The Inertia Contributing Writer

Let me first say this: Zachary James Daniel Brown — the WSL’s newly crowned Ambassador of Stoke and Leisure — seems like a helluva guy. Likeable to his core. There is no taking that away from him. I’d gladly clink Mai Tais with him at Haleiwa Joe’s. Gladly.

Like the WSL, which hired him to spend six weeks on the North Shore partying, adventuring, and Instagramming, I was charmed by his audition video where from atop a wakeboard he begs the WSL for a job: “Get me out of my mom’s house!”

I, too, hope Zach gets out of his mom’s house. But for the love of Zeus, I don’t think an ostensibly privileged white dude should have been handed the cushiest dream job imaginable in our already moneyed, white, male world. Or have been chosen as the new face gaining instant access to the WSL’s 6.5 million Facebook followers, 2.6 million Instagram followers, and Lord knows how many minutes of broadcast time when the waves get lully during the Triple Crown. (To be sure, this criticism comes from a white male, privileged enough to have been taught to write at fancy schools — though obviously, that’s no indicator of quality!)

The WSL made a BFD about their search to fill this position, advertising the job on social media and boasting that it had to sift through “thousands” of submissions to select precisely the right personality. Someone so stoked it would impress a Gudang. (Impossible!) Someone so unselfconscious it would make Strider blush. (Impossible, again!)

Brown fits this description to a T. But how badly do we need another guy who, though he’s from landlocked Tennessee (which in itself offers a form of diversity worth noting) looks like he was plucked straight from the shores of privileged, white Orange County? Or Sydney? A guy virtually indistinguishable from 10,000 other white guys within a quarter mile of Highway 1 as we speak?

Brown is not only stoked about surfing. He’s stoked on “Jesus, traveling, and most of all sharing those travels through my photos and videos…I’m a recent graduate of Southern Adventist University and budding photographer/videographer,” he writes on his website. Headed to dental school at one time, he instead took on a job with Delta Airlines that’s allowed him to travel the world and, from the looks of his Instagram account, visit some gorgeous places and lead what appears to be a pretty charmed life. He’s a skilled photographer, too (with 6,000 Instagram followers, though that’s not exactly influencer-type numbers). All of which is to his credit.

What gets my goat is this: The WSL scoured the globe purely to search for a unique voice. They didn’t need an expert commentator — all they needed was an infectiously likable frother, probably someone handy with a camera and possessing some command of the English language. Think of the incredible diversity of people who might fit that description. And think of how incredibly lacking the action sports (media) ecosystem currently is with respect to diversity? It’s lacking sorely.

Think of all the places that surfing touches in this magnificent world that aren’t California or Australia — Sri Lanka, Samoa, Namibia, Cape Verde, Peru. Think of the things we might learn from those surfers. Think of the people who’s lives have been touched by surfing — and whose life experience is nothing like Brown’s. And how many female commentators does the WSL have these days? A couple…

Brown and the WSL didn’t reply to requests for a comment on this article, so I’m not sure why Brown was chosen, or what kind of applicants the league received. To the WSL’s credit, there were eight finalists, and three of those were women. The other five were white guys. As someone who believes surf media would benefit immensely from a pulse of diversity, there were essentially only three correct choices of those remaining. While Zach is the (white) man, he’s the wrong option for a resource-rich media machine hoping to expand the appeal of surfing by speaking to new audiences. While I understand it’s not the responsibility of the WSL (a corporate entity) to seek out and champion diverse voices, amplifying a minority voice through a contest like this one would certainly be welcome. I suppose it’s possible there was a very homogenous applicant pool with little interest from less predictable places and backgrounds. Then again, perhaps not.

Surfing needs a variety of voices, just like Hollywood, Washington, city halls, boardrooms, newsrooms, classrooms, and courtrooms. It’s important for us all to see and hear movie characters, presidents, professors, and yes, even surf media voices, from a diversity of faces and places.

This out-of-the-box contest was an opportunity for a step forward. To bring a perspective into the fold whose story and point of view reflects the astonishing diversity of people who love to surf. Some might argue a Tennessee hometown accomplishes just that. I think that’s a cop-out. I’m sure the new Ambassador of Stoke and Leisure will do a marvelous job, and I sincerely wish him the best. I just wish this clever opportunity was used to earnestly usher in a new wave of voices. Someday, hopefully, it will.


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