In my first post, I highlighted the reasons why surfers keep coming back to the ocean. If you do not remember it or still have not read it, surfers continually surf because the ocean draws them back. It taunts them and teases them. Every wave they surf is an attempt to better the best ride of their career. This reason to surf is strongly contested by contest surfing, which brings us to question the morality of the sport. In my last post, I described the structure of professional surfing, specifically surfing contests. In the major leagues of surfing, there can be any number from ten to twelve events a season. Many surfers are strongly support the professional league and contest surfing, however many surfers also strongly disagree with the state of contests and the league. This camp strongly believes contest surfing takes the heart and soul out of surfing. In this post, I will present both sides of the argument for and against contest surfing.
As I stated in my last post, there is a large network of professional surfing contests hosted by the Association of Surfing Professionals, otherwise known as the ASP. All of these contests have a large prize purse and strongly commercialize surfing. The series of contests held by the ASP for the major league of surfing is known as the World Tour. Often nicknamed the Dream Tour, this series of contests is far from a dream. From the outside, the nickname “Dream Tour” gives the allusion that the contests are only held in the most perfect conditions at the best spots in the best times of the year. This is far from the truth. The ASP takes the World Tour to big market locations so they can commercialize and advertise surfing as much as possible. This leads to the best surfers in the world surfing in less than “dream” conditions. For example, two years ago at the Billabong Pro Rio, the event finals were held in lackluster conditions, solely because of the potential market in Brazil. Meanwhile, in Nicaragua, the waves happened to be perfect, as they often are in May. However, the World Tour did not go there because there is not a big enough market for surfing. The ASP sacrificed quality for profits. Another problem with professional surfing is that the judging system never seems to be fair. In any sport where you are scored based on another person’s opinion, there is bound to be conflict, however in surfing it often seems that lesser known surfers and local wildcards (surfers who were given spots in the contest by the hosting company) are getting lower than normal scores in heats where they compete with the most popular surfers. In those same heats, the more popular surfers seem to get significantly higher than deserved scores. For example, last week in a contest in France, a local standout was crushing a championship contender. Then the contender caught and rode a lackluster wave and some how earned a great score. On top of all this, the rules and regulations that come with being a member of the ASP are very against the true meaning of surfing. So much so that original free surfer Jamie O’ Brien released a movie in which he burned the ASP Rule Book because he disagreed with it so much. This earned him a hefty fine and put him on probation, but it helped changed people minds about what the ASP is actually about.
On the other hand, surfing is a growing sport in a very limited market. Only people who live near the coast really know about it, and an even smaller amount of people actually partake in the sport. The commercialization of surfing is necessary for the sport to continue expanding. It has to reach markets it has never reached before. Contests have to be in high population areas. That is why a couple years ago, Quiksilver hosted a contest in Long Island, not too far from New York City, to help grow the sport. It worked. The contest was held in great waves and had great attendance of all kinds of people. This may offend some people, but without it surfing would be non existent. Without surf brands making deals with clothing companies and selling clothes in malls throughout the world in stores like Pac Sun, many people would not even know about it. As much as anyone would like to see the great professionals like Kelly Slater or Joel Parkinson shredding in perfect wave conditions, it is not realistic. The business of professional surfing is struggling as much now as it ever has. It needs ways to increase revenue so it can introduce surfing to people all over the world.
Contest surfing is not for everyone. Yes, it is a dirty business. However, the system the way it is now is right in what it is doing. If you want surfing to keep thriving, you need to find ways to keep increasing revenue and for that to happen, you have to commercialize it. Just because you commercialize the sport does not mean the true meaning behind the sport has to be forgotten. I think that is often over looked. Many surfers believe that surfing will be ruined by commercialization, however that is not true. It will only be ruined by surfers who think surfing is ruined.