Sunday, August 11, 2013

Peter Westwick & Peter Neushul's "The World in the Curl"

Peter Westwick is an assistant research professor of history at the University of Southern California, the director of the Aerospace History Project at the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, and the author or editor of three books.

Peter Neushul is a visiting senior associate researcher in the Department of History at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He has written extensively on defense industries, history of oceanography, and on environmental history.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The World in the Curl: An Unconventional History of Surfing, and reported the following:
Page 99 of our book tells the story of Bob Simmons, perhaps the most important figure in surfboard design in the 20th century. During World War II, Simmons was a mechanical engineering student at Caltech and moonlighting at Douglas Aircraft. Caltech during the war became one of the world’s leading centers for hydrodynamics, thanks especially to a wartime project on air-dropped torpedoes, which required complex theory and experiments on lift and drag, turbulent flow, and boundary layer effects. Simmons was right in the middle of all this, since his hydraulics professor ran the Hydrodynamics Lab and his employer, Douglas, got all the Caltech research reports as the main producer of torpedo bombers. Simmons was also exposed to new aviation materials, especially polystyrene foam, polyester resin, and fiberglass. These connections with wartime hydrodynamics and defense industry enabled Simmons to revolutionize surfboard design, using new materials to make much lighter boards with radical new shapes: 30-pound foam-and-fiberglass fun machines instead of unwieldy 75-pound redwood logs.

The Page 99 theory works well here. This page in our book demonstrates the surprising connections between surfing and the modern world—in this case, connections with military R&D and advanced science and technology. (Few people think of Caltech when they think about surfing, but several seminal figures in surf history came out of there, including Walter Munk, the father of surf forecasting, and Hugh Bradner, inventor of the wetsuit, in addition to Simmons.) These connections with the defense industry and research universities help explain why surfing—a premodern, Polynesian pastime—became so identified with California. Simmons’s contributions made surfing more accessible and more fun, and encouraged Californians to take up the sport by the thousands. The postwar surf boom, represented later by Gidget and the Beach Boys, occurred in California because California was home to places like Caltech and Douglas Aircraft.

Surfing has an image of a romantic, spiritual pursuit, an individual communion with nature, and a subversive counterculture. Our book shows that surfing is bound up with the military-industrial complex and many other features of the modern world, from colonialism and capitalism to globalization and gender roles. Bob Simmons from our page 99 is just one example.
Learn more about The World in the Curl at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue