.
These surfers also found, however, that they soon became involved in ongoing interpersonal relationships that developed over the years in this rare and unique part of Indonesia. No government program has yet surpassed this group in building direct “people-to-people” communications, in fostering cultural exchanges and personal friendships, and even in helping to develop small businesses/ economic opportunities. The direct result of these contrasting cultures opening up and learning to respect each other has served for a long time as a great example of what people can do for each other and – by living example and extension – world peace.   

The text continues, but the basis for why those surfers should be called Eco Tourists is not present or clear at all. This is rather an example of unreflective romanticizing that gets a bit dangerous when it by the context claims to be informative. It does not require a particularly deep research in Bali and Indonesia's surf tourism to find out that there are a lot of injustice relations. What Rusty Miller is correct about is the connection with the demand and supply of natural resources. The natural resources are not in this case oil or various precious metals, but instead waves. Reefs that generate those surfing waves and its nearby coastal areas have become something very sought after. In these areas there are ongoing battles (the global tourism industry) over interpretive precedence and land.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Brief Notes

  • Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because its not a problem to you personally.

  • A prerequisite to fight for a group / minority you do not belong to is understanding how your own privileges works.

  • The attractive parts of surfing is not wrong. Problems are present in dominance by naturalization, thinking about yourself as pure & neutral.