If you could measure a sport’s popularity by the level of debate and scrutiny that it attracts, I would say surfing has never been more loved. And I’m not just talking about the World Tour. The world of surfing is incredibly diverse, with so many sub genres under the sport’s umbrella, pro surfing and the World Tour are but a few embers in a very healthy fire.
Personally, the last 12 months on Tour have been the most challenging for me as a surfer and as a person since I qualified in 2005, but I’ve never been as excited for the start of the next season as I am now. Although surfing is an individual sport, it can get lonely on the road, and we are all a big traveling family – so losing Andy was incredibly difficult and made us all look around and appreciate just how much surfing has given us. Couple that with the changes to the competitive format and subsequent loss of one third of the guys, and it’s definitely a new system undergoing teething problems.
Everyone has a lot of questions, and I’’ll be the first to admit that the structure isn’t perfect. But as I look back at last season, I’ve come to the conclusion that all the best guys in the world are in the Top 34, and the performances that I have seen over the past year were undeniably of the highest standard.
Stylistically, the diversity is also outstanding. Not since Kelly, Dorian, Machado and co. burst onto the scene and rattled the established guard has there been such a great range of surfing styles.
From Gabriel Medina at 17 to Taylor Knox at 40, we are representing numerous generations: from the Momentum to Cooly Kids to the Modern Collective and beyond. Also, and this has not been commented on as much, the diversity in locations is allowing all different styles to flourish. Nothing exemplifies the aforementioned more than Kieren Perrow’s win and subsequent re-qualification at Pipe last week. Far from the favorite at places like Trestles and Rio, KP knows that when the waves get serious his chances of a big result rise exponentially. Every one on Tour has their strengths and weaknesses, but the schedule demands excellence across all venues, and that’s why winning the World Title is such a great feat.
The Tour is super elite now that it’s only 32 guys, and I believe, long term it, it will be in the best interest of the sport to re-expand out to incorporate more surfers and allow the status quo to be challenged. Right now there is a very large and somewhat disillusioned middle class of surfers competing on the Prime Tour, which is only seeing the very best rise to the top. Nonetheless, the cut in numbers created by Kelly’s Rebel Tour has resulted in better event sites, webcasts, and treatment of the surfers. The new format has seen the best guys at each event performing more often. Those have been big wins for the sport, and they give us a blueprint going forward.
The Renaissance in board experimentation by a larger percentage of the guys on Tour mirrors a larger trend with boards becoming more forgiving. Wider, thicker, and shorter just happened to coincide with a year in which we saw three “Big City events” that lent themselves to these shapes and allowed fans to relate to pro surfers in a way that was impossible earlier, when we rode low-volume, heavily-rockered remnants of Kelly’s “glass slippers” in perfect waves of far flung destinations on low bandwidth webcasts.
I can hear the cries from the Dream Tour fans who don’t want to see the world’s best battle in two-foot Huntington or closed out Rio…and frankly I’d prefer to be standing in ten-foot Teahupo’o or flying down the line on groomed corduroy at J-Bay, but I do believe that by going to places like Rio, HB, and NY, we can give competitive surfing fans something tangible that is very unique to our sport and very relevant to the current state of surfing. Also, performing in front of a big, engaged crowd where the top guys are pushed to new levels of excellence adds another dynamic to the Tour – one we lack in the jungle and the tropics.
If you’ve watched Modern Collective or Lost Atlas you’ll know that the best waves for progressive surfing are far from the preconceived notion of the ideal conditions. Yes, getting bums on bleachers and fans through “brand experiences” are all part of Corporate Boardshort Management 101, but bringing those rampy, skate-bowl-like canvasses to the Tour is imperative in maintaining its status as the benchmark of high performance all-around surfing.
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