Ocean Atmosphere / Public Sphere

Out in the surf discussion is hard to trigger and only starts with one of two options:

“How was that wave?” Or a brutal “F*ck off to the end of the line up!”

Hanging out in the line up is my Public Sphere (“a metaphor for thinking about how individual human beings come together to exchange ideas” S Turnbull 2018). Created by Jurgen Habermas in 1989, the theory of a public sphere is similar to “an 18th century coffee house”. A place to discuss common concerns and issues in an open environment.

In the surf, I’m around people that I share common interests with. It’s where I can learn, teach, exchange ideas, inspire and be inspired.


Regardless, when a conversation does spark, I can guarantee its rarely about normal politics. I can’t even remember a time in the surf where I have discussed current world issues (2018).

Surfing culture (2010) has it’s own politics. There is often banter between bodyboarders and surfers. A lot of waves are classified as bodyboarder’s or surfer’s wave. Ultimately, if you’re outnumbered, the opposing side can shut you out and drop in on every wave. Consider yourself dead to them.

Surfer’s are usually excluded from ‘our’ (bodyboarders) conversations as they often think they’re superior, compared to the wild and daring demeanour of bodyboarders.


Debates can revolve around whether the surf was better yesterday or not, who got the best wave, surf etiquette (Surfer Today), who’s next in the line up and whether or not you’re a local. It’s informal, casual banter. We’ll never have time for Trump. However, at times we discuss cultural differences. Many surfers get off the grid in search of waves. Whilst there, we are exposed to the lives of different races and cultures.

The big blue endeavours to be the focus for many people on social media. There’s endless opportunities for content.

Swell is always hitting a coastline, creating perfect waves and memorable moments.

My public sphere is mediated in the sense that conversation often sparks on the latest comp results, or a cyclone swell that’s hit the coast. Surf clips are posted daily on Instagram, where people can follow the professionals closely and debate on the unknown location and who rode it better. It’s likely a majority of people in my public sphere know what you’re talking about when you mention “that surf clip this week”.

I have always loved that out in the surf, there’s no “table manners”. If you’re half way through a conversation with someone and they ditch you for a wave, theres no hard feelings.

They come back out, you ask about their wave and continue the discussion, in our very own Public Sphere.




Reference List

Habermas, J 1991, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, MIT Press, p. 27

Surfer, 2010, An Opinion: Australian Surf Culture Richer Riper Than Us, Surfer, weblog post, 22 July, viewed 30 March 2018 <https://www.surfer.com/features/ozzieculutreanopinoin/>

Surfer Today, Unknown, The Basic Rules of Surf Etiquette, Surfer Today, weblog post, unknown, viewed 30 March 2018 <https://www.surfertoday.com/surfing/7575-the-basic-rules-of-surf-etiquette>

Turnbull, S 2018, ‘Public Sphere Theory’, Lecture, BCM110, University Of Wollongong, delivered 27 March

United Nations, 2018, Global Issues Overview, United Nations, weblog post, unknown, viewed 30 March 2018 <http://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/global-issues-overview/>


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