Glen Thompson

Glen Thompson

Dr. Glen Thompson
History Department
Stellenbosch University

Dr. Glen Thompson is a research associate in the Department of History at Stellenbosch University. He writes on gender, race, politics and culture in the history of South African surfing (1960 to present), surfing and sport development, and the making of the post-apartheid beach. His publications include chapters in Robert Morrell (ed), Changing Men in South Africa (University of Natal Press and Zed Press, 2001) and Scarlett Cornelissen and Albert Grundlingh’s Sport Past and Present in South Africa: (Trans)forming the Nation (Routledge, 2011), articles in the Journal of Natal and Zulu History, The International Journal of the History of Sport, and the Journal of African Cultural Studies, and a review essay on aquatic sport in Radical History Review (May 2016), a special issue on “Historicizing the Politics and Pleasure of Sport”. His work has also appeared as an art installation in Paul Weinberg’s Beyond the Beach Exhibition (2014). He has chapters on critical surfing history forthcoming in Dexter Hough-Snee and Alexander Eastman (eds), The Critical Surf Studies Reader (Duke University Press) and lisa hunter (ed), Surfing, Sex, Genders and Sexualities (Routledge). He is currently completing a book that pushes under the whitewash of South African surfing history.

His research is informed by his immersion in recreational and competitive surfing and stand-up paddling (recently, the 2015 South African SUP Surfing champion in the Legends division), involvement in surf administration (as the environmental officer for Stand-up Paddling South Africa and the secretary of the Earthwave Tandem Surfing Club), and surfing heritage (Surfing Heritage South Africa and The Surfers’ Circle Walk of Fame). He also sits on the boards of several non-profits: Better Tourism Africa (advocacy for responsible tourism), Shark Spotters (beach safety and shark conservation), Wavescape Trust (ocean conservation), and Waves for Change (surfing therapy for at-risk youth).

Glen Thompson

“Fragments of Surfing Pasts” art installation, Casa Labia Gallery, Muizenberg, 21 September 2014.
Photo: Cobus Joubert

Surfing with the ‘dark nations’: Hawaiians, subaltern surfers and the politics of professional surfing in South Africa, 1968-1990


In 1972, Native Hawaiian Eddie Aikau and two white Hawaiian surfers competed in the Gunston 500 professional surfing event in Durban. While the white Hawaiians reflected surfing’s Anglo-world image, Aikau’s presence in Durban drew international surfing’s attention to South Africa’s petty apartheid laws. As the Gunston 500 was to be held at the “white’s only” Bay of Plenty beach, the contest organisers hastily arranged a permit that conferred the status of ‘honorary white’ on Aikau. Black consumer Drum magazine took an interest in Aikau as the first black surfer to compete in the Gunston 500 yet recognized that Aikau’s exoticism as a male Native Hawaiian and privileges as an ‘international’ sportsperson buffered him the systemic racial oppression of black South Africans. With Aikau affair as a starting point, this paper seeks to historicise the politics and pleasure in the history of surfing under apartheid by considering transnational and local themes. First, it traces how South African professional surfing contests accommodated surfers from the ‘dark nations’ (Brazil, Hawaiʻi, Puerto Rico and Japan) by means of the apartheid state’s sporting policy of classifying international athletes of colour as ‘honorary whites’. This functioned as an ideological counter to the international sports boycott against apartheid. Second, it opens up the history of subaltern surfing in South Africa by looking to key political moments when black South Africans took to the waves—from the politics of pleasure at the Durban Indian Surf Lifesaving Club in 1968 to the 1989 “surf wars” during the national championships of the non-racial South African Surfing Union and Cass Collier’s participation in the 1990 Cape Surf Pro/Am as a “disenfranchised citizen”. The paper explores surfing’s subalternities and how neither South African white professional surfing nor Hawaiian competitive surfers were above politics during the apartheid years.

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