chapter  8
21 Pages

Surf Lifesaving: The Development of an Australasian 'Sport'

Many Australians and New Zealanders escape the rigours and stresses of modern life at the beach. There they relax, lounge, picnic, play games, explore and go surfbathing. The latter, a portmanteau term for bathing, swimming and frolicking in open ocean waters and among the waves, is an integral component of contemporary beach culture. In fact, orthodox histories of surfbathing in Australia and New Zealand typically begin with the functionalist assumption that it is a natural activity, synonymous with sunshine, clear and warm water, golden sands, and curling waves. Frank Margan and Ben Finney, for example, claim that 'it was only a matter of time' before Australians 'took the plunge',1 while Stephen Barnett and Richard Wolfe believe that it was 'inevitable, given [New Zealand's] equable climate and access by the vast majority of its population to a wealth of fine beaches, that ... swimming in the sea would eventually be commonplace'. 2 But there is nothing natural about surfbathing: disinterest is strong in many congenial climates and alluring settings. 3 Furthermore, in the nineteenth century many local governments prohibited surfbathing. In short, culture, and in particular attitudes towards the presentation of the body in public, is the principal determinant of surfbathing.