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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Identity, lifestyles, and brand marketing in Canadian women's surfing : an ethnographic study Mercer, Lisa


Over the past decade, women's surfing has become increasingly popularized in the media and in advertising as a desirable recreational activity and competitive sport, and more and more Canadian women are now participating in surfing than ever before (Nickson, 2000). Over the same period, women's surf wear has also emerged as a popular fashion trend for Canadian girls and young women (Ostrowski, 1999) with the result that surfing apparel is now a growth industry in Canada (Hamilton et al., 2002). Despite these developments, however, there remains an acute lack of research on these trends in women's surfing. There are very few studies on the development of women's surfing and no studies could be found that have looked at surfing as a form of consumption in a consumer society influenced by brand marketing. In an effort to help fill this gap, this study drew on prior work in consumer research by Schouten and McAlexander (1995) and in sports subcultures by Wheaton (2000), and analyzed the relationship between women's surf culture in Western Canada and the marketing activities of the Canadian surf wear industry. Schouten and McAlexander (1995) examined the interplay of subcultures and marketing among Harley-Davidson motorcycle owners, and Wheaton (2000) studied the link between identity and sport and leisure lifestyles in a windsurfing community. My thesis research combined their two frameworks using an ethnographic approach and examined the impact of retailing and marketing on the growth of women's surfing, on surf culture, and surf products consumption. Fifteen individuals were interviewed from three different populations in western Canada: women surfers, surf wear retailers, and Canadian surf brand representatives. Through these conversations, eight factors were identified as contributing to the growth of women's surfing in British Columbia: (i) changes in wetsuit technology, (ii) crossover appeal from skateboarding and snowboarding, (iii) cultural and style influences from California, (iv) increased demand for women's surf wear and surf fashions, (v) the growth of competitive surfing in B C , (vi) increased media exposure o f Canadian women's surfing, (vii) development of Canadian surf businesses, and (viii) women's increased comfort with the identity of 'being a surfer'. The interviews confirmed that the surf scene in Canada is less intimidating and more accepting of women surfers than many other locales including California. The women surfers reported a deepening o f commitment to the surf lifestyle as they advanced in the sport and it increasingly became a defining component of their self-identity. They also reported that their consumption of surf products contributed to their sense of identity. The study found that surf brands have helped to fuel the diffusion of surf lifestyles and products into the mainstream by expanding product offerings and making them more accessible to the general public. The thesis concludes that Canadian women's surfing demonstrates features of a subculture of consumption and may best be thought of as a 'commodity-orientated subculture' (Wheaton, 2000, p. 261) that is driven both by a developing women's surfing subculture (the hard-cores) and by the market activities (product development, women's wear branding, women's-specific retailing) of the major surf brands.

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