‘Stoked,’ From 1960s Surfers to Sochi / Wall Street Journal / February 15, 2014

‘Stoked,’ From 1960s Surfers to Sochi / Wall Street Journal / February 15, 2014

Snowboarding Olympian Sage Kotsenburg couldn’t get away from the word during his news conference.

By Ben Zimmer

“I’m so stoked to be here, representing the U.S.A., for sure.” So began the news conference of Sage Kotsenburg, gold-medal winner of the first-ever snowboarding slopestyle event at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

According to two reporters at Sochi, Mr. Kotsenburg used the word “stoked” 14 times at the news conference. New Jersey Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politi called it “an unofficial Olympic record.”

One Russian interpreter admitted to a reporter for Al Jazeera Americathat the word flummoxed him. Grasping for a Russian equivalent, he ended up translating “stoked” with a term meaning “under the influence of alcohol.”

But any interpreter for the Winter Olympics should be prepared for “stoked,” a word that snowboarders deploy with astounding frequency.In a sport that prides itself on linguistic innovation (Mr. Kotsenburg, for instance, is fond of the all-purpose approbation “spoice“), “stoked” is an old standby to describe a snowboarder’s feeling of euphoria about a good run.

Like so much of snowboarder slang—think of “pumped,” “amped,” “gnarly” and “rad”—the good vibes of “stoked” can be traced back to West Coast surfing and skateboarding lingo. “Stoked” first started appearing in print in 1963, when surfing culture started making a splash nationwide. That October, a Hawaii magazine called Paradise of the Pacificdefined “stoked” as “excited” in a slang-packed article titled, “From Hodads to Hot Doggers, the Oceanlands are Stoked Over Wet Rock-and-Roll. Cowabunga!”

Over the years, “stoked” came to be emblematic of surfer life in general. Just ask Drew Kampion, former editor of Surfer Magazine and author of the 1997 book, “Stoked: A History of Surf Culture.”

“‘Stoked’ embodies that sense of challenge, adventure, exhilaration and God-kissed bliss that imbues the sport of surfing,” Mr. Kampion told me. “Crowds and competition for waves have affected the atmosphere around surfing, but there are still places and times when it all comes back at you, and you’re stoked!”

Mr. Kampion was informed by John Sespoiverson, who founded Surfer Magazine in 1960, that “stoked” first came into use in the U.S. Navy in the 1940s. One can imagine Navy sailors experienced in stoking a ship’s furnace might have been attracted to the metaphor of getting “fired up.”

After World War II, military men who had been stationed in Hawaii helped build modern surf culture, bringing the surfing boom to southern California in the 1950s. “Stoked,” then, likely made that same cultural journey before becoming a fixture of West Coast slang in the ’60s. Now that mellow sense of elation has penetrated the hypercompetitive Olympic atmosphere.

 

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