It’s time again to randomly browse our bookshelves at HQ and re-discover a forgotten coffee-table tome. Today we’ve pulled out a book on Japanese graffiti art. Its title is “RackGaki,” a modified phonetic spelling in the Roman alphabet of the Japanese word for graffiti usually written as rakugaki. Indeed this book from the 2000’s is a document of the works by dozens upon dozens of Japanese graffiti writers and artists throwing up spray-painted tags and images throughout Japan, though mostly in Tokyo and to lesser degree Osaka. The book reveals the heavy influence of early American hip-hop culture in Japan and is a testament to its global reach over the decades. One of the graffiti writers featured in the book goes by the moniker “VERY,” who we met and interviewed for a zine we were editing while living in Osaka way back in the year 2000.
“Shaka” or “Shaka, brah!” Maybe you’ve heard this expression. Maybe you’ve uttered those words in earnest salutation or ironically. Maybe you’re a core surfer living on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, and these words are your go-to, standard form of salutation. You use it all time without even really thinking about it. (For example, when you stride into Ono’s in Haleiwa for a pork sandwich, you offer a shaka to staff at the counter.)
In any case, the word “shaka” and its utterance are but only part of the communications protocol here. Those words are said with an accompanying hand gesture that might be more familiar to many readers than the words.
The shaka hand gesture, sometimes referred to as the “hang loose” sign, is similar to the “devil horns” gesture associated with heavy metal music. But with the shaka, the pinky finger and thumb are extended outward from the palm while the index, middle and ring fingers are bent down into the palm.
With fingers configured as such, the hand is then raised or extended and often given a little back and forth wiggle or shake, a motion functioning like a wave of the hand, to emphasize and visibly highlight the message to its intended audience.
The gesture is one of positivity. It’s loved by most surfers but also loathed by some surfers, hence the use of the “ironic shaka.” The shaka is undeniably a part of surf culture and has its modern usage and cultural origins in the birthplace of surfing: Hawaii.
But culture and its symbols evolve. The shaka in the pic above is part of a two-page graphical spread in the zine Can’t Steal Our Vibe that show the gesture altered as a mash-up with the standard “f*ck you!” middle finger gesture.
In this new versions, the extended pinky of the shaka is pulled in, and the middle finger is extended. On first try, it’s not an easy gesture to make with natural fluidity, compared to the shaka.
But no matter. It’s what the gesture means that’s important here. And what does it mean? That’s the beauty of it: For now it’s subject to interpretation. And if the creators have a denotation for it, its esoteric.
We love that the “F-You-Shaka” hybrid brings together the insouciance, anger and insult of the middle finger with the friendly, laidback “everyone’s a bro” vibe of the trad surfer shaka. These are opposing sentiments and may confuse.
The mashup, we think, is more ironic and captures even more accurately the contemporary core of surf culture: Its rebel semiotics and its knowing cues and tribal codes.
Can’t Steal Our Vibe, BTW, is a zine published occasionally by Lone Wolfs (sic), a surf brand and shop and music studio in Venice, Los Angeles, that uses the new “F-You-Shaka” as a kind of logo on stickers. The title of the zine is taken from a graffiti-like, spray-painted message written on a panel that covered a door that had been shattered in an attempted burglary at Lone Wolfs in 2016. The shop has also spray painted the phrase as a tagline on the side of the store.
There are few things in life that make us positively giddy with excitement. These few things are …
- Good waves and the promise of good surfing;
- A quad-shot espresso in a cup filled to the top with ice first thing on a hot, humid morning, preferably near a beach with good waves and the promise of good surfing;
- Experiencing a bold, massive-scaled and amazing art installation, preferably after quad-shot espresso, good waves, good surfing, etc.;
- Boarding a plane bound for a foreign country, especially after seeing amazing artwork, quad-shot espresso, good waves, surfing blah blah blah;
- And … seeing a new, freshly printed issue of Apartamento magazine sitting neatly on the table at HQ.
The smell of the magazine’s thick, expensive paper stock can practically be sensed from a few meters away, which is like foreplay to thumbing through its pages.
Print media dead? Dying maybe, but not dead. In some cases, print media is positively thriving. For a few years now we’ve been in a new golden age of excellent independent print magazines. For for some magazines, the content is such that it is best experienced in print.
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Many years ago, when I was in my late teens and early twenties, I was travelling two or three times a year from the U.S. through the Southeast Asian city state of Singapore. These trips were usually en route to Australia and Papua New Guinea to visit family and make “visa runs” during the summer and winter months. I got in the habit of visiting bookstores in Singapore and picking up a lot of novels along the way to satisfy my voracious reading habit on the long flights and months traveling this part of the world.
In Singapore, there’s a lot of contemporary literature by local writers published in English. One such book was “Man of Malaysia” by Tan Kok Seng. His novel reads like a memoir of a poor, working-class man coming of age and finding a life in a homeland that was going through rapid economic development and social change. For a young, white Western man, his story offered a fascinating and rare perspective.
Many years later, I stumbled upon this book in a box we unpacked during a move to a new home. The minimalist design and line-drawn portrait on the cover make the book stand out and is probably what first got my attention when I browsed the display tables of a bookstore in a mall off Orchard Road in Singapore those many years ago.
Good design can serve many purposes. One is to invite the viewer in, to pique a curiosity and draw them to further explore. This book didn’t change my life, but it offered profound, unique insight that likely I would not have gained had I not noticed the book in the first place.
Last week, we stumbled upon this vintage copy of Yoko Ono’s influential 1964 conceptual-art book “Grapefruit.” It was in a display case arranged with various jewelry, accessories and other small objet at General Store in Venice, Los Angeles. The cool-as-fuck book cover has a black-and-white photo of Ono and titles in a lower-case serif typography of a style that has re-surfaced in recent years in the indie magazine and graphic design worlds. The book itself is not so much an artwork as it is a collection of instructions for creating specific performance art pieces and media, a legit artificat from art’s Fluxus movement of the 1960s in downtown New York, where Ono established herself as a leading figure.
On a recent visit to the Arcana bookstore in Culver City, in Los Angeles, we checked out some beautiful coffee-table books on surfing and surf photography. Among these was a book titled “Surfing San Onofre to Point Dume: 1936-1942.” It’s a collection of sepia-toned photos by Don James documenting his surfing experience and his surfer friends and their lifestyle in Southern California during the pre-World War II era and early war years. The photos reveal what the surfing life was like in its first idyllic golden age when the Hawaiian “sport of kings” was still novel and taking root in California.
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One of our New Year’s resolutions was to sift through our library here and choose books to throw out, give away or sell. Our bookshelves here at GG HQ in New York are overflowing with printed matter. It should be an easy task, but whenever we embark on one of these semi-annual house-cleaning bookshelf purges, we stumble upon an old book or magazine that stops us; its striking cover design or title forces us to pause and re-consider whether we should throw it out.
That was the case with the anthology of articles and essays by pop-culture writer Chuck Klosterman’s aplty titled “Chuck Klosterman IV,” pictured below. (The title is a nod to British rock legend Led Zeppelin, which the author devotes a dozen or so pages to.) The book’s cover design caught our attention again much like it did the first time we saw it while browsing the “New Non-Fiction” shelf at the McNally-Jackson Bookstore in Nolita.
Anyway, we spent the next hour re-reading a few of the articles and were tempted to keep the book, but in the end, we decided to say “Goodbye” to this volume and find it a new home with a friend or colleague who will enjoy its humor, insights and opinions. If you’re not familiar with Klosterman’s work, “IV” is a good intro. His book “Sex, Drugs and Coca Puffs” is one of the 2000’s pop-culture must-reads, and we highly recommend it.
We’re loving Acid, a fresh and artsy surf magazine based in Europe. In issue Number 2, pictured here, there’s beautiful photography and photo essays and fascinating personal essays about surf adventures in unlikely places like the southeast of England where waves are extremely rare and the Eisbach River in Munich, Germany, hundreds of miles from the sea and many more from an oceanic surf break.