Let's Give Scores from One to Five Shakas
Round to the nearest half shaka...
We're days, maybe hours away from the start of the 2013 ASP World Tour, waiting only on the Gold Coast weather and waves to cooperate. Part of the surf world is excited. Part of it is indifferent or inattentive. A chunk of it even expresses some anger towards its existence and the attention it receives.
What, exactly, does competitive surfing do for us as individual surfers or our culture at large? Do we really want this lifestyle to be given more mainstream attention, to have surfers be looked at as “professional athletes?”
The leftover Old Bay wings and crab dip have barely cleared my refrigerator (and my colon) since celebrating that great spectacle of American sport, the Super Bowl. Can you imagine a surf contest with million dollar Mercedes ads (whether or not Kate Upton is present) and technical interruptions and controversy from officiating? There are enough people crying foul over the winners of damn near every ASP contest heat, without the media push that a spectacle of that size would bring.
I'm sure it's ZoSea's wet dream, to have Slater and John John squared off in millions of households on network television with backing from Pepsi. Hell, maybe GoDaddy will put Alana Blanchard in a few risqué commercials.
This may be ZoSea's wet dream with their upcoming takeover of the media management for the ASP. It sure as shit isn't mine.
Surfing is inherently individual, both the act itself and its consumption. 2 people can surf the same wave in completely different ways, even if they're riding the same equipment. 2 people can watch the same video part and take completely different perspectives on its quality. None of these are wrong; none of these are right. With the same circumstances applied to judging of competitive surfing, how can we hope for any kind of consensus on who surfed a heat better? What part of judging is subjective, based on style? Isn't how a surfer performs more important than merely what a surfer performs?
The push and subsequent growth of surfing as a measurable, competitive sport is ultimately responsible for its slide closer to the mainstream. There would be a lot less Huntington moms loading their gromlings into mini-vans headed to the beaches every weekend if there wasn't a chance they could be bringing a trophy home. It's changed the way we approach surfing - Red Bull is currently promoting Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson's pre-tour training regime, as if highlighting the competitive portion of surfing as the be-all, end-all. I happen to like watching both Mick and Joel surf; I'm not quite as stoked at a sponsor portraying them as contest monkeys more like golfers or tennis pros.
Because surfing can't be like those individual sports because its not really a sport. In golf, the ball is either in the hole or it isn't. There is no equivalent in surfing. And I've played golf - there's nothing like the soul there is in surfing. It's human nature to be competitive - it's not the existence of the surf contest that could potentially be problematic. It's the swirling atmosphere of shit (especially money) that has increased its orbit around ASP contests in recent years.
Competitive surfing doesn't necessarily lessen the importance or impact of "free surfing" (although its ironic that it now needs an adjective to define it). Dion Agius can continue to do air reverses in a Middle East wave pool surrounded by girls in bikinis without fear that the ASP will somehow sanction him. The danger is that the community at large begins to regard the individual actions of a surfer as meaningless unless compared by some half-assed criteria to the actions of another.
This is why the art around surfing - video, magazines, stories, (maybe even blogs?) is so important, because it captures that individual and allows other surfers to draw their own inspiration from him or her. The subjective lens is, perhaps, the most truthful because its all relative anyway.
Ironically, the best part of the ASP contest machine is that it brings us MORE surfing than we might otherwise get. We get more chances to see the surfers on tour that we like than we would if we had to wait for video parts. Even outside of contests, it's been a boon - that massive day at Cloudbreak last year wouldn't have been streaming live if we hadn't been lucky enough to have all of that contest equipment in place.
I'm not going to lie and say I wasn't excited when Surfer mag posted their season preview video last week. I'm not going to lie and say I won't be rooting for Taj to take a world title this year, or to see wins by Mick and John John, or rooting against surfers who cry when things don't go their way. That, too, is human nature, to cheer on the successes of those that we identify with for less-than-concrete reasons.
I'm more excited for Dane's next video part.