Not to sound like a Labor hack or a Liberal stooge (who, SURPRISE! – all sing from the same hymn book) but climbing is a broad church.
The other day I was thinking about the latest VL editorial on rites of passage (which you can read by downloading the mag here), at about the same time I was crying because I wasn’t climbing in Thailand anymore, rather I was mooching around Melbourne. That got me to thinking about Thailand in general. Then I remembered that Surf Nazis Must Die.
There are all kinds who stake claim to the handle ‘climber’. Fat bumblies who will never tick anything harder than a 13 in the Organ Pipes; über-training psychos who couldn’t hold a conversation in a bucket unless it was about their Franciscan diet and Olympian fitness regime; floppy hat-wearing nerds in uni clubs; gym bunnies who can’t get enough of the plastic fantastic; aid freakos whose personality profiles match that of the Unabomber; Ol’ Timey climbers who scratch their (accidental) hipster beards and rad kids who scratch their (ironic) hipster beards.
In a way climbing reminds me of electronic music, and not only because all bouldering flicks worth their salt have banging soundtracks. For a while after Kraftwerk started spitting out digital bleeps and beats there was just electronic music. Then came genrefication as offshoots split into subcultures, and how did it come, till we had acid house, hard house, happy house, tech, minimal and handbag house, DnB, garage, two step, tech step, dub step, trance, glitch, chillwave low-fi, synthpop, krautrock and literally thousands more spewing out all over one another. Keeping up is like getting stoned and staring for too long at a fractal, you disappear down the rabbit hole.
First there was climbing. Then came genrefication as offshoots split into subcultures, till we had alpinism and big -walling, indoor climbing, aid and sport and trad climbing, bouldering, soloing, roped soloing, deep water soloing, and something called “buildering”*, traversing**, and we’re drilling down further into mega-pumpers, one-move-wonders, cruxy and thuggy and techo routes. All of these flavours have their own exponents. Their own little defined subculture of devotees that have sprung up around them.
In 1987, incidentally the same year Australian climbing consecrated its holiest site when Mt Arapiles was declared a State Park, the world of cinema received the gift of Surf Nazis Must Die, the film coming out of the same proud tradition as The Class of Nuke Em High and The Toxic Avenger. An action/comedy (remember them? Ivan Reitman is their patron saint) about neo-Nazi surf punks who must be killed – hilarious, I’m laughing already. Though I admit I do get Surf Nazis Must Die confused with the scene in Point Break where Anthony Kiedis spits out at blank-faced Keanu Reeves, “That would be a waste of time. We’re just gonna fuck you up.” Classic cinema both of them.
The point of the film for me is that the otherwise soulful and beautiful pursuit of surfing could be sullied by the infiltration of bad eggs with bad attitudes. When the culture built on an activity expands to a certain critical mass the exponents will be naturally drawn from a wider pool, and that pool will eventually include ne’er-do-wells, like Nazis (who must be killed).
During my recent ‘work trip’ to Thailand’s Tonsai I thought about this movie a lot because there were what looked to be a small clutch of Surf Nazi–climbers on Phra Nang peninsula. They were easily recognisable for their bad tats, neo punk hair (for reference see the faux-hawk on the front cover of the latest issue of Vertical Life), locals’-rule attitude and an ominous and ever-present threat of random violence. It’s all the very worst of the surfer scene rolled into an angry ball.
Is the burgeoning popularity of climbing cause for concern that the surf Nazis are coming? Obviously down here at The Arse End of the World we are several years behind said world with respect to current global trends, but the scene is growing fast and all manner of kids are taking up the rope and crushing their feet into rock boots. I admit that I am yet to see one in the flesh in the Grampians (and certainly not at Araps). Not so sure about the Blueys though, the proximity to suburban Sydney is certainly worrying. Nowra is a write off. You would think Adelaide safe but remember it may be the city of churches but it’s run by bikies and infamous for murderers. Tassie is already full of weirdos.
Maybe the best tack is to borrow from the Howard Government’s playbook and call on people to be alert but not alarmed in the hope of protecting our little closed world from interlopers and undesirables. Either that or we could embrace the diversity for what it brings to the world of climbing. Celebrate the stupidity of the sport climber and the suffering of the alpinist, compliment the boulderer on the their beanie and the aid climber on their ability to get into and out of clusterfucks. We could be more inclusive, open our arms to the surf Nazis, let them in in the hope that it reinvigorates the anarchistic past and recaptures climbing’s pioneering spirit. And if that doesn’t work we can just kill them.
**OMG!! Maybe only in France.