Amid all of the danger and treasure hunting in Netflix's new YA series, Outer Banks, the meaning of Pogues and Kooks is one of the easier things to explain: they're both separate references to fishing and surfer culture repurposed as class designations. John B. introduces the nicknames early on as he drives his band of friends from one side of the island to the other. "This is Figure Eight, the rich side of the island. Home of the Kooks," he says as they pass by golf courses, large ranch houses, and marinas full of expensive yachts. He describes Kooks as "rich trustafarian posers" who he sees, of course, as his natural enemies.
Soon the landscape changes, and instead of country clubs they're driving by shanties, run-down boats, and people fishing off the side of the bridge. "This is the south side, or the cut," John B. explains. "Home of the working class, who make a living busing tables, washing yachts, running charters. The natural habitat of the Pogues." John B. tells us that unlike the Kooks, the Pogue teens are largely ignored and neglected — which is sad, but also means they're free to live a Lost Boys-esque lifestyle.
As John B. explains, "Pogues" is a play off of the word pogies, the common nickname for the small and silver Menhaden fish. According to Outdoor Life, Menhadens smell and are "unremarkable looking"; because of their poor taste, you "wouldn't ever intentionally eat one." They're essentially just used for bait, but despite being at the very bottom of the food chain, they're critical to upholding the entire marine ecosystem, and are considered the most important fish in the sea. By being food for larger fish like swordfish and tuna, Menhadens ensure that there are still fish humans can eat. This mirrors the way in which the working class Pogues are derided, and yet they provide the essential services that keep the entire town's economy going.
"Kook," meanwhile, is a slang term among surfers that means different things, but is always negative in connotation. Per GQ, the most basic definition of a Kook is "an individual with no understanding of the social and sartorial norms of surfing." At best, they wear expensive board shorts, pose with their boards, and don't actually surf. At worst, they attempt to show off in the water, and end up injuring the more seasoned surfers. However, according to Urban Dictionary — the extremely unofficial slang guide — "Kook" also speaks to a class divide. It's almost always used by locals to describe the upper class or transplanted gentrifiers who want the status of "local" but look down on the actual people who live in lower-income communities there. As one entry poster meanly points out, only "aggro locals" use the term because they dislike those who don't live in "sh*thole little coastal towns, don't work construction," and "don't drive old, beat-up trucks."
You can see in Outer Banks how both sides have wholly adopted the identities of Pogue and Kook, to the point where it's treated as a slur. At one point Topper calls John B. a Pogue, and even though John B. self-identifies as one, the context changes when a Kook says it. This leads to a brutal fight on the beach, and these tensions only continue to rise across the season.
Even though the terms refer to two very different things, they both make it clear why the Pogues and Kooks are unable to see eye to eye. As John B. says about the Outer Banks, "the island was like America on steroids. The haves and have nots of any place, but magnified and multiplied."