Wolfe on Surfer Religion

Karynn Ikeda, English 118, Creative Nonfiction in Electronic Environments, Brown University, 2007, Brown University

In the following passage from the "The Pump House Gang," author Tom Wolfe describes the spiritual side of the surfer community, lifting up the sea as an object of reverence and shrouding it in the concept of "mysterioso":

You can laugh at mysticism if you want to, but there is a kid like Larry Alderson, who spent two years with a monk, and he learned a lot of stuff, and Artie Nelander is going to spend next summer with some Outer Mongolian tribe; he really means to do that. Maybe the "mysterioso" stuff is a lot of garbage, but still, it is interesting. The surfers around the Pump House use that word, mysterioso, quite a lot. It refers to the mystery of the Oh Mighty Hulking Pacific Ocean and everything. Sometimes a guy will stare at the surf and say, "Mysterioso." They keep telling the story of Bob Simmons's wipeout, and somebody will say "mysterioso."

Simmons was a fantastic surfer. He was fantastic even though he had a bad leg. He rode the really big waves. One takes a surfer, it drives him right to the bottom. The board came in but he never came up and they never found his body. Very mysterioso. The black panthers all talk about what happened to "the Simmons boy." But the mysterioso thing was how he could have died at all. If he had been one of the old pan-thuhs, hell, sure he could have got killed. But Simmons was, well, one's own age, he was the kind of guy who could have been in the Pump House gang, he was . . . immune, he was plugged into the whole pattern, he could feel the whole Oh Mighty Hulking Sea, he didn't have to think it out step by step. But he got wiped out and killed. Very mysterioso.


1. Wolfe initially presents a view that one should not take the surfer's spiritual beliefs seriously. Why does he do this and does it strengthen his claims for the existence of "mysterioso"?

2. How does Wolfe's mention of Simmons's bad leg affect the reader's interpretation of the buildup of Simmons character in the rest of the paragraph?

3. Why does Wolfe choose to put quotations around "the Simmons boy"?

4. Wolfe begins this passage with "You can laugh at mysticism if you want to . . . " and ends with "Very mysterioso." Are these two statements of disbelief meant to contrast one another in the way that adult and youth perspectives contrast on another throughout "The Pump House Gang"? If so, is there any structural reason why the two paragraphs are framed in this way?

Victorian Web Overview Tom Wolfe

Last modified 1 February 2007