American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

THE PUMPHOUSE GANG (1968). The Pump House Gang is a collection of essays by Tom [Thomas Kennerly] Wolfe (1931-?) that profiles individuals or groups who have broken away from mainstream U.S. culture, especially from its rules for establishing status. The eponymous first essay entitled “The Pump House Gang” focuses on a group of surfers and their cohorts from Windansea beach in La Jolla, California. This piece portrays a surfing lifestyle and ethos defined by youth and liberation from the dominant culture’s concerns and responsibilities.

A particular relationship to the ocean is, of course, a key aspect of this subculture; in order to be accepted, one must feel and understand the power and mystery of “the Oh Mighty Hulking Pacific Ocean” (21). Facing, riding this powerful and mysterious force establishes and helps maintain one’s immunity from mainstream preoccupations. The essay includes a brief profile of director Bruce Brown, whose exceedingly popular surf film The Endless Summer (1966) both represented and helped popularize the image of surfing and the surfing lifestyle as liberation from daily obligations and restrictions.

Byron Caminero-Santangelo