The organizers, pundits, and the hoards of angry, anonymous commenters have dissected every angle of this year’s ASP world tour. But there is one group of people who have remained conspicuously quiet: the surfers themselves. Many of them choose not to take sides in the debate, and can you blame them? After all, it’s their livelihoods on the line. They probably have more to lose than anyone should a comment be misinterpreted by people like me. Naturally, in these instances, the journalist searches out the guy who is unafraid to speak his mind. Enter Fredrick Patacchia, Hawaiian, seven-year veteran of the world tour, and rabble-rouser par excellence. Although he does not claim to speak for his fellow surfers, what he offers is an insider’s look at the changes on the tour.
How are you feeling about the tour right now?
FP: I personally don’t like the way it’s going.
What are your main criticisms?
FP: The biggest thing is that they cut the numbers. We’re an international sport and cutting some of the international surfers with a huge fan base is a bad idea. Last year, the surfers voted against cutting. To this day, I don’t know how it went through. Guys in the top five are going to be on tour no matter what, but the rest of us are on the chopping block. You don’t vote to cut if you’re on the block.
Before these decisions were made, it seemed like a lot of people wanted some sort of change.
I think there did need to be some changes, but the ASP has made a terrible judgment call. They completely revamped the way that we surfed professionally when, instead, we could have made minor tweaks and bettered it at as we went on.
What do you think of the lineup of surf spots?
I think going to big cities is important to grow the sport. We have to bite the bullet a little bit to get surfing to the masses. I know there are a lot of surf fans in New York and San Fran, and I think we are going to put on really good events. But from a surfing standpoint, we might feel differently. We can have some city venues, but we have to keep it core as well. If companies are going to put us in crappy waves, they should be forced to have another event where we get good waves.
What kind of waves do you want to see on tour?
We need waves like J-Bay that open up and show how well a surfer can carve on the face, waves like Pipe and Teahupoo where a surfer needs to be able to sit in the barrel and grab his balls until the end, then waves like Snapper and Trestles where a surfer needs to show that he can do everything.
Whose job is it to ensure that?
I think it’s the ASP’s job, but they’re just letting the companies do whatever they want. If one of the companies says it wants to have a comp in Dubai, we’ll be like: “but there aren’t any waves in Dubai.” Then they’ll say: “But we’ve got the money,” and that will be that. Sponsors dictate our tour based on where they want to go and what’s going to sell the most board shorts. Take Huntington Beach: the scene is incredible but surfing is incidental.
What are other surfers thinking?
I talk to Dusty Payne a lot. He grew up watching ASP videos from places like Tahiti and G Land and he tells me: “that’s my dream to surf those waves. That’s why I’m doing this.” You know what? He thinks the dream is dying, and in a way I think it is, too. J-Bay is perfect when it gets waves. Unfortunately, due to Mother Nature, we didn’t get those waves this year. I’ve never surfed New York, but my impression of it is that, on its best day, it’s not even close to one of best waves in the world.
Don’t surfers get an input on these types of things?
There is a certain amount of dialogue. I attend all the tour meetings that I can, but we usually get completely screwed. There’s a board of three that includes a representative from the surfers, one from the companies and a third party dude. When we (surfers) vote, we vote for things like events in Fiji or more money. Then it goes to the board, and the companies decide to say fuck that, you don’t get more money. The third party usually sides with the sponsor. For instance, at J Bay I didn’t want to surf, but the contest director goes: “I need to run the comp,” and the third party sided with the contest director. There was a day in France where it was heaving barrels and I was watching Bruce Iron throw away eights in the last heat of the day. I went to the contest directors saying I wanted them to run my heat, but they refused.
What does that feel like?
Sometimes it feels that they treat you like a kid. Like, “you don’t know what you’re talking about. Just shut up and let us run our contest.” Of course, like any sport, if the top guys say something, they will agree with them.
How would you change the tour?
We’ve got to give these new guys a chance. They deserve a whole year to prove themselves. There’s a lot of talk among the surfers now that there aren’t really any more dark horses. The prime example is Aritz Aranburu. That guy had a huge backing — there was a Basque flag at every event we went to. Granted, he got a 33 at every event, but he got a third in Tahiti. Just seeing how much better he surfed there than many of the best surfers in the world goes to show that he is one of the best surfers in the world.
And the venues?
We need better surf. I’m really glad they have put Tavi back on the list. It’s sick and fantastic, but don’t stop there. Let’s go back to G-Land. How about Padang?
The judges have to figure out what they want to judge. Judges bust a nut every time they see someone do a double-grab air, but they are low-balling good (ie: rail) surfing because it’s not as flashy as fans want. Not that they shouldn’t be rewarding new school surfing, but they need to understand what they are looking at. With turns, judges know when a guy bogs a little on the bottom or top turn or catches his rail on a carve, but I don’t think they’re at the point when they can see that a guy hasn’t done a great air. I think they will get it, but I think we are seeing judges who are a little confused.
Is there still talk of a rebel tour?
No, not really. But the bigger issue is that these days you don’t have to be on tour. Dusty Payne doesn’t have to be on tour. Jordy Smith doesn’t have to be on tour. Those guys could make a bunch of money just doing video parts. They are there because they want to be world champions. They want to surf against the best guys in the best waves. But if they aren’t doing that, if they aren’t having fun and surfing good waves, they will leave. If the ASP doesn’t make some changes, they are going to have guys retiring at the age of 20, 22 saying: “The world title doesn’t mean shit to me.” They’ll do what Kelly (Slater) did; go off and surf perfect Tavarua.