This might sounds like a waste of time, the thunderous scoffs that must be echoing the globe amongst many readers. Of course you know the difference, balls and courts and waves and wetness etc. Those things I’m going to take for granted that you realise these as the obvious differences. What I would like to point out is that there are many differences you might not have thought of and a few similarities too.
So first, why am I bothering with this and why is it relevant to you, the surfer?
A few weeks ago we wrote an article in response to the speech one the owners of the WSL, (Dirk Ziff) released. The main objective (as far as we can work out) was to respond to ‘haters’ and general surf-media scepticism about the changes being made to the WSL tour, including the whole Facebook thing. If you want to check that out as some backstory here is the link.
There are, however, a few points that we negated to make in that article and after lots of conversations around the office, I thought is was worth throwing some key taps out there to make some points that might seem obvious. Here we go…
Dirk Ziff (then interim CEO of the WSL) announced on the 19th August 2107 that Sofie would be the next CEO of the WSL.
Sofie, who was not and is not a surfer, had no surfing experience was to head the pack and help form the then future of the WSL. Let’s just say the immediate response of the media and fans was not so great. While I realise that surfing is an insular pastime, one that other (non-surfers) just don’t get sometimes, could there not have been an advocate that might have been better suited?
I don’t want to revisit old subjects but in the interest of context it is perhaps relevant to note that her past success is in sports management with the NBA (National Basketball Association), RFU (Rugby Football Union) WTA (Womens Tennis Association) and more. She has had success in all these areas and helped further the sports and brands. Sounds good so far?
Tennis vs Surfing
Let’s start with a little passage of the speech that Dirk (Ziff) bedazzled us with and work from there:
“The combination of physical ability, hard-won skill and technique, self-confidence, and on the spot decision making required to be consistently successful in our sport is mind-blowing.
Do they not deserve to be rewarded for their magic, in a way comparable to the greatest athletes in other sports?
Not everyone seems to think the answer is yes. It is hard to imagine this happening in other sports but I think we all know that there are strong and vocal elements within the surf culture that question whether the very ideas of competition and profit are compatible with the true spirit of surfing – whether there is a place for the WSL at all.”
SB: So, one point at a time, firstly, yes, the athletes do deserve a platform on which to perform and of course deserve to be rewarded, as we hear so often, it is expensive to travel the world, support a family, buy new boards, train etc. The pros need cash, we get that.
Secondly, do they deserve to be rewarded in a way comparable with athletes of other sports such as tennis or basketball? I am not saying they don’t deserve it, I am just asking you to note the reference and that the comparison was made.
Thirdly, I am not sure that anyone is saying there is no place for the WSL, we are all longtime fans in the office. What we have a problem with is the bland vision of copying the business models of other sports that are not surfing. The dumbing down of the culture and trying to bring it too much into the mainstream.
What I am trying to say is that surfing is not ‘other sports’ and especially the ones Sofie has dealt with before.
Allow me to elaborate and get to the smelly crotch of this second retort to Dirk’s speech.
In every other sport we have mentioned thus far, there has to be a winner and a loser, one individual or team that ‘out-performs’ the other either in tactics, skill or luck. This is the same when playing at the ‘fans’ level. For example, when you meet a friend for a game of tennis, you probably don’t just knock the ball around. You play a ‘set’, or have a ‘match’. There are points allocated and there is a defined winner, that is the essence of the sport. One winner makes the game what it is, at its essence. The whole tennis playing public can relate to this.
Now, let’s knock that same model over to surfing. When you go for a surf, do you dream of meeting a mate early, getting a bunch of judges on the beach and getting scores shouted to you, trying to ‘out-surf’ your mate, holding priority and getting angry if you lose, punching your board? You might, but I am willing to bet my son’s pet hamster that this is not the dream of most surfers in the world.
What I am trying to say that, in its essence, surfing is not a competitive sport, the ‘good form’ for a surfer is to share waves, build a community and get the most out of everyone’s stoke. Surfing is a relaxing distraction and also the best feeling on earth. At no point at all do I wish to be competitive in the water. I get waves for one person, me.
For me this is a huge and fundamental difference that needs to be noted when ‘comparing’ our sport with the others of which Dirk draws comparison.
Bringing in kids ‘happiness’ to the argument
This is the next passage of the speech that I would like to draw your attention to, the part when Dirk uses Kelly, some groms on tour and a quote : “every kid who lives with salt in their hair” :
“But don’t pretend you don’t know that when you go beyond constructive criticism and cynically try to rally negative sentiment towards the WSL, when you try to take us down, you are not just going after us. You are going after Kelly Slater. You are trying to take down Lakey Peterson. You are going after the dreams of Caroline Marks and Griffin Colapinto. You are undermining the hopes of every kid who lives with salt in their hair, dreaming of being a world champion one day.”
SB: In my book that is a cheap shot, firstly, no, we are not going after Kelly, he is big enough and successful enough in his own right to respect the views of others. He will survive just fine if the WSL did not exist.
Secondly, we are not going after Lakey and Griffin, if their dreams are to be super rich then maybe a profession in banking or law might have been better. They are surfing and making money doing it, should they join the over-inflated paid ranks of the ‘other sports’ athletes? I don’t know and it’s not for me to decide but I am willing to bet they enjoy surfing a whole lot more than being loaded beyond need.
Thirdly, and this is the part that really got me. We are not going after the dreams of every kid who lives with salt in their hair. Surfing for most people is not about winning or losing, in fact just the opposite, it’s about accepting that we are a part of something far greater and something that we have no control over. It’s about overcoming adversity, the challenge is reading forecasts, getting up early every morning, knowing more about the craft we ride, the flow of different waves and how that translates into the greatest feeling on earth. It’s about acceptance and joy and sharing that with others.
I have a son who is learning to surf and I want to show him how surfing can help your life, not frustrate it. That old saying “The best surfer in the water is the one with the biggest smile” could not be more relevant. Of course you should strive to be the best but there can only be a few that succeed which means most are bound to struggle and fail, become tainted and lose interest.
What we should be promoting are the simple reasons to surf in the first place, the happiness, the stoke, the healthy lifestyle and the feeling community that I hold so dear. It’s okay to be whatever you want in life and still surf, surfing does not define us but is merely the best and most elegant distraction.
The Wavepool Comp
As I have you here it would be remiss of me not to mention the Surf Ranch Pro and what it means for all us fans. It means that the WSL can sell TV rights easily, can command the conditions and times of the event as Dirk rightly points out here:
“But, as anyone ever associated with professional surfing knows, it is a tricky challenge. Waiting for the ocean to deliver exciting conditions has been an obvious issue. So has the culture of free attendance. Fans of other sports know that the broadcast starts at 3 pm on Saturday afternoon, not some time in the next 12 days when the commissioner calls it on.
And the events take place in ticketed arenas and stadiums. If all competition start times were completely uncertain and attendance was free, I wonder how many sports would be successful today?”
SB: He has hit the nail on the head here, I am a fan, I do watch the events and we all know the frustration of lay days in comps. The thing is though, that’s what surfing is. Sometimes you turn up at your local break and it’s flat, the forecast is wrong, you have to wait. It’s one of the most integral parts of surfing and partly what makes perfect conditions more perfect. If you can just turn on the waves, get some and get out, some of the appeal to me is lost. You have to have dedication to surf, period, not just to compete. The current WSL system does mimic surfing.
SB: I understand the economic argument for wavepool comps, but I am sorry, it’s just not surfing. Duck diving, surfing outside your comfort zone, local knowledge of currents, swell direction, paddle fitness, waiting for set waves and more are all part of what makes a surfer and therefore should define in part a champion surfer. This is all lost in a wavepool comp.
Ticketing of the Surf Ranch Pro
While we understand this is a must in order to put in an event such as the Surf Ranch Pro (the wave costs money to run and needs to be paid for) we have a few issues with the pricing structure detailed below:
Cheapest Admission – 99 USD - for one day, includes parking and shuttle.
Full Experience – 199 USD - for the full three day experience include parking, shuttle and BLINK 182 gig.
VIP Ticket – 499 USD - for the full three day experience, includes an open bar, elevated food options, premium hospitality, closer parking and seated closer to the athletes.
Groms (under 10yrs) – 10 USD (one day) 25 USD (three days) – they have to be accompanied by a full paying adult obvs.
SB: Firstly, you might think that it’s not that expensive for the average Joe, but factor into that travel (carbon emissions too) to and from. Leemor is about a 3 hour drive from LAX and you will need a place to stay overnight if you opt for the 3 day ticket, you will need to buy food, drink too. It will all start to add up.
Compare this to the event it is replacing at Trestles which was free for all surf fans of the area, helping groms and surfers alike to have contact with their ‘heroes’, promoting the sport, the League and being more ‘at-one’ with the surf culture today. It does not compare. For me it seems like more of a theme park but one that won’t let you ride the only attraction.
Secondly, the 499 buck ‘VIP’ ticket for all those who have cash to burn which obviously makes them ‘Very Important’. Maybe being from a more liberal country I am wrong, but isn’t this kind of an elitist move in one of the only ‘sports’ that remains a leveler. What do I mean by that? Merely that in surfing as a rule, it does not matter how much cash you have, or what equipment you ride, everyone is equal. Those who put the work and time in get the rewards, there is no elitism in surfing, or there wasn’t. (localism aside)
Time to wrap up this bigger than intended ‘office round up’ of what we are all saying. Bottom line is that surfing is not like other ‘sports’. There is a solution out there for competitive surfing and how to make the most of the fans and athletes but is that what is happening? We can only wait and see.
As ever if you, the surfing public, have any other points to make, or indeed call us out on what we think, throw some words in the comments yaaaaal.