What happens when an ASP contest is just a shadow of itself?
Recently, Gabriel Medina won an ASP World Tour event in Fiji. He was (as much as I dislike his surfing immensely) undoubtedly the in-form surfer in the waves available for the contest. You could even say, “Gabriel Medina won the 2014 Volcom Fiji Pro,” and you would still be making an accurate statement.
What you sure as shit can’t say is that Gabriel Medina won the contest we were all expecting to see at Cloudbreak.
Cloudbreak came up way short for us this year. It’s a shame, too, because based on evidence from Instagram, it looked like Cloudbreak was firing while the ASP shunned the women off to Restaurants down the road during their waiting period (that’s a whole different disaster for a whole different article).
Contest surfing is a bit of a strange beast as it is. It posits the idea that the surfer that most closely matches a criteria during a 30 minute interval at a specific break is somehow better than another surfer at the same break during the same interval (and, inherently, the rest of the world). That’s a pretty strange conclusion to draw from thirty minutes of surfing at a time. Regardless, a large chunk of the surf world turns in a dozen or so times a year to see who is going to be, “the best surfer in the world,” this year. A lot of this has to do with the simple fact that watching contests is the most regular, consistent way we get to consume pro surfing. Let’s face it, even the worst dudes on tour are better to watch than the creme de la creme at your local break (unless you’re from Huntington Beach, in which case Brett Simpson is both).
Here’s the rub: what the hell is the value in watching any of it when the waves just don’t show up? There have been complaints all year that the conditions at all of the contests have been less than ideal. The mixed bag of swell at Snapper? The wind at Margaret’s? Everything in Rio? We’re not exactly getting slam dunk sections that would be featured in any surf cinema of late. The whole point of changing venues is to provide a variety of waves to see how each surfer handles himself or herself in a variety of conditions; it’s why Kelly has 11 championships, precisely because he rips in EVERYTHING.
Contest surfing is facing a crisis. The ASP is doing some good things: trying to modernize the webcast, bringing bigger prize purses to the Big Wave and Women’s world tours. But if they can’t figure out a solution to the problem of getting the surfers into good waves, the surf community is going to lose interest, forget getting the rest of the world interested (which, frankly, isn’t really important to me). If I have to watch Taj win Lowers this year in 2-3 foot wind slop like last year, I suppose I’ll cheer him on, but I’d much rather watch him win it in solid 6-7 foot rippable Lowers A-frames.
I’m more excited about Jeffrey’s Bay being back on tour this year than pretty much any other event. It’s focused on exactly the kind of on-rail, power surfing that I love. I’m not stoked to hear that the event forecast, well, pretty much blows. After all the hype, Jeffrey’s may end up looking worse than Swami’s on a middling day. The ASP has to figure out a way to resolve this issue, especially since up until this week, J-Bay has been firing. Maybe they need to look at what RipCurl does with the Padang Padang Cup, “When it’s on, it’s on,” or take a queue from their own Big Wave World Tour format, and totally mix up the waiting periods. Whatever it is, they’re losing the battle of attention spans to What Youth and the rest of the internet clip show.
Just think about this: how much of a disaster will it be when Gabriel Medina wins his first world title (because, again, despite my personal feelings towards his terrible stance, he’s gonna win a couple) if not a single event all year is surfed in overhead waves? If everything looks like the sloppy beachbreak we saw in Rio this year? Will it mean anything at all if the ‘best surfer in the world’ didn’t look any better than the dude at your local spot?