swatch girls pro china

The podium on Hainan Island. Photo: Swatch


The Inertia

For the first time in the history of women’s longboarding, top female longboarders are seemingly being treated the way they ought to be treated at every event: like world-class athletes, like champions.

The pride they must feel at being able to participate in something historically unique in professional surfing, where they are not simply individuals competing for a trophy, but a part of something larger than themselves, must be extremely moving.

To be a part of the narrative of one’s culture, to be woven into the fabric of the cultural tapestry, is the dream, albeit often times an unspoken one, of anyone who chases titles, championships and notoriety of any sort. We are creatures of language who have told stories since sounds began to shape the contours of our throats and mouths. Whether myth, rumor, ballad, epic, gossip, tragedy… we are both stories and storytellers, subjects (or objects) of texts and text-makers, immersed in a sea of meaning and meaning-making.

As the first glimpses of the historical first ASP event in China are meted out to the media and flowing to the public and myself, I am reminded of this meaning-making tendency. I am taking a good hard look at how the spectacle is being commodified and how the overall meaning of the spectacle itself is being revealed. Often, it is what we don’t see and what we aren’t reading that is the most illuminating. I’d like to offer a different reading of the texts being presented.

The event is significant enough for Brodie Carr himself to attend and present a welcome speech to the ladies in attendance alongside the Mayor of Wanning. “Hundreds of people” are said to have attended the opening ceremony… though I don’t quite know what to make of the fact that most of them seem to be wearing color coordinated shirts and to be sitting in sections of similar shirt color, pink, yellow, red, white… (Pre Event Photos Gallery 03, photo 5). This observation is not meant to poke fun at Chinese uniform, but to highlight the possibility that the crowd was specifically arranged.

Additionally, it was noted by one of the competitors that the event had one hundred and fifty volunteers. Are these the “hundreds” that showed up to the opening ceremony? Who were also present to greet the arrival of the surf media, the judges and the competitors with cheers?

What is not clear – at least from the later photos of the event – is whether hundreds of people were present for the ladies’ heats. At the time of this writing, given the close-cropped images and lack of panoramic photos available of the scene on the beach, it seems that the choice to run the event mid-week on an island that was recently connected to the mainland of China by high-speed rail and is known as a resort location replete with golf courses, famous festivals and encourages internal tourism with a government tax rebate program, might not have been enough to flood the beaches with spectators not connected with the event itself.

The ASP has been in this dilemma before: Remote locale, lack of spectators on the beach… Solution: Live Webcast! Only there is no live webcast, no live soundbites and no live interviews for this event. There are, however, live web scores… thrilling.

Is this event really business as usual for the ASP? What about Swatch? What about social networking as advertisement? I tried to find hashtags for the event on Twitter and I found two tweets with the hashtag #swatchgirlspro. I tried to find updates on my peers’ Facebooks but could not. There are some photos leaking through on Facebook and on Twitter through instagram and one early comment that one of the surfers had arrived, then relative silence. When the ladies were in France, there were updates as the women won or lost their heats. They were supported by family and friends throughout the experience via social networking.

Either the ladies have all changed their behavior, social networking is no longer a viable advertising outlet for Swatch and the ASP, or there is something else going on. Something, perhaps, tied to the reason there are no live webcasts, no live commentary… it is far easier, after all, to control your propaganda and to censor your narrative if there is no live text to monitor. This is conjecture on my part, but to witness this silence occurring at an event of this size and import, is quite unsettling. As it turns out, China has a ban on both Facebook and Twitter. This could very well be the least spectated world championship event in the history of the ASP.

What is making its way through to the surf-media are close-cropped images revealing nothing of the surrounding contextual environment and news features that promote “the bath water-warm, turquoise South China Sea waves… under the palm-fringed, mountain-backed point at Riyuewan (‘Sun and Moon’) Bay” and those people present who, as one competitor explained, “surround [them with] …nothing but happy, smiling faces.’

Sadly, we are not learning anything new about the women competing in the event; these group of women who are participating in what the surf media is touting as a historic moment in the history of surfing. Most people who track the ASP World Tour do not know these women’s unique stories, their characters, personalities or ambitions. We are only learning how they feel about and their limited experience of, an island-bubble in China created solely for them, the surf industry and tourism.

I wish more time and space were allocated to delving into these women’s lives, which are rich and complex and far larger than their ambition to win a world championship. These women who have chosen to be a part of the narrative of surfing over and over, despite being trivialized at every turn.


  • Al Baydough

    It’s a tough road. But with stout characters like yourself it is getting paved.

    At least foot binding has nearly vanished. It’s a start.

  • Johnny

    that was a well written and very interesting read.    

  • Clifton Evers

    The money came from corrupt local officials, made by moving the local villagers off land, without compensation, to build more concrete resort monoliths (with NO environmental evaluation). Hainan and its people are being absolutely exploited, and this event fed into that and off that. Chinese officials would have told some people to attend and transported them in, no doubt. The Chinese don’t give a fuck about surfing, it is not a huge untapped market you corporate gooses. The firewall would have played havoc with the broadcast. What a hoax! Go there and see for yourself. It is all painfully obvious and shamelessly done.

    • Cori S.

      Agreed, Mr. Evers. 

  • Stu

    I want to fall in Cori’s camp, I really do.  But at the end of the day, we’re talking not just about pro surfing, but women’s pro longboarding here.  In an ideal world, money would flow, eyes would peep and butts would sit to watch, but that’s not reality.  I’m sure all of these ladies are nice.  They likely all have interesting stories too.  But most people are nice, and many are interesting.  I need more than that to care and women’s pro longboarding isn’t currently providing it.

    If there’s a take away in all of this maybe it’s we don’t need pro surfing at all.

    • Al Baydough

      “I want to fall in Cori’s camp…”Bullshit.

      • Stu

        You are right. Pro surfing is lame and pro long boarding is even lamer. I don’t care that there was a contest in China. What u do care about is trying to help Slater manufacture wave pools so everyone in the world can one day pay to surf around in a circle. Oh, wait, that’s you.

        • Jeff Byrnes

          Anytime you want to pit your skills against mine you let me know, ripper.

  • real talk

    Weren’t you boycotting this contest? Now you’re pissed it wasn’t sensationalized? Do you even have a thesis statement? 

    I’m sorry but what I just read came off as a bunch of rambling paragraphs complaining about us not knowing women longboarders as individuals? I don’t know slater, wright, or de souza as individuals, I know them as top pro surfers who surf heats well. 

    What on earth are you even talking about? Take a step back, nobody outside of maybe some of the girls at Sano, Malibu, pleasure point, etc, could give a crap about competitive women’s longboarding. You expect it to be on ESPN or something? I read all about this on several blogs, I know Christian Wach has posted it and it has been reblogged several times, so you’re kinda losing your argument with the whole social network approach. 

    Don’t be so jealous and bitter, It’s just women’s longboarding, nobody will ever become wealthy or famous from it. 

    • Cori S.

      The main focus of the article was propaganda and censorship. Sorry you missed that. 

      • Stu

        huh?  There’s corruption and censorship in China?  Wha wha who?  Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  • Stu

    and then what?  It’ll be cool to devote your time and efforts to, of all things, Slater’s wave pool?  I’m at the comp right now in SF.  Sitting just to the north of the scaffolding.  Blue hoodie, black jeans, black vans.  Board’s in the car.  Let’s GO!

    • Al Baydough

      An eight hour drive for those waves? Be a little more realistic.

      And I challenge you to attempt to see the silver lining in Slater’s dream project. Hell, I challenge you to see a positive solution in anything. Negative criticism takes far less talent and skill than positive solutions-oriented dialogue – something you appear to be wholly incapable (or simply too chickenshit) or engaging in.

       Pony up, donkey.

      • Stu

        were it a good idea I might.  But the world needs a round surfing pool like a hole in the head.  I see your challenge and in return challenge you to find a more worthy cause on which to bandwagon.

  • no big deal

    I was at this event. In fact, that’s me in the black hat handing over the world championship cup to Lindsay because the 2010 champ wasn’t there to do it….. 

    Congratulations to Chelsea Williams for out surfing everyone in China and congrats Lindsay for sealing the deal on the  2011 world title.  You girls shred. 

    Everyone’s point of view has some validity. 

    Cori’s nitpicking would be way more valid had she been there. 

    She didn’t see it for herself, did she??  No offense.

    No on agrees with every little aspect of the surfing industry, competition, governments, business…

    I could answer the questions about the beautiful landscape, the volunteers, spectators, water temp, visible development and poverty, why no one was facebooking and tweeting every five minutes, etc. 
    Shit, I could even give my unique story, and tell everyone about my ambitions and my personality. 

    But, I’ll ask a question instead. Why does Cori Shcumacher give a hoot about the media coverage of the contest she boycotted and why is she so curious about what it was like in China?

    Cori, with all do respect, you shoulda been there two weeks ago. It was….

    • Cori S.

      I gave a hoot because I care about women’s longboarding and how it is represented by the ASP, et al. Always have. Curious about what it is like in China because this is the newest direction being taken by the ASP and SIMA (Surf Industry Manufacturers Association): 

      “Quiksilver Chairman and CEO, Bob McKnight commented from his Huntington Beach, California headquarters, ‘We see China as potentially one of the biggest action sports markets in the world, and as such is a key region of our company’s growth strategy.’” http://www.isasurf.org/newsletter/breaking-news/141.html

      It will be interesting to see how the men’s events fair and how fans respond… Looks like this one will have a live webcast…

      “Following the completion of the ISA China Cup, the festival will continue with the Hainan Classic, January 11-14 [2012], which the ISA has confirmed will have a total prize purse of $ 95,000 USD. This historic competition will be the first ASP event ever in China that will count towards the ASP Men’s World Ranking.”

      I have been adamant about supporting the women who went over to China, but I do not support the industry, companies and world tour that created the event or are allying themselves with the Chinese government in the process… it’s an interesting move by a youth sub-culture at this moment in history when so many are Occupying… corporate surfing is disconnecting more and more with the undercurrent of the youth… nor did I want to take money from the government of China… even if simply check it out and then report back. I wish no disrespect to the women who attended the event, yourself included, and look forward to hearing how it went from your perspective. I’m all ears……

      • Al Baydough

        It is ironic that a sport that continues to be marginalized and trivialized by mass culture obsequiously panders to institutions that have made careers out of marginalizing people.

         It’s also pathetic that the majority of men continue to marginalize the accomplishments of people without whom we could not exist. Nothing respectable about crapping on the dreams of people who could be your own kin, either. 

        • Cori S.

          “It is ironic that a sport that continues to be marginalized and trivialized by mass culture obsequiously panders to institutions that have made careers out of marginalizing people.” 
          Splendid point here, Al. On both points, actually. It’s always been a bit of a puzzle to me how women are not simply marginalized, but severely demoralized in the process. This makes every voice, yours included, that is supportive, that much more meaningful.