Writer, Surfer
All-Star Game. Kelly and John John pick teams? Photos: WSL

All-Star Game. Kelly and John John pick teams? Photos: WSL

The Inertia

Professional surfing is changing. We’ve got the Olympics. We’ve got new appointments to big WSL jobs: Sophie Goldschmidt as CEO, Joe Carr as Chief Strategy Officer, and Pritamo Aherendt as Head Judge. Next September we’ll see a WCT event in a legitimate wavepool. The year after that, the Tour starts rather than ends in Hawaii as it traditionally has. It will end in a specialty event with just a handful of surfers to decide the men’s and women’s world champions. Soon, there won’t even be a live stream of events on the WSL app. We’ll need to get down with the shitmunchers on Facebook if we want to watch pro surfing.

But is this enough change? I think probably not. I think it’s (admittedly welcome) lipstick on an old pig. But probably that pig just needs to be slaughtered, and now is as good a time as any to do it.

So what to do?

Well, let’s take this opportunity to embrace real change. I have three ideas. (Feel free to use them if you’re listening, Sophie).

Idea Number 1: An All-Star event.

Fans get to vote for the competitors and the venue. Give us the power to dictate who we want to see surf and where.

Spice it up by pitting teams against each other. Work it like the NBA All-Star game. The highest vote-getters are captains (say JJF and Gabby, for example) and pick teams like it’s the playground. Film the whole shooting match, in and out of the water. Broadcast the team-picking. Have more competitors than slots so that some are left standing and are forced to fly home immediately, shamed and insulted. (Either that or they become judges).

We all have our favorite surfers, on and off Tour. It would be great if we had the power to pit our favorites against each other in the watery amphitheater of our choice.

Idea Number 2: Wildcard comps.

Beyond the couple of sponsor wildcard slots that we already have, let’s make a whole bunch more. In fact, let’s hold events towards the back end of the season where any surfer not currently in contention for a top 10 finish gives up their jersey to a wildcard – voted on by us, of course.

All applications welcome: Noa Deane, Clay Marzo, Zoltan Torkos… As long as he or she or ze is willing to submit entry by way of short video audition. (Surfing optional). A bit like Innersection meets Fantasy Surfer gone wild.

Both these ideas would account for a major deficiency in pro surfing: the lack of character. We need more characters. We need more heroes and villains. Part of pro surfing’s tremendous boredom is the silent euthanasia of personality at the hands of Turpel’s flat whine and Martin Potter’s IQ. The WSL needs to cut the characters loose. Surely Gabriel Medina isn’t the only surfer on Tour who shows emotion?

Idea Number 3: Completely reinvent the way in which waves are judged.

While Mr. McCafferty’s suggestion to add the thousandth is a strong one, it’s not enough. Pretty soon people will realize that The Olympics and wavepools make this paramount.

Very simply, surf judging needs to transition from subjective to objective. Less artistic impression and subjective flights of fancy; more objective truths. How much speed did you carry through your turns? How high was your air? What was your average/top speed? How long were you in the barrel for? All could apply to judging surfing performance, and all can be measured, particularly on a consistent (read: identical) playing surface.

Changing criteria like this is a departure from surfing’s little dance, sure. But right now we might watch Filipe Toledo and Mick Fanning surf an identical wave, yet we cannot, absolutely can’t, reach an objective conclusion about which was better. And that will always make surfing slightly bullshit as a credible, competitive pursuit.

To be honest, I don’t love the idea of surfing being measured so precisely. But something needs to change. With the Olympics on our horizon and perfect waves on tap, we’re past the point of no return. As the old adage goes: don’t fight it, feel it.

If we want pro surfing to thrive then it needs to be more objective and more entertaining. For that it needs to change, perhaps radically. If you can’t put lipstick on the pig, then you might as well slaughter it and start again.


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