Surfing Needs More Emotion

pic_1Illustration by Noa Emberson.

I wanna see Gabriel Medina cry more. When he wins, when he loses, at a tangerine sunset dripping into the French Atlantic. And I wanna see Kelly Slater breaking more boards in the athletes’ tent after an early-round loss as bystanders that have only known the man for his unaffected cool watch uncomfortably, glancing at one another, unsure if they should step in to disrupt the King’s tantrum. I wanna see more holes punched through ASP locker room walls; more outbursts; more collisions; more bitter, seething post-heat interviews. More eyes red. More rushing the f–king mound.

All of those incidents actually happened this year, and thank God someone was filming, because as it stands, professional surfing — as exciting as the title race has been — is in grave danger of becoming the whitest sport on planet Earth. And by white I mean lack of color and by color I don’t mean race, but rather, personality. We need the niceties and courtesies and canned, scripted answers and Aw, it coulda gone either ways to stop. We need to see that hidden dimension: that passion, those punched-in holes, them tears.

As it stands, the only thing radical about professional surfing is the actual surfing, and that
just cannot be enough. It has to be more than the surfing.

After all, we are more than just surfers and surfer fans — we are manifold humans and manifold human fans. And complex, dynamic humans are what make the world worth watching.

Now, I know John John is a soft-spoken, humble gentleman, but what if he took a new approach? What if post-heat after a 19-point semi, steamrolling into a final with Parko, he got all Mike Tyson, grabbed the mic from Rosie and roared, “I’m gonna rip his heart out! I’m the best ever! I’m the most brutal and vicious, the most ruthless champion there has ever been. No one can stop me. My style is impetuous, my defense is impregnable, and I’m just ferocious. I want his heart! I want to eat his children…” Now wouldn’t that be more entertaining content than watching him duckdive across a pool underwater?

Sure, calm, cool and collected has been en vogue among surfers since the greater public deemed surfers an authority on cool, but biting one’s tongue has never made for good TV — or, in our case, good webcast. Emotion, elation, unbridled passion. That is what piques interest.

Passion — indeed, there is nothing wrong with this quality, even if these days it’s a word the talking heads in the comment booth most commonly associate with “Brazilian.” Andy Irons had passion. Sunny Garcia and Tom Carroll had it, too. They surfed heats and lived life like people possessed. Like people in love. Maniacally, unreasonably. Like hockey players throwing off their gloves and squaring up. Like football players shimmying in the end zone. Like an enraged John McEnroe calling out the ref in front of the whole world. Like Muhammad Ali posed over a felled Sonny Liston, arms down, head-cocked, chest-popped. Like Italian soccer players taking dives and writhing on the pitch like a 4-year-old girl having a fit. Passionate, unreasonable men and women whose hearts hang on their sleeves have moved mountains. And more importantly, they have moved us.

I’m not asking for reality TV here. But I would like to see the gloves off. And some guards down. And if our pro surfers happen to lapse and act a little “unprofessional,” that’s quite all right with me. —Beau Flemister