SURFING GETS Xed

posted by / News / May 27, 2003

Tony Hawk’s {{{900}}}, Sven Boekhorst’s “Alley-Oop Pornstar,” Mat Hoffman’s no-handed 900. . .and Kelly Slater’s {{{Rodeo}}} Flip?Come this summer, they might all get equal billing at this year’s ESPN X Games IX, held in the Los Angeles area in mid August. According to ESPN and Brad Gerlach’s National Surf League, the X Games will — after nine, long years of avoiding the ocean — finally include surfing in its packed schedule of high-flying sporting events. “Surfing is the original action sport,” says X Games General Manager Chris Stiepock. “We’ve been looking for a way to incorporate this great sport and its tremendous following into the Games. The Game format, which can be held in a wide variety of surf conditions within a limited time frame, offers a competition flow that is easy to understand, provides constant action, and allows ESPN to showcase the surfers’ incredible talent while they’re having fun.”According to Gerlach, ESPN approached him after his successful debut of the revolutionary contest format at Cardiff earlier this year. In that event, a San Diego County team went up against Orange County and proved how the rules in traditional ball sports could apply to surfing. Time Outs, team uniforms and coaches are all part of the game in The Game and — judging from the crowd’s fever-pitched reaction — it could be the fuel that finally drives competitive surfing to the masses. “Cardiff was crucial — it just proved the Game worked,” said Gerlach. “But now we have an opportunity to take it to such a higher level — it’s what I envisioned all along.”

Specifically, this means huge bleachers on the South Side of the Huntington Beach Pier on August 9, possibly tens of thousands of people showing up and screaming their heads off for the short, three-hour event and a TV program that’s easy to digest and full of unique camera angles. To seal the deal, Gerlach and crew are pitting the U.S. West Coast vs. the U.S. East Coast. Each team has eight members plus a coach, and the names they’re throwing around would motivate any seasoned surf fan to pay a scalper for shoreline seats. For the West Coast, Gerlach is hoping for Rob Machado, Taylor Knox, Shane Beschen, Pat O’Connell, Tim Curran, Bobby Martinez or Chris Ward, coach Mike Parsons and two wildcards. In the East, it’s Kelly Slater, the Hobgood brothers, the Lopez brothers, Ben Bourgeois, coach Matt Kechele and two wildcards. The short list of wildcards include Joel Parkinson, Mick Fanning, Taj Burrow and Shane Dorian.With a heavy-hitter list like this, Gerlach is confident that surfing and his beloved Game will make an impact in front of the largest potential audience ever for a surfing event. (X Games TV coverage reaches 110 million homes worldwide and average daily attendance at last year’s Philadelphia games exceeded 40,000.) In fact, the only thing stopping these Dream Teamers from playing is. . .well, the Dream Tour. In order for most of these guys to compete, they need to get approval from the ASP (World Championship Tour surfers can only compete in ASP-sanctioned events). And, as of press time, it’s not looking promising. “We still need to make a final decision, but chances are it’s not going to happen,” says ASP International CEO Peter Whittaker. “The X Games don’t really fit into any potential categories for a waiver and, frankly, we’re trying to steer surfing away from the ‘Extreme {{{Sports}}}’ genre. We consider surfing a cut above those other sports.”Not everyone is ruling it out just yet. According to Billabong which, along with Quiksilver, invests well over $1 million into the ASP each year, the X Games isn’t something we should just thumb our noses at. “Obviously it’s crucial to have the very best guys,” says Billabong’s Marketing VP Graham Stapelberg. “And if that happens, the publicity and reach could be great for surfing.”

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