“…at the end of the day, the success or failure of an ASP webcast ultimately rests in the hands of a select few: the men and women behind the microphones.” Photo: ASP / Cestari


The Inertia

After undergoing a nearly decade-long evolution, the surfing world can almost claim that ASP World Championship Tour webcasts are top shelf productions. Almost. Sponsors pump millions of dollars into equipment and set-up, enlist hordes of personnel from within the surf industry and local event sites, and successfully battle endless logistical nightmares in order to produce an event broadcast from start to finish. But at the end of the day, the success or failure of an ASP webcast ultimately rests in the hands of a select few: the men and women behind the microphones.

Given ZoSea Media and ASP International’s partnering to take over event media rights for the 2013 WCT season and standardize broadcasts for 2014, webcast viewers can anticipate some significant changes to the commentary booth. But as the two companies merge, they’ll need to acknowledge that there’s a fine line between webcasts “retaining the authenticity of the culture”, to cite Quiksilver Event Director Rod Brooks, and acknowledging that veteran commentators, guest professional surfers, and industry figures have widely demonstrated inconsistency and a lack of professionalism behind the microphone.

Most webcasts during the competition year betray a well-known principle of the surf industry’s hiring practices: a significant number of jobs in Action Sports are given to former pros and bros, whether qualified or not. While most industry executives, accountants, designers, tech experts, and production managers are bona fide professionals with proven track records, many of those tapped for positions with less direct financial consequences descend from the ranks of frothers who, while impressive in the water or at the skatepark, lack the skills to perform their job function at a level equivalent to their non-Action Sports analogs.

Enter here the ASP broadcast personality (especially the American ones). With the exception of longtime Triple Crown MC Dave Stanfield, the vast majority of webcast anchors seen and heard in recent years exemplify 1) why professional athletes should not necessarily be ordained professionals in occupations they have limited training in and 2) just how much lower the standard for media professionalism is in surfing than in nearly any other sporting endeavor worldwide.

Admittedly, one of the more entertaining elements of the broadcasts comes not from the heats themselves, but the interminable chatter that largely inexperienced commentators have to generate in order to avoid a much-feared moment of silence. By entertaining, I don’t mean informative, humorous, or mechanically enlightening. Rather, I mean that it’s entertaining to laugh at the miscues, botched interviews, sneaker expletives, and the announcers’ general inability to effectively narrate a thirty-minute heat. About half the time it seems that the guys in the booth are the victims of some practical joke that they don’t know is being filmed and broadcast live to the world. The other half are remarks about how good a guy’s boards look (always mentioned by brand), how passionate Brazilians are, and how every viewer needs to immediately buy a plane ticket to the event locale.

Listening to the hordes of pros-and-bros-turned-commentators throughout the competition year gets painful. Professional surfer webcast personalities provide little respite from the hailstorm of sub-par commentary by the industry regulars behind the mic. A lot of young pros (mostly freesurfers or WQS grinders) are grating, abrasive, over-caffeinated, and over-hyped. Others strike the listener as artificially mellow and even melancholy alongside their frothing counterparts. Some great surfers—and industry CEOs—are downright annoying to listen to as guest commentators. Others lack any semblance of professionalism in their presentation, hardly censoring the “bros”, “dudes”, and expletives as they blatantly hype their new fin model. Some are undeniably just too damn young or stoned not to embarrass themselves on camera. Narcissism, machismo, and too-cool-for-school attitudes abound, front and center for the world to see.

One might think that I’m talking about Bobby Martinez, Chris Ward, and other ASP malcontents. Wrong. Bobby Martinez’s comments in New York last year proved that professional surfing is, well, still surfing. Chris Ward’s comments about the GoPro camera on his board in Hawaii were sincere and honest, although unlikely to get him a long-term contract anytime soon. I’m not talking about post-heat interviews, either. Mason Ho, Sebastian Zietz, and Matt Wilkinson are genuinely comical and energizing in front of the camera. Guys like Ace Buchan and Owen Wright are so articulate that they leave their interviewers reaching for a dictionary. And most top ten contenders have their routine so dialed (or are so tightly handled by their managers) that their post-heat interviews rival congressional addresses.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/chuck.allison.18 Chuck Allison

    Wow! Dead on, Many times I just turn the Sound off and go with the images………too many just plain annoying personality to tolerate…….. Too bad the bro network of sponsors will continue to be ‘hip’.

  • DugDog

    At last there is some constructive commentary on the (ahem) commentary.

    When articles like this appear on websites it often turns into a chest thumping exercise for the keyboard warriors to pick their favorite speakers. Rather there is no discussion on what the presenters are saying and how they say it. I hope someone at ZoSea is reading the inertia.

    What really annoys me is the style of presenting for the most part that seems to mimic radio sports broadcasting. MC’s rabbit out words like they are commenting on baseball in the 1920′s. We don’t need a line by line recording of points per wave, seconds left, for every second of every heat. We can see what is happening on the screen. We have pictures showing us what is happening. Maybe the chaps in the water need updates but not continuously for the heat. Put up a god damn scoreboard on the beach.

    The level of commentary is by and large appalling. It is verbal diarrhea.

    It is OK to breath between speaking. We do not need rolling commentary. Dead air can add to the drama and intensity of what is happening in the water. Perhaps give them time to think. I would really like to hear more about the techniques and approaches surfers use on each wave.

    And finally the phrase “backdoors that section” should be banned unless the surfer is surfing backdoor. It belittles Backdoor.

  • Mark V.

    Agree wholeheartedly with this. ASP webcasts need commentators who are smart, analytical, articulate, and knowledgeable about the sport and the statistics. Among surfers, I think Kelly and Dorian are strong in the booth. As far as journos, Matt Warshaw, Nick Carroll, Sean Doherty, and Fred Pawle would be terrific. Sorry, but JT (Mr. Awkward) and Fish have to go. And please, I don’t need to hear Rob Machado answering online questions about his damn fro. If you want a funny guy, I’m the sure the diminutive and acerbic Lewis Samuels would be happy to take a break from his day job for a junket to Tahiti. Joe Turpel’s sing-songy commentary grates on my nerves — everything is always so “classic,” Occy is sooo classic, etc. Surfing needs its own Bob Costas. It’s way past time for surf webcast commentary to grow up. Outside the ASP, it’s even worse, don’t get me started on the last Mavericks webcast, totally useless. Haha!

    • Dexter Hough-Snee

      I’m with you, Mark. Surf broadcasting could use more announcers who are “smart, analytical, articulate, and knowledgeable about the sport and the statistics”. There may not be primetime numbers in surf webcasts, but there are enough people who surf a lot, surf well, and understand the mechanics of boards and waves watching that we deserve a lot better than we’ve been given to date.

  • http://twitter.com/shaunburrell Shaun Burrell

    Nailed it. Great piece.

  • Ross Robinson

    Great perspective. I agree. GT wasn’t as bad as last year, but he still needs to go

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.blacker2 Dave Blacker

    Yep, sound off is the default position, its far too cringeworthy to risk listening to the dibble. Embarrassing is an understatement.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-5F_7DwPpo

  • Matt

    You’re putting up Dave Stanfield as an example of the type of commentator that is a positive for surfing? You’ve got to be kidding-he is just so boring and out of touch with surfing-you don’t surf do you Dexter? I mean, really, Dave Stanfield is a dotting, dull, clueless twit.

    • Dexter Hough-Snee

      Matt, my point is precisely that a commentator’s ability shouldn’t be measured by their standing in the competitive surfing world. Like him or hate him, Stanfield is a classic SoCal announcer who has done beach, tv, and web commentary for thirty years. Is he a knucklehead? Sure. Does he surf? I don’t know. Does he surf well? Highly doubtful. Does he lend some credibility to the commentary booth in the larger broadcasting world beyond surfing? Absolutely, and that’s why I invoke him. His crack after the Slater morning routine piece was funny but not an inside joke or cool-guy posturing like the dribble generated by most pros or regular industry MCs.

      Notice that I intentionally don’t scream “more Potts, Egan, Thomson, Rabbit, Lopez” etc. Notice that I advocate having proven, mature pros with less to prove in the booth to narrate heats. The Momentum Generation is great for this. Their offspring are not. I would love to see more of the technically-proven pros from the 90s in the box full time along with classic surf icons, but only if they can shelf the self-promotion and endorsement of the surfers that they train and get some real public speaking or broadcast experience behind them.

      I don’t surf because I write. I write because I surf. And I’ve no shame in using my full name in the broad digital daylight. See you in the water.

  • Bryan Murray

    Thanks for putting it out there. As a 25 year+ Surf Journalist I have always tried to educate and entertain the non surfing audience. This is the only way to gain credibility. When we took surfing to ESPN in the 1980s pioneers like Ira Opper and Michael Thompson not only met the standard, their work set the standard. Insider jokes and pokes are only funny to those in front of the microphones. Take time to educate and explain the action and we will continue to grow the sport.

  • ganatronic

    I have a lot of mixed feelings about the commentators. Ultimately, I think I enjoy listening to them when they sound like they’re enjoying themselves. Funny comments slip in (about Kaipo’s “big ol’ butt,” for instance), they make sound effects for slashes, etc. But, I get that this is not exactly “professional” in the golfy sense of the word. It’s par for professional surfers…

    On the other end of the spectrum, I’m less entertained when things get too slick and professional. Stansfield is a good commentator. But his constant insertions of sponsors into his commentary is SO opaque, “hey is that the gopro mach 4 DS on his Mayhem Slob Slab? I’ve heard those things can shoot at 120 shots per millisecond and go 800 feet underwater. Isn’t that amazing, Bob?” And Turpell, smooth as his words may be, says some really lame stuff, “there’s a couple taking in an emotional sunset on this beautiful evening in France.”

    Anyway, I think things are slowly headed in a better direction – weeding out the outlying styles and finding a nice middle ground. And I agree with your comment that the Momentum genners make good commentators.

  • wave rider Marcus

    “About half the time it seems that the guys in the booth are the victims
    of some practical joke that they don’t know is being filmed and
    broadcast live to the world.” (quote taken from the article.) Each successive event–that still features the happily hapless G.T. conducting painfully hilarious “interviews,” some of which feature questions that don’t really quite make any grammatical sense–strikes me as a practical joke. Perhaps G.T. is a brilliant person, but on the mic, he’s just quite painful to listen to. On the topic of Billabong’s event crew, however, I think Occy is fascinating. He has so many colorful stories, and so much history in the sport. Most of all, he is honest. I believe he said during the commentary of the “BILLABONG PIPELINE MASTERS” (sorry, I had to make sure and plug BILLABONG again, just to be on the safe side) that he was scared to paddle out during a recent rising swell at Pipeline. He’s a Pipe Master himself, still regularly surfs heavy waves, and he admits to being scared of the wave. That type of humility and knowledge–and the willful admission that Pipeline is in charge, not the surfer–is what the sport needs. If I could make a recommendation to the ASP and the new media partner, I would say this: drop the massaging of everyone’s fragile surf-persona egos, and bring in people who have nothing left to prove. P.S.–BILLABONG! (I just wanted to make sure I didn’t stray away from the necessary product placement when talking about a sponsored surfer. I’m sure you all understand!)

    • Dexter Hough-Snee

      I’m 100% with you: “bring in people who have nothing left to prove.” I also like Occy and, as another commentator said, Potts. Legends and mature, proven figures with some broadcast training or at least aspirations to have respectable delivery.

      • ScottTX

        I think Joel Parkinson has a good future in surf broadcasting: A) credibility – he’s got a world title and has very, very detailed experience in competition and at any breaks on tour; B) articulate and seemingly well-grounded, vis a vis family and success (like the Bubba Watson of surfing…except Bubba never had his heel sliiiiiced open); C) seems like a “normal” guy. My only hangup would be that he seems like he’s too genial, but at least his accent to my discerning Amer’can ears doesn’t seem contrived.

  • Mark V.

    If you look at other pro sports, the commentators are a mix of non-playing experts/journalists that bring great analysis (Brent Musburger, Bob Costas), and retired sports stars with the gift of the gab and great insight into strategy/competition (John McEnroe, Terry Bradshaw). I don’t feel like we have the equivalent in surfing.

    • ScottTX

      Gotta love a good Musbergasm

  • http://dylanfm.com/ Dylan FM

    Somebody please start an online Roy and HG (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_and_HG%27s_State_of_Origin_commentary) style commentary of the tour. I would love to mute the webcast and listen to an alternate stream of commentary.
    If you know funny people who know about surfing, it might be your obligation to gee them up to doing something like this and give us back some sanity. Hell, if someone does this well I’d pay $10 or so for access to the whole tour. Maybe charge $5 per-event, or $20 for the year.

    • many rivers

      Just hope that Blasphemy Rottmouth gets back into gear and at least you can follow the blog comments on each event on his/it’s site.. They were far more entertaining than the MCs.

  • marky marc

    well written article! I like some of the commentary from guys like Snake and Luke Egan but the biggest problem with the webcast is playing commercials while waves are being ridden and then playing back the repolay and saying “heres what you missed during that same commercial we have played 250 times over the last 3 days” its total bullshit, not one wave should be missed live for anything, not ONE!! There are only 4 scoring rides per heat, and to miss 1/4 of the entire heat is ridiculous. Thats like turning on the basketball game and it being an info mercial for the entire 1st quarter.

  • SURF TRAMP

    TURPLE: VOICE SUCKS!

    GET RID OF TURPLE!

    HIS VOICE IS SHITE

    DOES HE EVEN SURF?

    Is he really a surfer? really ? cruising the north shore in sports cars…is this Hollywood? last time i checked its the Country…

    GT: Massacres his interviews and says weird cr@p it leaves the Surfers and Audience feeling uncomfortable

    please use ex-pros for Industry Jobs it lends more credibility to our sport
    cut to the Ride not replay because they couldn’t shut up in time.
    Get The Fakes Kooks And Hanger-ons …OUT!!! of Professional Surfing
    Aloha