Surfing is a unique sport. It can be so enthralling… so enchanting… so addictive… that, for some surfers, it can go beyond pleasurable and become a toxic experience damaging relationships, families, career, and even health. Sociologists have called this phenomenon as going past the “stoke apex”. These surfers have become victims of what journalist William Finnegan described as the “disabling enchantment of surfing.” The message in surfing is that, if you get too much of a good thing, the stoke can be spoiled as your life starts to unravel.
It’s not as potentially physically, emotionally, or spiritually damaging, but the “stoke apex” is every bit a thing in the leisure fashion world as it is in the surfing world. When you fall victim to a fashion “disabling enchantment” your style choices can become toxic. It doesn’t make sense. It’s an enigma. How can something that is so good end up being so bad? Ironically, it is the very quality of the thing that spoils it.
Only one choice acceptable
Enjoy a coffee at any of the fashionable café’s near where I live between 7.30 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. on any day of the week and take note of what the women who come in for a post work-out, pre-work, latte are wearing. In my town only one fashion choice is acceptable. An expensive locally designed brand of sports/leisure wear is the thing! The designs are gorgeous. Colors brilliant. I’ve loved them from the first moment they started popping up on the streets. I am assured by wearers of this brand that no other women’s sports clothing is as comfortable or long wearing. Buy a pair of shorts from this company and you will still be feeling good and looking great in them in ten year’s-time! Not only are these garments thoughtfully and beautifully designed but they are produced with upcycled textiles and non-toxic dyes. So, what’s the problem? These garments have everything going for them and nothing going against them (other than perhaps the price and the enormous lettering showing off the brand name) so is there an issue? The thing that is going against them is their very success. They are so good that everybody wants them. Everybody wears them. This brand is now so ubiquitous that instead of looking edgy, stylish and insouciant, when you put on one of their shorts or tops, you look mainstream. Actually, worse than mainstream. You look common. Normal. Like everyone else! It’s sad. Imagine paying several hundred dollars to look almost identical to everyone else in the café. The stoke has very nearly gone past it’s apex. It’s approaching toxic.
Overheard in one of the above-mentioned café’s a few days ago.
Girl 1: “Oh, look at you in your new ______s. They are fabulous.”
Girl 2: “Thank you. I just got them. I just love them. But look at yours. They are wonderful.”
Girl 3: “You won’t regret it. Look at these. I’ve had mine for years and they still look great!”
The brand doesn’t have to worry particularly. They are doing a great of job designing good looking, high quality, environmentally conscious products that are yet to be fully discovered in North American, European, and Asian markets so they still have a lot of growing to do but one wonders when the bubble will burst in this town. When does the toxicity kick in.
This phenomenon is not rare. Gorgeous, knitted, women’s active/leisure wear is just one example. I have loved those handsome sandal thingies with the two leather straps with buckles and the “anatomically-molded footbed” since they popped up on the feet of the hippest and wealthiest surfers a few years back. Back then, I seriously considered giving up my commitment to summer bare feet and buying a pair. I would have had to secure a bank loan to do it, but I loved them so much that I nearly did. Now, I’m glad I didn’t. Head down to the groovy local café again and look under the tables. You may see three, four… maybe even five pairs of the endemic footwear right before your eyes. No Vans. No Golden Gooses. No thongs. Not even any Crocs… well, there might be one pair of Crocs. No doubt these sandals are of the highest German quality. Their comfort rating and aesthetic qualities are not in question either. But your iconoclast credentials fly right out the window when you slip into these things. You are no longer stylish. No longer hip. No longer an individual. You are one of the millions. Again, I wonder. Surely the stoke apex is approaching. It cannot be long until this fancy footwear choice begins its plummet into the toxic realm.
Past the stoke apex
My board short style choices have rarely gone down the big-name surf brand road. For me, “big three” designs are often as boring as bat poop. My current favorite pair of boardies was designed and manufactured by a bunch of local blokes. I love them. Comfortable, original, practical and, in my opinion, very stylish. But they are getting a bit long in the tooth. For some time, I have had my eye on a particular design by, surprisingly enough, one of the big three surf brand names. Oh, they are so schmick! They are a mid-length board short with a solid hot-pink block of color split by lines of black and white checks down each side. For months it has been my intention to retire my current favorite pair and buy one of these “big name” brand designs. Not now! In the last month I have seen maybe twenty pairs of the same short on local surfers. I wouldn’t be caught dead in this design now. You don’t pay ninety bucks to look identical to the bloke who is paddling around in the surf next to you no matter how cool the boardies looked when you first saw them a year ago. It’s happened to this short, for sure. The design may have evoked stoke in its wearers some time ago… but it’s gone well past the stoke apex. It’s now toxic. No fault of the designer or manufacturer. The short is well designed, durable and very good looking. But it’s very popularity has ruined it for me.
Next time you head out to buy something super cool that has caught your eye just keep in mind that in six-months-time the object of your desire may be just about as original as a Bin-Tang singlet. Be ready to discard it… even if you still haven’t paid off the loan. It’s sad, but the very best can become toxic in no time at all.