Tolga Ozyurtcu, Ph.D. is a Assistant Professor of Instruction in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University of Texas at Austin. He recently shared his thoughts on his article, “‘Living the Dream’: Southern California and Origins of Lifestyle Sport“ from an issue of the Journal of Sport History.
I was recently approached by a student to be the faculty advisor of a skateboarding club at the University of Texas at Austin. I must say that my initial reaction was one of self-interested image preservation: surely an involvement with skateboarding means that I am still young and hip, right? Our conversation touched on the issue recruiting members, a challenge that I see as two-fold. First, skateboarders are notoriously resistant to things like meetings and organization; we’d rather be out skating. Second, skaters can no longer rely on the traditional signifiers to identify each other. When I was a student (not that long ago!), the right pair of sneakers or a t-shirt was all that was needed to identify a fellow member of the subcultural cohort. Today, thanks to a variety of commercial forces—not to mention the influence of celebrities such as Rihanna, Justin Bieber, and the Kardashians—formerly niche brands like Vans Shoes and Thrasher magazine are ubiquitous staples of fashion-conscious youth, whether or not they’ve ever set foot on a board.
This notion of identification runs deep in the scholarly work on subcultural and lifestyle sports, participation in which is traditionally accompanied by an immersive notion of carefully constructed identity. We don’t say that we “play” surfing or snowboarding, we are simply surfers or boarders. In ‘Living the Dream,’ my hope was to extend this notion of identity beyond the individual, to the geographic. How do certain practices become associated with certain places, to the point of evoking that place, no matter where they are performed? Thus, the article began with an assumption that I don’t believe is particularly controversial: that in the popular imagination, lifestyle sports are by and large distinctly Californian. But how did they “become” Californian?
Of course, there are certainly structural reasons as to why sports like surfing and skateboarding blossomed in Southern California, but my hope was to go into a more ambiguous and holistic territory. The article explores sociocultural antecedents to the modern lifestyle sports, from early health-centered boosterism in Los Angeles to the embrace of rigorous physical activity in the public school system and parks. By layering these factors, I hope that I have presented a reasonable argument as to how Southern Californians were positioned to develop and sustain the modern lifestyle sports, as well as how these sports fit into a global imaginary about the people and practices of the Golden State.