Crafting masculinities: A cultural economy of surfboard-making



Publication Details

Warren, A. (2014). Crafting masculinities: A cultural economy of surfboard-making. In A. Gorman-Murray & P. Hopkins (Eds.), Masculinities and Place (pp. 415-430). Farnham, United Kingdom: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.


This chapter explores the versions of masculinity embodied and performed by men working in commercial surfboard factories. Since the 1960s surfboards have been manufactured in industrial-style workshops. Boards are hand-made for local surfers and prevailing marine geographies. Recent global expansion of surfboard manufacturing has occurred with a transition to automated production technologies. However, in popular surfing places customisation via craft-based production is an enduring ritual of the surfboard industry. Lurking next to craft production is the equally stubborn legacy of commercial surfboard-making: a profoundly gendered division of labour.

Corresponding to other capitalist industries, jobs in the surfboard industry 'are not gender neutral; they are created as suitable for particular sexed bodies' (McDowell1997: 25). In advanced economies the social attributes of 'working bodies' are increasingly important features of labour market relations (McDowell 2009, Nixon 2009, Banks and Milestone 2011 ). With the rise of interactive service industries, features aligned to social constructions of femininity - aesthetic performance, team work, holistic thinking, empathy and persuasiveness - have become more important for accessing jobs and completing economic transactions (Simpson 2004). Meanwhile declining employment in manufacturing informs discussion about a 'crisis' of masculinity (McDowell2003). Notions of idealised hegemonic masculinities, bound-up with labour market participation, are being challenged (Connell 2005). From the juncture of masculinities and work this chapter focuses on a self-defined manufacturing industry. Nevertheless performances of work and commercial transactions in surfboard manufacturing are flushed with close, personal interaction; not only between workers but also through engagements with customers who purchase end products. Drawing from cultural economy theory this chapter reveals how waged work comprises alternative and often conflicting masculinities, shaped in working relations and performance.

In the following section I outline the chapter's conceptual framework. Cultural economy is used to explore the masculinities of surfboard-makers, prioritising analysis of the way values, practices and skills shape economic relations. In the surfboard industry, mapping of work to particular sexed bodies is influenced by wider surfing subcultme. After framing the analytical approach I describe research methods. Ethnographic engagements with workers and workshops focuses on the three global 'hubs' of surfboard innovation and production: southern California, O'ahu, Hawai'i and east coast Australia. Empirical insights follow and are organised in two overarching sections.

The first empirical section focuses on performances of 'blokey' masculinities articulated by male workers in relations with one another (Wheaton 2004, Hopkins and Noble 2009). Co-worker interactions on factory floors valorise the exploits of heterosexual men. The reproduction of surfing's subcultural discourses resonates strongly in commercial workshops and offers an explanation for persistent divisions of labour along gender lines. The second empirical section explores alternative versions of masculinity observed in crafting work and in relations between workers and customers. Surfboard shaping and glassing - the two main labour specialisations - depend on embodied and emotive acuities. Workers also know customers personally, making boards to suit body shapes, surfing abilities and favourite waves. Finally, I draw conclusions, arguing for the usefulness of cultural economy approaches in making sense of the relational, intersecting and often competing nature of workplace masculinities.

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