Personally I admire these guys for all sorts of reasons...
- Windsurfing ain't easy. I know, I've tried. It's harder than it looks.
- Windsurfing is an athletic sport that works just about every muscle in the body.
- Windsurfing is gentle on the environment.
- Windsurfing is accessible to folk of almost any income level. It must be about the cheapest way to enjoy sailing. It's the antithesis of the rich yachtie life style with megayachts and fancy marinas and swanky yacht clubs.
- Windsurfers will go out and sail in crazy windy cold rainy conditions that would drive any normal sailor to the comfort of his fireside. These guys are tough.
But apparently I don't understand American culture (in spite of having lived here almost twenty years). For reasons that are a mystery to me, windsurfing is seen by many Americans as elitist and effete. I became aware of this image of the sport during the 2004 presidential campaign when candidate John Kerry took an hour or so off from campaigning to go windsurfing. The press filmed him and the resultant coverage was used to brand him as an out of touch liberal elitist.
Sure it didn't help that his opponent produced a juvenile ad using a clip of Kerry windsurfing to draw a parallel between his tacking back and forth on his board to his history of "flip-flopping" on political issues. Kerry had surely deserved the flip-flopper charge. But the harm to his image was also largely because, horror of horrors, the guy was actually windsurfing!!!
I don't get it. Why is windsurfing seen so negatively? What sports are acceptable in the land of the free for someone with presidential aspirations?
Well, there's shooting of course. It's almost mandatory that anyone with ambitions to sit in the Oval Office spends at least some time in the woods dressed in camo blasting away at furry or feathery creatures (not to mention winging the occasional lawyer.) Even if you've never hunted in your life, you'd better do your best to fake it for a photo opportunity.
And golf seems to be OK. Presidents Clinton and Bushes have often been filmed on the golf course playing each other or visiting dignitaries. Nobody seems to think that this betrays them as being part of the country club elite. And nobody dares to resurface in the presidential context the old joke that golf is a sport for "white guys dressed like black pimps".
So why has windsurfing got such a bad press? Apparently if you are a windsurfer it proves you are unable to relate to regular Joes in the South and Midwest. Doesn't anybody windsurf in Texas or Georgia or Ohio? Don't any of those guys with a pickup truck displaying a Confederate flag ever throw a board in the back and head off for a quick blast around the local water hole?
Is it true as the conservative National Review claimed that Bubba Don't Windsurf?
Please help me out with this. What is your image of a typical windsurfer? Why is it such a negative in a country proud of its traditions of tolerance and diversity? And if you're not American does the same image hold true in your country? For example, would you advise David Cameron or Brendan Nelson to avoid being seen reaching around on a windsurfer?
Please comment. But please restrain yourself from rubbishing the policies or personality of any individual politician. If you want to indulge in Bush-bashing or Clinton-bashing or Kerry-bashing there are plenty of other places on the Interwebs you can do that. Let's keep the discussion to the place of windsurfing in popular culture, why it has such an elitist image, whether it's deserved, the reasons for it, etc. etc.