Teenage surfing sensation Gabriel Medina, of Brazil, emerges from the water at Ocean Beach, San Francisco, having just beaten the world’s best surfers to win the Rip Curl Pro. A small crowd is there to meet him, and a couple of supporters hoist him on their shoulders to carry him up the beach to the dais, where he will receive his trophy.
So far, so good, right?
But wait. Within hours, Kelly Slater, the 11 times world champion and one of the most popular surfers in history, sends a message to his 125,000 followers on Twitter: “Why has ripcurl banned anyone from carrying country flag on their shoulders if they win RipCurlPro contest? #unpatriotic”.
A review of the video seems to confirm Slater’s claim. Among the crowd who meet Medina at the shore are two women who hand him a Brazilian flag. But before he can do anything with it, it is snatched from him by a beefy security guard.
There’s more. A few days earlier, when Slater was carried up the beach after winning his 11th world title, a US flag was clearly visible, but not being carried by Slater. Someone in the crowd had the foresight to attach one to a pole.
What’s going on here?
A Quiksilver insider told me this issue began in 2010, when Slater won his 10th world title, which just so happened to also be at a Rip Curl event, in Puerto Rico.
Photos of that moment show Slater wrapped in the US flag, which obscures his Rip Curl contest jersey. Slater’s own sponsor is Quiksilver, which is a direct competitor to Rip Curl.
In an email to The Australian, Slater claimed that Rip Curl objected to this. Quite strongly, he said.
“Rip Curl has threatened lawsuits and barring people from events and all sorts of things,” he said. “I personally feel it’s a pretty small-minded approach to celebrating who each person is. And although I’m not very nationalistic, I believe celebration comes before the politics of business.
“If you browse around you’ll find Mick Fanning (who is sponsored by Rip Curl) winning the Quik pro on the goldy with an Aussie flag clearly obstructing logos. Quik made no stink about it. When confronted with it they said when I won the title in PR last year it was a totally different situation and unacceptable. I simply beg to differ.”
Slater wouldn’t say who had been threatened by Rip Curl, nor who had organized for the US flag to appear at Ocean Beach. “Ask Belly (Quiksilver team manager Stephen Bell). He knows more than I,” he replied.
If you pause the video below at 0:24, you’ll see a woman trying to get the flag back off the security android, but he just shrugs her off.