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The Knowledgebase

What is a Kook: Origins and Meaning of the Word

Don't Be A Kook!

What is a kook? Surfers use this term all the time, but its meaning can vary slightly depending on the situation. Let’s take a look at the word, where it came from, and what it actually means.

First of all, kook is a noun. The term kook can be used to describe someone who acts foolishly or does something outrageous for attention, especially in regard to surfing. However, there are several different types of kooks.

Types Of Kooks

As far as being used today, kooks are often put into three different categories: kooky kooks, asshole kooks or first-time kooks.

A kook can be a novice surfer, someone who doesn’t know the rules of surfing. For example, this type of kook might not take off on their board in time or cut in front of another person waiting for waves to come in. Another kook is one who does something dangerous without knowing better. This could result in hurting other people.

The worst kind? The asshole kook. Kook is one of the worst things you can be called as a more advanced surfer. Surfers will use this term to describe other decent surfers if they do something truly bad or despicable. So, using kook towards a more advanced surfer carries a bit more pointed derision and dislike vs calling an inexperienced surfer a kook.

Not All Beginners Are Kooks

If you’re a novice surfer, don’t worry. Surfers don’t call all beginners kooks. You’re only a kook if you’re repeatedly getting in the way, getting into dangerous situations, or just actively acting dumb. There’s a leap from beginner to kook, and adhering to basic common sense, decency, and surf etiquette will prevent you from falling into the latter category.

If you don’t want to be labeled a kook, check out our Surfing Etiquette guide and read our beginners tutorials.

Where Does The Word Kook Come From?

The word kook comes from different origins, depending on who you ask.

Some people say the word kook comes from the Hawaiian kukae, which means “sh*t”. Others say the word plays off the idea of “cuckoo,” someone who is not in touch with reality because they are mentally unstable or eccentric (aka kooky).

It has also been said that “KOOK” was first used by Arnold Lienhardt while working with Duke Kahanamoku at his home in La Jolla, California. Lienhardt said kook was a term to describe the local surfing population who would come down from Los Angeles and attempt to learn how to surf.

The now-familiar phrase appears to have been coined sometime between the 1950s and 1960s, according to several sources.

According to language experts and academics, the term “kook” emerged as a catchword following the US television series “77 Sunset Strip,” in which a rather odd individual – Gerald Lloyd Kookson III (Edd Byrnes) – is dubbed “Kookie.”

Honestly it’s tough to really pinpoint where exactly the word came from.  It’s one of those slang words that tends to pop into existence from a few sources over time.

Some Random Historical Uses & Facts

The first surf leashes were coined as “kook cords”.

The hollow lifeguarding boards used in the 40’s and 50s were called “Kook Boxes” (Kookbox was also the name of a surfboard brand owned by Joel Tudor in the 2000s).

The cartoon character Wilbur Kookmeyer was a stereotypical beach bum burnout featured in a Surfer magazine comic series in the 1980’s.

David Bowie wrote a song called Kooks featured on the album Hunky Dory.  The British rock band The Kooks named themselves after this song.  The Kooks performed a free show in 2012 at Bird’s Surf Shed in San Diego, CA.

Hayley Gordon

Hayley is an avid surfer and the founder of this website. She splits her time surfing between Encinitas, CA and Montauk, NY.

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