2017, a month in, and still wide open with possibilities. Photo: Adam DeWolfe

2017, a month in, and still wide open with possibilities. Photo: Adam DeWolfe

The Inertia

Early February is a bit late to start throwing out predictions for the state of surfing in 2017. Normally these things are in the bag before the end of the year. Ripe and ready by the time everyone’s finished singing ‘Auld Lang Syne.’

Not this time around. It’s damn hard to focus on something as inconsequential as surfing when you’re curled in a ball, alternately pinching yourself and chanting, “There’s no place like home.”

But we humans are adaptable. Become inured quickly. Cover our anguish in callous and move on. Pretend it isn’t there. Let it grow numb and fester and take root and rot. Surfing helps. It’s magic like that. Doesn’t make anything better, but it sure as hell lets you forget about what sucks, if only for a moment.

By necessity, any attempts at prescience are going to focus on things surrounding surfing, rather than the act. Surfing, itself, will always remain relatively unchanged. We ride waves, have fun. Get frustrated sometimes. Some of us are cool, some of us are jerks. A lot of us are jerks. We slide on water, find some joy, then move on with our lives.

1. Wave Pools won’t save us.

2016 was the year of wave pool hype. Snowdonia, NLand, Lemoore. The first two failed to deliver anything approaching their promises. Slater’s endeavor is gorgeous, whether it can be scaled up and made profitable is yet to be seen.

But you can rest assured, you ain’t heard the end of it. Big money developers will continue to dangle the notion in their quest for permits and funding, then either scrap it completely, or build the thing and watch it fail.

By now we know that WaveGarden technology is glorified nonsense. Another Typhoon Lagoon. A crumbly mushburger nightmare that can only turn a profit when the water is jam packed with a slalom course of fleeced beginners. Prone to breakdowns, bumpy and ugly and only an option if you’ve never known better.

Kelly’s nugget out in cow country does look damn beautiful, but an honest human will admit that a high-speed tight pocket runner is beyond the ability of the vast majority of the surfing populace. Proof of concept is not proof of viability. The WSL only bought it so they could sell the sizzle. Ain’t enough steak for a mouthful.

In a perfect world, we’d see an affordable, rippable, manifestation. In this imperfect one, well, I wouldn’t count on it.

Paul Speaker, speaking.

WSL CEO Paul Speaker has left the building. Photo: ASP/Kirstin

2. The implosion of pro surfing is nigh.

Milquetoast production, an inability to lock down big money sponsors, a non-surfer CEO who recently flew the coop. The future of professional surfing don’t look so bright.

Once upon a time, when each event was run by a separate company, when the point was selling ugly sunglasses or apparel made by slaves, the Tour had some value. Make your product seem cool, convince the kids to drag mommy’s wallet to their local shop.

The industry thrived, raked in money hand over fist through most of the Oughts. Expanded, explored, reached for the heavens. Came plummeting back to Earth with the fad’s inevitable demise. ZoSea stepped in, grabbed ahold of the sport, made promises and predictions. Claimed a ton of chickens that they haven’t seen hatch.

“We’re selling to non-surfers! We’ve got a SaMo production facility! We’re gonna be rich(er)!”

Except professional surfing is as boring as baseball, more than ten times as long, and far more difficult to appreciate. No amount of commentator rhetoric will convince the world that a two foot grovel fest is anything other than awful. Even if one possesses the knowledge necessary to appreciate the finer points, it’s a long damn slog through the day.

Will 2017 be the end of Dirk Ziff’s involvement? Probably not. We should be able to count on at least one more year of him throwing good money after bad. But a time will arrive when it’s time to cut losses and move on. Drag those carpet bags down the road toward the next ill-informed opportunity.

But first, we’ll see a rebrand, some rule changes, more ham-fisted favoritism shown to top draws. A last gasp attempt to force surfing into a wider relevancy that simply does not exist. It will further alienate committed fans, fail to engage a wider audience. But it will be amusing, in a bittersweet fashion.

Jamie O'Brien gulps a quick pick me up or Red Bull mid-session. Photo: Who Is Job?

Gotta get on that Red Bull $$$! Photo: Who Is Job?

3. Lean times for B teams.

Industry titans have gone bankrupt and been snatched up by corporate raiders. Longtime top-tier professionals have been given the boot. The days are lean, feast turned to famine. The money makers aren’t making any money. Damn hard to justify padding the pockets of anyone who doesn’t spend every second in the public eye. Even then, when contract negotiations roll back around, pay cuts abound.

If you’re not drawing a paycheck from the purveyors of an addictive soft drink, it’s time to start saving for the future. Big-dollar contracts for up-and-comers are a thing of the past. Every home-schooled ‘QS warrior should be shaking in their boots. A future that once seemed bright is beyond dark. At the moment it doesn’t even exist.

It started last year, but will continue in this one. Surf teams built by companies dipping a toe in the water of the surf market will be scrapped. Former stars will no longer be able to bank on their past accomplishments. WQS campaigns will return to being self-financed exercises in failed ambition.

Surfing is a Megazine no longer. Photo: Surfing Magazine Archives

Surfing. A Megazine no longer. Photo: Surfing Magazine Archives

4. Print. Is. Dead.

This is the digital age. It no longer makes sense to convey information by spilling dinosaur blood on the pulped body of murdered trees. The death of Ing is tragic, leavened only by its consolidation into Er. But the wheel keeps spinning, life moves on.

What love for print remains amounts to little more than nostalgia. Those of us who grew up in a world where our ravenous desire for surf content was satisfied only once a month, where months-old contest write ups were our only window into the professional scene, may wish to cry and rend our clothes at its passing. But we know, or should, that a page can’t convey as much as a screen.

With every tragedy, though, comes opportunity. We’ll see the continued growth of hobbyist sites. Digital ‘zines that aren’t beholden to advertisers. Zero budget endeavors that force outside-the-box creativity.

Most will be terrible, even more will fail. But it’s about the journey, not the destination. I look forward to taking the trip.

KLM Airlines Sanuk

Just don’t be an American surfer, and you’re good. Photo: KLM/De Jager

5. Travel will become more difficult if you’re an American

Living on Kauai, I’m blessedly free of exposure to the toxic nationalism that’s gripping the country. People here are largely kind and accepting. Committed to the fact that publicly spewing hatred should earn one a swift punch in the teeth. It’s a great place to live, and I truly love it with all my heart.

There’s always been a sickening trend toward conservatism within surfing. The result is a pastime which is largely monochromatic and steeped in the values comparative privilege provides. You’d think an administration which is dedicated to destroying environmental protection would be anathema to surfers. You’d think a sport with a long tradition of travel and exploration and exposure to other cultures would be open-minded and welcoming of others.

But we are not.

As our pretender-in-chief blunders his way across the world stage, alienating friend and foe alike, we should be ready for reprisals. His loud and proud anti-Muslim rhetoric will have consequences.

Will we be banned from traveling to other countries? Unlikely, unless my deep-seated fear of walls, which can keep people in just as easily as they can out, proves true.

We can definitely start expecting a cold welcome in Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim nation in the world. It may seem unfair, and maybe it is, but you can’t tar an entire religion with the same brush and not expect the same to be done to you.


Only the best. We promise.


Join our community of contributors.