A recent fight between two Hawaiian surfers – both sponsored by Australian surfwear company Billabong – has led to speculation about a revival of international tension during the Hawaiian leg of the pro tour.
The scuttlebutt goes like this: Hawaiians TJ Barron and Makua Rothman had a disagreement in the water recently, and took the confrontation to the beach, where, according to rumour, Barron got the better of Rothman.
Rothman and his dad Eddie later visited the house occupied by the Billabong team on the beach at Pipeline, looking for Barron.
Nobody denies that a confrontation ensued. Australian Billabong spokesman John Mossop and Hawaiian contest director Randy Rarick both confirmed to me that the rumours of an altercation are true.
However, Rarick also confirmed that Billabong’s US marketing manager, Graham Stapelberg, stepped in as pacifier, warning both surfers that a wrong move could affect their sponsorship contracts. (Barron is sponsored by Billabong; Rothman is sponsored by one of its subsidiary labels, RVCA.)
My attempts to find out what really happened from eye-witnesses hit a brick wall. Repeated calls to Stapelberg were not returned, and attempts to contact Barron and Rothman were unsuccessful.
This is where the story, however exaggerated, becomes a reflection of surfing’s weird culture of paranoia and secrecy. Surf journalists who were on the North Shore, and there were dozens of them, ignored the incident. The only published reference to it was in a forum on Surfer magazine’s website.
In the absence of verified information, rumours took hold, quickly growing to involve baseball bats and Stapelberg being rushed to hospital (neither of these claims is true, nor is there any suggestion that anyone involved in the alleged incident would resort to such violence).