”Surfing can take you places” – Håb om en alternativ fremtid blandt unge lokale surfere i Papua Ny Guinea

Marcus Juhl, Master’s thesis, Anthropology, Aarhus University, Januar 2017.


Based on three-and-a-half-month ethnographic fieldwork in the village called Lido in the north-western region of Papua New Guinea, this thesis explores the life of local young men who dream of another life and future.

The general opinion in Lido is that education is the door that can grant you a good job and a better life in another province or country. The majority of the young men don’t seem to achieve this future. Most of them have been stranded in the education system – primarily because of a lack of funds. Instead of giving up and accepting a fate that is bound to a life in the village with few chances of social progression, a lot of young men seem to have created a new focal point of hopefulness through modern surfing.

In this thesis I show how surfing is a useful instrument for these young men. It is a social game that grants them new expectations to the forth-coming. They try to imagine a different future as professional surfers, even though no one in Lido has achieved this yet. Furthermore, by not restricting this thesis to the game-metaphor, I argue that through surf- ing they are trying to navigate a different life trajectory. On this route they can envision so- cial progression in the future – a life where they are not doomed to failure but rather des- tined to success and greatness.

I further argue that the power to imagine and pursue this alternative future life is made possible due to the stories being told about surfing that “can bring you places”. The young men are trying to make the stories come true by training in the waves. I argue that this is an act of imitation. The young men are copying the surfing tourist who is surfing the waves on the coastline of Lido as well as the professional surfers they read about in maga- zines. The practice of mimesis is not just a simple reproduction of the westerners, but an attempt to fulfil the story that is being told, that surfing “can bring you places”.

The young men are granted a new perspective through surfing. By capturing the perceptive of foreign surfers, they have the opportunity to see themselves and the world around them in a different way. However, this is a double-edged sword since it can lead to both a devastating acknowledgment of their own limits, and also inspire to a continuing modelling of the stories about surfing. This ambivalence reflects a general theme during this thesis – that hopefulness is entangled with hopelessness. The surfing career that is the end- point of the young men’s navigation seems to be fraught with uncertainties since the social environment restricts their desired movement. The uncertainties can make the young men doubt the route they are envisioning and are walking on, or even change their focal point of hopefulness and drawing up a new life trajectory. What seems to be certain about surfing as an alternative life trajectory is apparently the uncertainty.

keywords: social navigation, hope and hopelessness, social games, transformation and limitations, storytelling, imitation.

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