Tag Archive for: ZoSea

Dividing Lines – The Segregated Soul of Surfing

06 Dec
December 6, 2014

Freesurfing vs. Pro Surfing

As we head into the homestretch of the 2014 ASP World Championship Tour, we know that a fast-approaching storm of inevitable controversy, heartfelt conviction and colorful commentary is headed our way. We don’t even have to wait to spot it on the horizon. It is coming just as surely as that sneaker set at your favorite big wave surf spot.

Just sit deep and get ready for it.

By December 20th, the entire surf world will be blowing up over botched scores, titles earned or gifted, the new world order and the very future of our sport. Or… err… “activity”. (Dang it! I knew that one was coming and still took it right on the head! When will I learn?)

Jokes aside, I say this because I know full well that in the midst of all the coming noise, the loudest voices won’t be from those interested in the compelling storylines that the ASP, ZoSea and the world’s greatest surfers will have delivered for us. Nope. It’ll come from those who wish that professional competitive surfing would just pack up its sh#t and go away.

Forever.

After all, surfing is too diverse to be siloed. Too sacred to be packaged and sold. It was always meant to be, “free”.

The continuing segregation of surfing into two camps, “freesurfers” who believe that surfing at its core is a spiritual activity inherently at odds with competition and consumerism, and those who support professional surfing as an acceptable way to advance and enjoy the sport, is as old as competitive surfing, itself. But these days, like so much other social and ideological phenomena, the divisions just seem to have grown deeper, the conversations more shrill and cynical, our ideological differences pulling us further apart in ways that are neither fun, healthy nor productive.

Maybe it’s just me. Heck, I’ve been “freesurfing” for the past 25 years! I haven’t competed in a contest since college, when I launched my own citywide surf league. And even then, when we competed, it was always in the spirit of fun and fellowship.

At the same time, if I had sufficient talent to make a living competing as a pro on the WCT, would I do it? Hell yes- in a second! I do love competition. Professional sporting competition. Professional surfing competition! As a result, I’ve followed it closely for nearly as many years as I’ve been surfing.

And therein lies the biggest disconnect of the whole, “surfing as an activity vs. surfing as a sport (or a business; or product)” narrative: Why should any of us have to choose one over the other? Can’t we enjoy all of the various aspects of surfing? Haven’t most of us always done so, to one degree or another?

Following the careers of surfers like Shaun Tomson, Tom Curren, Kelly Slater and John John Florence… watching live contests in places most of us could only dream about in conditions we could only imagine… enjoying the sheer drama of the battles for glory that have provided the fundamental appeal of all athletic competition since the first Olympiad in 765 BC?

Increasingly, it seems that the freesurfers of the world –the real freesurfing purists and not those like me, who are only half-in– would have us be free of everything but their opinions and their judgment, ever-projecting a self-righteous air of pretentious enlightenment that the rest of us poor souls who watch contests more than clips, could only ever hope to understand. And, while I couldn’t care less about how anyone might try to frame me as one kind of surfer or another- that mindset, old as it is, is fast becoming as stale and sour as the rest of the ideological antipathy that we increasingly see grinding our country and our communities to a halt.

Interestingly, the Pew Research Center noted in a recent study that people with strong political views are increasingly constructing their lives around people who agree with them, while shunning those who disagree. The report stated that this kind of ideological rigidity is increasingly leading people to actively avoid others with divergent opinions, making them not only more likely do simple things like defriending on Facebook, but also affecting their decisions about where to live (think Red State / Blue State- all the way down to the neighborhood level); where to eat; where to shop and do business; even who to start a family with (“My name is Canyon. I’m 25. I love surfing and traveling, ride a ’73 Steve Lis fish and am looking for a girl who hates Paul Speaker as much as I do.”)

It begs the question: Are many surfers today really not traveling down the path of independent thought, but rather, simply following the well-trodden and increasingly crowded path of rigid ideologues whose close-minded thinking continues to sabotage compromise, civility and acceptance in so many areas of society, today?

No offense to my friends in California, but I often wonder if the whole freesurfing “purist” vs. “competitive” or “commercial surfing” narrative is primarily a Calicentric industry phenomenon? Because I rarely see so much hand-wringing about it over here on the East Coast.

Here, by and large, all competitors are idolized, from world champs to mid-level CT’ers and QS’ers to local blue-collar rippers. They are supported at every level from the amateur ranks to the pros. When they win, we all win. And when they lose, retire, get hurt, run out of money, head back to college or into the real world, it’s no big deal. They are welcomed right back into the water where you could always find them anyway between their competitions, heats and traveling- freesurfing.

I understand that California suffers from severe crowd-control issues at many spots (don’t we all), and that a common complaint about ZoSea, current owners of professional surfing, is that their ultimate goal to bring surfing to the masses via the aggressive marketing of professional competitive surfing will only worsen this frustrating trend. Truth is, shifting demographic trends and local zoning and development regulations are far more likely to impact these issues than people from Ohio watching the Teahupo’o contest live on ABC, or breaking heats down afterwards on YouTube.

Heck, in a well-researched article written earlier this year by Stu Nettle on Swellnet, his organization’s findings suggest that you could see the crowds at your local break plummet by as much as 30% as soon as Slater decides to retire! (Or at the very least, folks will be unplugging from watching professional surfing, online).

Ultimately, the fear of increasing crowds is just one of a laundry list of justifications that surfing “purists” cite for being skeptical of professional competitive surfing generally, and ZoSea in particular. There’s too much we know about them, and too much we don’t. I for one think they’ve been doing a pretty damn good job with the exception of the name change to the World Surfing League (I understand their reasoning, I just don’t like their choice). Regardless, the ASP and professional surfing have survived name changes and many much larger challenges in the past, and both have only continued to grow.

If the conspiracy theories are true and ZoSea ends up leaving surfing at the altar because like others before them, Paul Speaker, Terry Hardy and (allegedly) Dirk Ziff can’t figure out how to wring a dime out of it, rest assured, it won’t stay down for long. As long as there are surfers who yearn to make a living out of their passion, there will always be others willing to try.

As for me, I’ll continuing to keep an “open mind”, something surfing’s “purists” like to own, but which doesn’t resonate when they continually insinuate that those of us who enjoy professional competitive surfing are somehow uniformed, immoral or something less than “pure”, because we value surfing both as an activity and a sport. It is both those things and so much more.

Note: This article originally appeared on TheInertia.com. Go here see to the original version, and full ensuing discussion.

The Real Winners of the World Title Race: The ASP and Pro Surfing Fans

23 Feb
February 23, 2014

Mick-Fanning-wins-2013-World-Title_Surf-Channel-Photo-Emily-Bates_7335

The real winners weren’t even in the water. Photo: The Surf Channel | Emily Bates

Cry all you want. Light up the net with rants, raves and conspiracy theories. Break down the heats, waves, drops, barrels, surfers, scores, could-have-beens, should-have beens and never-gonna-be’s. The contest is over. And while nerves were frayed, dreams shattered and emotions overflowed, one thing is clear – the winners of this year’s epic battle on the North Shore far outnumbered the losers. Kelly picked up his seventh Pipe Masters. John John nabbed his second Triple Crown, and Mick snatched his third World Title. All this, and the real winners weren’t even in the water. Rather, we were watching it unfold from the beach, the scaffolding, at home, at work, behind our computers, on our phones and through networks like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Congratulations ASP– you, ZoSea and fans of professional surfing everywhere won big. That. Was. Epic.

Regardless of whether you believe fill-in-the-blank was underscored or overscored (please choose one) by fill-in-the-blank points on his first, second or both (please choose one) wave(s), there are a few things I think we can all agree on.

a) The top surfers on the WCT are absolutely phenomenal. Pro-surfing snobs who still deride competitive surfing as uninspired, mechanical or lacking in any manner, spare us you indignation and spiritual self-righteousness. It’s you who are tired, repetitive and devoid of originality. No soul in pro surfing? Go learn to use the heat analyzer and watch Slater’s reaction after getting blown out of a menacing 10-point barrel against Parko in the semis. Watch him bravely trying to maintain his composure while speaking onstage prior to his heat with John John or Mick trying contain his own emotions after realizing he had earned the score to secure the World Title. Watch nearly any heat with surfers like Kelly, Mick, Julian, Gabriel or Adriano. Watch some old heats of Andy’s. Then shut up and stop trying to affix your definition of “soul” to everyone else. Thank God our souls are all unique.

b) The drama that unfolded on this year’s World Tour, from Bells to Cloudbreak to Tahiti and the weeks leading up to the Triple Crown rivaled any in professional sports. How much tension, how many storylines, how little margin for error in waves of beauty and consequence can we ask for? I think we got our money’s worth (and oh yeah, that’s right –I watched every contest online, for free!)

c) Mick may (rightfully) be 2013 World Champ, but Robert Kelly Slater is still the greatest surfer in the world. Right now. At age 41. Soon to be 42. How long can he continue to defy the laws of nature? Seriously? Had he won, I don’t think we’d ever really know. I think he would have retired. I’m a third-generation native of Florida and a die-hard Kelly fan. I wanted to see him win the World Title as much as anyone. But at the end of the day, I was stoked just to watch him put his full talents – his very soul – on display in the emotional way that he did following the loss of the title to Mick.  Selfishly, I’m thankful that his own competitive drive and pure love of surfing will bring him back for yet another year. It’s historic. It will never be duplicated. And each passing year only adds to that legacy.

(Disclosure: I feel for Yadin Nicol, but believe that his heat with Fanning was a true coin-toss. And, I don’t believe that Mick’s last minute wave against CJ was overscored. I do, however, believe that both of Hobgood waves were underscored, as has been the case with both CJ and Damien many times over the years, in my opinion. Perhaps that’s just my Florida bias. In any event, we can’t change history. And frankly, at this point, I’m not sure I’d want to.)

d) The ASP won BIG time, controversy be damned. Here’s the dirty little secret of subjective judging: it’s as compelling as it is maddening! It’s going to be extremely interesting to learn what the viewership numbers were online. I watched nearly the entire comp on my desktop, but had to leave my house for a different event prior to the final. There, at a holiday performance of the The Nutcracker, in which my daughter had a role, I had brief opportunity to steal away and catch a few minutes of the final on my cell phone. And there in the hallway, surprisingly, three other guys were doing the exact same thing, or otherwise asked for an update from me.

Now, with Kelly returning next season, the schedule enhanced yet again with the addition of Margaret River, and a contract with ESPN in hand, the ASP has a legitimate shot to get their plane in the air. They’ll need to take quick advantage, because they very likely dodged a bullet by Kelly not winning the title. Once he does decide to call it a career, there’s little doubt that it’s going to present a powerful vaccum for ZoSea, the parent company of the ASP, to work against. And, as great a champion as Mick may be, and as dynamic a surfer and promising a future world champ John John seems destined to be (or Julian or Medina), it’s going to take the kind of effort and infrastructure that ZoSea seems to be putting in place to keep the tour strong once Kelly calls it quits. But for this moment in time, in the weeks leading up to and during this historic North Shore season, ZoSea, the ASP and fans of pro surfing have all won. Call it a Triple Crown.

Not: The above article was originally created for and published on The Inertia, Surfing’s Definitive Online Community. To see full reaction and discussion of the article, click here.

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