There was a time when big-crowd “arena” events were the norm. The Op Pro. The Coke. The Lacanau Pro. Surf competition used the “the stick and ball” playbook. If you built it, even if it was kind of shitty, they would come. And for a decade or so, it worked pretty well. Well enough to secure shows like Wide World of Sports. Well enough to attract thousands to the beaches to cheer for heroes like Tom Curren.
Somewhere along the way, though, two things changed. 1) Pro surfers like Luke Egan called bullshit on the system. 2) The Internet became part of our lives.
Soon, pro surfing had real fans. We could watch Kelly drop 10s from the comfort of our own cubicles. We could create a fantasy team and grin or groan as each round played out in pumping J-Bay or heaving Hossegor. The Internet was the new “arena,” and people came. Hundreds of thousands of them, exponentially more than the biggest crowds ever generated on the beach. And for a while, we couldn’t get enough of it. The Kelly/Irons rivalry, played out before us on our 15-inch monitors. The showdown in Japan. The last-minute nine in J-Bay. The title-deciding duel at Pipe. The Dream Tour was undeniably that, and we got to enjoy it at 30 mbps instead of three months later in Surfer Magazine.