GAME OVER?

posted by / News / August 6, 2003

Here’s something you probably already know: nine of the WCT’s top surfers — including Kelly Slater, Taj Burrow, the Lopezes, Damien Hobgood, Taylor Knox, Shane Dorian, Kalani Robb and Pat O’Connell — are competing in the X Games at Huntington Beach this Saturday. But here’s something you probably don’t know: up until yesterday, they weren’t. After one week of heated backroom debates and political red tape, these nine surfers — who will now likely be known as the X Games Nine — made a decision yesterday that will either end their World Championship Tour careers or shake up the system altogether. To quote the signed letter the group sent to the ASP: “We are in unanimous agreement that we are participating in the X Games to better the sport of surfing. We are also in agreement to stay fully committed to the ASP.” The only problem is, the X Games is not an ASP-sanctioned event. Never was, according to ASP president {{{Rabbit}}} Bartholomew. ESPN and the X Games got a tentative green light after an ASP meeting at Jeffreys Bay, but they were required to pay a $35,000 sanctioning fee by July 31. When the date passed without a payment, the ASP revoked any chance of a sanction. Then came a letter to all WCT surfers who were invited to compete in the X Games. In that letter, they reminded them of Rule No. 6 in the ASP rulebook. In the interest of protecting the value of the WCT events, the rule clearly states that any Top 44 surfer who competes in a non-sanctioned event will not be permitted to compete in any further ASP events that year, and will lose all his or her seeding points for the following year.It’s a heavy price to pay for three hours in Huntington slop, but the surfers feel there’s a much bigger picture involved — especially when they learned what might have motivated the ASP’s sudden cold shoulder toward the X Games. You see, the Boost Mobile Pro, stop No. 7 on this year’s WCT, is scheduled to run three weeks from now at Lower Trestles. But when Boost Mobile (a company specializing in cell phones) learned that the Verizon-sponsored X Games would also be showcasing surfing with {{{100}}} times the publicity (ESPN reaches 140 million homes worldwide), they grew concerned. Especially when they looked at the numbers: they invest $1.2 million for a surf event with virtually no TV coverage; the X Games (read: Verizon, their biggest competitor) invests significantly less money, gets the majority of America’s best and tons of air time. So, Boost let the ASP know about it. “We have nothing against ESPN and nothing against the X Games,” says Boost CEO Peter Adderton. “But we’ve spent millions of dollars to get our brand exposure through surfing. And if the world’s best choose the X Games over the WCT, that’s fine. I’ll sponsor the X Games next year.”But it’s the ASP’s job to prove to guys like Adderton that the WCT is the ultimate showcase for the world’s top surfers. Let one Top 44 surfer go renegade, surfing any event he chooses, and it threatens the entire franchise. “Our priority is to protect the World Championship Tour and every event on it,” said Bartholomew.The surfers, on the other hand, feel the ASP is not protecting the WCT in this case; they’re holding it down. After years of watching sports like skateboarding roll on by them, they believe that this year’s Games — a once-a-year event that might be seen as surfing’s version of the Olympics — gives them their big chance to raise surfing back to kingpin status. In their minds, the X Games will generate the television exposure they’ve wanted for all these years, which in turn might help get the ASP the international TV exposure it can’t seem to secure. “I want to emphasize that it’s not us against the ASP by any means,” says Pat O’Connell, who spoke on behalf of the X Games Nine. “We simply feel like we’re doing the right thing. We’re doing something that will better the sport in the long run.”How they came to the unanimous vote is a story in itself. As of yesterday, the situation looked bleak for the surfers to come to any kind of consensus. One of the wildcards, Aussie Dean Morrison, bailed back home thinking it was off. The other guys started to make alternative weekend plans. But then Brad Gerlach — The Game founder and mastermind behind the X Games East vs. West format — asked all the team members to meet at North Jetty, Oceanside for a practice. They staged a mock Game, hooted and cursed as the West Coast made a last-minute, fourth-quarter comeback and convinced themselves that the show — or in this case The Game — had to go on. Gerlach and ESPN’s Chris Stiepock were there, explaining the situation and telling them the decision was entirely theirs. Ten minutes later, they drafted a letter to the ASP. “They shocked me with what they did, because I didn’t want any part of it,” said Gerlach. “But it was the stuff legends are made of. A moment, bro. A true moment in surfing history.”Whether they come to regret that moment is now up to the ASP. According to O’Connell: “We’re completely aware of what we’re doing and the ramifications it might bring. I just hope the ASP understands our intentions and figures out a way to work with us.”In the ASP camp, though, it doesn’t sound as hopeful. If they intend to enforce the rulebook, the ASP will have no choice but to bar the WCT surfers who compete in the X Games. “They’re individuals,” said Bartholomew. “And they have to weigh up their decisions — if they want to compete on the WCT or take another path.” – Evan Slater + Nick Carroll[Stay tuned for more wild X Games developments as they happen.]

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