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Genesis of a Global Surf System. A Comparative Study of Hawai‘i and California: Traditions, Cities, Tourism, and Subcultures (1778-2016)


Dealing with the colonial history of Hawai‘i and California from 1778, this dissertation focuses on the transformation of the Hawaiian custom he‘e nalu into a global surf system. This analysis asks if there a break or a continuity of Hawaiian surfing in the 19th century, and what are the terms and conditions of its diffusion as a global surf system in the 21st century. Three investigating methods have been applied: an analysis of traveling literature in Hawai‘i, compared with a study of Hawaiian newspapers in the 19th century ; a recording of fifty semi-directed interviews to grasp issues related to appropriating surfing in California after 1945 ; and a multi-sited participant observation for thirty months in Hawai‘i and California, between 2009 and 2016, to found out about the contemporary historicization of surfing. Three main conclusions emerged from this data analysis. First, the introduction of Hawai‘i in the world system in the 19th century fostered the birth of a Hawaiian national identity, that reaffirmed traditional customs, such as surfing. Then, with the advent of seaside tourism in the 20th century, Hawai‘i became a touristic model, based on staging surfing and its appropriation by the West. To this regard, Waikīkī is a popular case study, and its development pattern has been reproduced in Californian cities, such as Huntington Beach. Eventually, from the 1950s, surfing has been exported to the world, thanks to the growth of its subculture and professional sport, mass media, and the democratization of seaside tourism.

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