Which guy talks for six hours, which guy is able to hold his breath for six minutes, and which guy has won six Pipeline Masters? Photo courtesy Dean Luke/Oceanic TWC


The Inertia

When writing “Of Mics and Men: A New Era of Surf Broadcasting,” I assumed that I was speaking as a lone cynic, a relative outlier in surf media. Surprisingly, that invective against the broadcasting standards of the surf industry articulated precisely what was on the minds of hordes of viewers, both laymen surfers and industry insiders alike. However, in spite of the digital high fives and nearly unanimous agreement that something is amiss with surfing’s broadcasting practices, I wanted to see what the guys in the booth had to say. In the interests of fairness, I’ll be speaking with some of the more visible (and accessible) ASP talking heads in the weeks leading up to the 2013 ASP kickoff on the Gold Coast.

It’s easy to call names and take shots at individual members of the surfing media circus. Even easier to digitally shit on the whole operation. It’s a hell of a lot harder to provide insightful, constructive commentary that departs from the surf industry’s party lines. We detractors of surfing’s corporate side are quick to forget that the individuals involved with surfing’s rise to media prominence are actually just as excited about surfing as the next guy. Sure, business uses surfing to make a buck, admittedly at the risk of diluting the core culture of the sport, but we can’t forget that most longtime surf industry personalities sincerely love surfing. Anyone who’s worked a shit job or twenty to pay the bills will agree: there is nothing like making a living doing what you love or while being immersed in something that you’re passionate about.

Surfing has long been a sport of fearless innovators and do-it-yourself savants (and hungry consumers). This is precisely what’s enabled a billion dollar industry to evolve out of surf vans and backyard shaping bays over the last sixty years. The very competition and judging structures in place today were born of this culture. It comes as no surprise, then, that the media coverage of competitive surfing is born of the same cottage industry origins as everything else from the foam blank to board shorts to the international contest. And like all things organically founded, surf broadcasts have been the product of much trial and error and even some initial resistance to mainstream business practices.

Many surfers out there may disagree about the direction that top industry figures envision for the sport’s future. Only our more radical positions can offset the standard party line and keep the golf and tennis metaphors from becoming surfing’s reality. But even detractors such as myself must admit, it’s an undying passion for the sport and the culture that’s responsible for evolving surf broadcasting to the current product delivered by the brands and the ASP.

David Stanfield loves surfing. He’s also seen surfing’s entire media progression from behind the microphone and in front of the camera. Undeniably the most veteran broadcast personality in American professional surfing, the Seal Beach, California native was hired by Ian Cairns’ young ASP organization all the way back in 1983. With years of sports announcing and television experience, his ASP debut was as host of the 1983 OP Pro Surfing Championships for major network player ABC. He’s since gone on to work surf broadcasts in just about every locale to hold a major pro surf contest. From ASP World Tour, Prime, Star, and Specialty events to NSSA, CSC, and Surfing America comps, Stanfield has logged almost as many hours in the booth as he has in the water, himself a lifelong surfer who caught his first wave at age five.

Since that first major network event in 1983, Stanfield has seen surf broadcasting come full circle from tape-delays to early live webcasts and now live simulcasts for web and television audiences. He was quick to remind me how the live webcast was born: “In 1997, Mano Ziul [current ASP Chief Technical Officer] pleaded with Portuguese telephone company TelePac to lay over six kilometers of data cable across Praia Grande Beach (Brazil) in order to bring the world its first-ever surf webcast. I believe about 200 visitors tuned in. That was the beginning of taking surfing live to the world, expanding sponsorship viability and raising the sport’s profile.”

According to Stanfield, Ziul’s accomplishment was second only to George Stokes’ invention of the computerized scoring system back in 1983. “That technology brought immediate scores and situations from the judges to the competitors via the Beach Announcer. With this critical information, surfers could change their competitive tactics as the heat progressed, and spectators could mentally get into the game.” We tend to forget: the scoreboard changed the game and it took the scoreboard to build the broadcast.

From those milestones, Stanfield has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of surf broadcasting. Here are some of the veteran MC’s thoughts on competition, advertising, and calling heats.

The Elements of a Successful Surfing Event: No mention of revealing outfits or parties:

“…a great venue, solid infrastructure, experienced event production team, good weather, contestable waves, and of course, talented surfers.”

Words of Wisdom for Sports Commentators:  Fair to say we’ve got our share of fools:

“Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something. Unfortunately, commentators have to say something, so hopefully the words are more relevant and less foolish.”

“Commentate when there is action; talk when there is downtime. Talk about things you know, and not about thing you don’t know. Avoid talking about yourself, unless asked. And at the right time, during key moments, silence can be golden.”

“Convince the audience of the event’s authenticity, convey excitement, and be descriptive – as if the viewers were witnessing the event in person.”

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