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The Inertia

“Are you such a fucking loser, you can’t tell when you’ve won?”

You may recognize this poignant piece of dialogue as the one uttered by Harvey Keitel’s lapsed preacher to George Clooney’s amoral robber in the seminal romantic comedy From Dusk Till Dawn.   It’s a handy phrase, and it seemed especially appropriate while watching a recent YouTube video of Bobby Martinez gloating on a tennis court about how badly the ASP had fumbled when it mistakenly crowned Kelly Slater the World Champion. The video is mean-spirited, unfunny, and factually incorrect. It’s unclear exactly how Martinez thinks The South African Airways ATP Rankings, (AKA: the tennis world rankings) function, but they do not, in any way, resemble the current format of the ASP World Tour Rankings. They also aren’t despised by a significant number of players on tour.

That doesn’t mean I disagree with him, though. In typical Martinez style, he touches on a wider truism that even the ASP can no longer ignore: namely that they are one big, ridiculous, unfunny joke. For proof, look no further than Todd Kline lobbing Martinez punch lines, or in this case tennis balls, so he can smash them out of the park.

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The surf industry is small enough that even the smallest pebble dropped into the pond ripples to every corner. If Kline, who comments on webcasts for the ASP by the way, will make fun of them on video, it means that Quiksilver, his employer, is also laughing. If Quiksilver is laughing, then the other companies aren’t far behind. And so, one by one, the rats are jumping ship.

Perhaps the only guy in all of surfdom not chuckling is Brodie Carr, who tendered his resignation yesterday, at the same meeting where the ASP announced it would be testing for drugs next year.

Like it or not, he had to go. By placing him on the corporate sacrificial alter, the ASP’s Board of Directors made a symbolic gesture to exorcise the demons that have haunted them for the last twelve months. Bear in mind that this has been a spotty era that (among several noteworthy successes) has included a number of devastating events: the drug-related death of one of the Tour’s greats, public disdain for new Tour venues, a growing discontent among competitors over the competition format, and one very costly math error, to say nothing of the bizarre resurgence of “floaters” as highly scored maneuvers. It’s doubtful that Carr had much to do with any of these mistakes, but someone had to be held accountable.

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Why?  Because that’s what being professional is all about – not making mistakes, or –more accurately – taking responsibility for them when you do. If the ASP is serious about obtaining the mainstream legitimacy that it thinks it wants, it would do well to remember this in the future. You can’t be both beach bums and CEOs.

There are strong arguments for and against taking surfing into the mainstream. What cannot, however, be argued is that pro surfing doesn’t matter. Regardless of whether you watch the webcasts or follow the results, the future of surfing culture is inextricably bound to the relationship between surfing companies, surf media, and the professional poster boys whose images dominate the greater surfing psyche. For this reason alone, pro surfing has innate legitimacy. The fact that people log on to web sites like this one and post comments saying that pro surfing “doesn’t matter” just proves the point – love it or hate it, you can’t ignore it.

The ASP, on the other hand, is only legitimate as long as it can organize a professional surfing paradigm that makes sense to the wider surf community (i.e., us). It has increasingly struggled to do so over the last five years, with the complications climaxing in the twelve months between Andy Irons’ death and Slater’s 11th world title. The debacle concerning the mathematical miscalculation, though largely symbolic, was important not because the title was in doubt, but because of the precedent it set.  You can’t prematurely award a title any more than you can round up on a runners’ time. Eventually you must deal with a photo finish.

The ASP’s final mistake capped a year that had even diehard fans questioning the legitimacy of a World Title decided in fair to middling beach break. Personally, I have no problem calling Slater the best surfer of waves under the 20-foot range that ever lived, but calling him one of the best athletes ever? Please. He was crowned twelve times by an organization that can’t tabulate its own point system (remember, one crowning was false), voluntarily has its athletes compete in sub-par conditions, and has only just agreed to drug test. He may very well be one of the greatest athletes ever, but when compared with the governing bodies of other professional sports, the ASP has always looked decidedly amateurish, even considering the various drug scandals that have taken place in baseball and cycling.

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