Straight from the beaches of Hawaii comes an exciting new ethnography of a community of big-wave surfers. Oahu’s Waimea Bay attracts the world’s best big wave surfers—men and women who come to test their physical strength, courage, style, knowledge of the water, and love of the ocean. Sociologist Ugo Corte sees their fun as the outcome of social interaction within a community. Both as participant and observer, he examines how mentors, novices, and peers interact to create episodes of collective fun in a dangerous setting; how they push one another’s limits, nourish a lifestyle, advance the sport and, in some cases, make a living based on their passion for the sport.

In Dangerous Fun: The Social Lives of Big Wave Surfers (U Chicago Press, 2022), Corte traces how surfers earn and maintain a reputation within the field, and how, as innovations are introduced, and as they progress, establish themselves and age, they modify their strategies for maximizing performance and limiting chances of failure.

Corte argues that fun is a social phenomenon, a pathway to solidarity rooted in the delight in actualizing the self within a social world. It is a form of group cohesion achieved through shared participation in risky interactions with uncertain outcomes. Ultimately, Corte provides an understanding of collective effervescence, emotional energy, and the interaction rituals leading to fateful moments—moments of decision that, once made, transform one’s self-concept irrevocably.

Michael O. Johnston, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at William Penn University.

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