Now I kind of feel sort of small right now, I would not classify us as 'haters' here at the Bunker, but I think we could all agree that the WSL has not been on the right side of the surf media news of late. My personal feelings aside (which are very much pro WSL) I do think that their competitive format needs some updating. Why am I I rabbiting on about this?
Just a few hours ago I read an engaging little speech from the owners, (yes, that's right they own the WSL) of the WSL, Dirk and Natasha Ziff. They are private people who like to stay out of the limelight (which I fully respect) but have chosen to weigh in now with their thoughts, dreams and views. Some of it was inspiring, some filled me with hope, some with shame and inevitably some with dread.
The crux of the speech centred around their passion for what competitive surfers can do, the difficulties in making the competitive format pay compared to other sports and providing hope for all those groms out there and that, maybe one day, they could be a world champ.
Rather than picking apart what they didn't say or magnifying on the excuses they made about the (and there are no two ways about it) glaring mistake of teaming up with Facebook, I would instead like to offer our heartfelt and honest ideas about what might make a better tour. I am not doing this out of the goodness of my heart, I have been asked to by Dirk himself.
I have decided to make this article a letter to the couple themselves:
"I have a message to the haters, and it is simple. Be tough. Call us out. Keep us honest. Tell us what we need to improve." said Dirk Ziff.
Okey dokey Dirky, it just so happens we have a few ideas and thoughts to share, we have tried to keep it all positive as you seem like a good dude and you surf.
Different boards for different conditions
You say they are the best surfers on the planet? There is no doubt they are good and streets ahead of my good self and the whole team here in the office. My mum told me first that best surfer is the one having the most fun. I took that to heart and have always looked to see who is having the most fun in the lineup. The conclusion I have come to is the most talented person that is on the right board for the conditions. Why is it that you can't showcase all sorts of boards on the same tour? Would that not, firstly, represent the whole surfing world better, appeal to a greater audience and champion the diversity of different board shapes and styles?
I am talking about the 'top' surfers on the WSL riding all sorts of equipment from shortboards, to twinnies, to singles, Bonzers, logs and basically whatever the conditions called for. The true champion surfer would be the individual who could ride any sort of surfboard the best. Those to me are the best surfers in the world. There is a world outside 3 or 4 fins and above 6'6. To be able to ride a log, high performance shortboard, twin fin or any other sort of board the best overall would be a world champion indeed.
Surfer Magazine recently interviewed Joel Tudor who talks about his idea of the best surfer, which includes having the ability to shape his/her own boards and have an understanding of how they work. I can't share it here due to privacy setting but here is a link.
How to change the broadcast content
While the events are being broadcast there are always lulls in the action, your audience appreciates that in the same way they appreciate (and I am British) when nothing happens in a game of cricket. We are surfers, that is real surfing (we wait) and that is how it should be. My point here is that while you have our (your viewers) attention, that would be a great time to talk about actual things that will help young surfers understand their sport, where it came from, what their boards do and the choices that they can make. You have the audience, therefore, a responsibility to do and say the right thing. Here are some subjects and ideas we came up with after a quick 'whip round' the office.
Promoting how to deal with bullying in the lineup and localism
Creating more of a 'culture' vibe and bring actual surfing back to surfers, not just trying to drag in the football (American football) fans.
Go easy on the training side of things and promote the happiness waves and riding them give us. That's why we surf, we don't surf for the money.
Tackling addiction problems and depression problems that come with surfing
Exposing the benefits of surfing to the non-surfing world
Exploring real eco benefits of actual real sustainable surf products.
Don't endorse boards imported from halfway around the world just so a shareholder can make money.
And that was just a 5 min opinion from those in our office. As I said we are not 'haters' but instead we are real everyday surfers, we don't practice localism and try to live our lives humbly, taking only the waves we need. We have a small platform compared to you and believe it is your responsibility to pass the messages on that are important.
I would like to take a moment to retort to this passage of your speech as sometimes you can believe your own press if you are not told otherwise. You said :
"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.
And I ask you: Why? It seems pretty obvious that if the WSL keeps growing in popularity, and surfing takes its rightful place among the great and elite competitive sports, everyone connected with our sport, and certainly all the members of SIMA, will prosper, except maybe a few grumpy locals who have to deal with some new faces in the lineup. So…why not work together? "
Ahhhem, we are not grumpy locals, we love to surf and celebrate all those that do, revelling in the enjoyment of others is something core to our being. However, I am not sure how the WSL earning more money and the athletes earning more money will help us. The average normal surfer. I am not sure how it will help anyone apart from the kids that make it to be a successful pro, of which there are in reality, not many.
The whole 'it's good for the industry' thing is just not relevant to us surfers. I have peeked behind the curtain, spent some time there and come back to normality to see things from the layman's perspective. The 'industry' is about one thing. Making cash. My son can learn to surf and have fun (and has done) without knowing that you, Kelly, Lakey or the WSL exist. If the WSL did not exist it would not stop surfers from surfing, so I kind of resent the whole 'crushing kids dreams thing'.
Drawing a line under that, and as I said at the beginning of this article, I am not a WSL hater. I am a fan and have been for a long time. I question some decisions made recently, sure but I still tune into events and I love the experience. I saw you express yourself and wondered if I might respond in kind.
Keep up the good work and hope you are getting some great waves,
James and the Surf Bunker Team
If you would like to read the whole speech that Dirk gave, here is a link to the Stab Mag article.