|Since the mid 1990s, a growing body of literature on lifestyle sports has produced fresh insights into the nuances, esoteric terminology and social dynamics in an array of lifestyle sport cultures. While surf culture has gained considerable attention from both sociologists and historians, the voices of bodyboarders have been minimal. Reflecting perceptions held by many in mainstream society, the literature on surf culture tended to marginalize bodyboarding participants, deeming the activity fit for children or teenagers. Therefore, this project addresses the gap in academic literature on surf culture by adopting a socio-cultural, qualitative approach to give voice to bodyboarders, by revealing some of the complexities within bodyboarding culture, and revealing power relations operating between surfers and bodyboarders in the surf.
As a three-time world amateur champion female bodyboarder of both Maori and Samoan heritage, I was particularly interested to understand experiences of gender and ethnicity in relation to bodyboarding. Therefore, I conducted semi-structured interviews with eight bodyboarders living in New Zealand. To analyse data from the interviews, I employed Bourdieu’s theoretical concepts of habitus, field and capital to explore bodyboarding with the intent of presenting fresh perspectives relating to masculinity and femininity, and experiences of Maori, Pacific Island and New Zealand European bodyboarders. The participants revealed embodied characteristics of the bodyboarder as well as a variety of strategies used to negotiate space in the surf field. The experiences of female participants resonated with current literature where opportunities to gain respect were limited based on their marginal position in the male-dominated lifestyle sport culture. While some female participants successfully negotiated space within the surf field, male bodyboarders revealed other difficulties due to the hyper-masculinity of stand-up surfing culture, and the marginal position of bodyboarders.
In specifically examining the experiences of Maori and Pacific Island participants, I argue that a unique form of cultural capital exists in which respect, courtesy and fairness were given more value than demonstrations of physical capital. Adopting a socio-cultural approach to analyse the operations of power in the surf field, and particularly how gender and ethnicity affect the experiences of New Zealand bodyboarders, this research project brings “new value to identities and experiences that are marginalized and stigmatized by the larger culture” (Denzin, 2002, p. 486).