VIA – SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL
Gretchen Wegrich, Stoked & Broke: State of the [Surfing] Union: All not quiet on the home front
The natives are restless.
With 2012 being the year of the dragon, it’s hardly surprising that something ugly is rearing its head in the surf world. The waters around professional surfing are beginning to roil with criticism.
Efforts to make surfing a franchise sport like the NBA or NFL have largely floundered, and limits on free speech among surfers and the surf media do nothing to improve the situation.
It’s unclear whether the charter boat that the surf industry is attempting to sail directly toward the sports world big leagues is moving forward or backward.
The dragon doesn’t surf
During the interim between the end of the 2011 season and the start of the 2012 World Tour, the Association of Surfing Professional released multiple press releases highlighting the athletes’ support for mandatory drug testing. They were a transparent push to legitimize the sport for larger media coverage and sponsorships. The intent to bring the sport away from its Spicoli-inspired stereotypes was clear.
For better or for worse, professional surfing is striving to market itself as a respectable sport — something that investors will see as a profit gold mine.
While surfers are used to thinking of our corporate industry giants as the big fish in the sea — Billabong, Rip Curl, Hurley, O’Neill — these guys are sardines compared to the sharks circling on the outer bay.
The introduction of Nike 6.0 into the surf world has given surfers a taste of the big time — bigger film budgets, more extravagant surf trips and larger contracts.
But in 2011, the surf industry’s charge at professionalism took a sharp nosedive when the ASP mistakenly announced Kelly Slater had won his 11th World Tour title — a day before it actually happened.
Chalk that one up to Spicoli.
No matter how hard professional surfing tries to play tennis, there’s always going to be saltwater dripping out of someone’s nose.
That seems to be the point of a few dissenting voices who are challenging the status quo in professional surfing. Among them are Santa Cruz professional surfer Ken Collins and former World Tour surfer Bobby Martinez.
Collins’ controversial Surfline editorial — a rant called “The ASP Sucks!” — was quickly removed from the Web site after Collins stated that it was posted on Surfline without his permission.
Collins’ recent commentary criticized the ASP for its lack of professionalism. Specifically, Collins pointed out Slater-gate, that the ASP allowed a glut of non-World Tour surfers to compete in the final World Tour event of the season and that it excluded Santa Cruz surfer Nat Young — a contender for the Triple Crown — from the Pipe Masters after a seemingly odd series of rule changes.
“This does not happen in our sister sports like skating and snowboarding,” Collins wrote in the rant. “If the ASP and the surf media got their act together, pro surfing would be at a mainstream level where the whole world would take notice.”
The entire rant can still be found online at StokeReport.com.
Martinez’s anti-ASP outburst during live webcast coverage at the New York World Tour event in September was widely circulated. A frustrated Martinez, looking less like a surfer and more like a gangster, ran his mouth off against the ASP, criticizing the tour structure and calling it a “wannabe tennis tour.”
In response, the ASP publicly disqualified Martinez from the tour.
Martinez’s outburst may not have been pretty or fit for live broadcast, but the California surfer got the nod of respect for standing up — unscripted — against Goliath.
Not all the turmoil has been caused by backlash against the ASP. Some of it is just rejection of the idea that money makes the world go round.
Several key members of Surfing Magazine’s staff, including editor Travis Ferre and Santa Cruz photographer Nathan Lawrence, jumped ship and are reportedly starting their own magazine, called Bummer. Leading the mutiny is Australian filmmaker Kai Neville, whose films “Modern Collective” and “Lost Atlas” have inspired countless hipster dreams.
Bummer magazine is positioning itself to exist apart from corporate influence. Since most of the world’s best surf for Neville’s cameras, the remaining surf media is facing a serious challenge, especially since the surfing media is not known as a free media. Most believe it ranks somewhere below Somalia in terms of censorship and advertising influence controlling their coverage.
But since we’re all surfers, who can blame the surf media for wanting to piggyback on corporate-funded surf trips with the surfers they have always idolized? And what else are they supposed to write about and what else do we, the surfers, really want to read about?
If Neville and crew succeed at creating a magazine apart from corporate influence…
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