GAME OVER? PART TWO

posted by / News / August 14, 2003

It’s only a few days since pro surfing’s latest version of the Bay of Pigs, and frankly, everyone seems suspiciously happy with things.In case you hadn’t noticed: last week, nine of the world’s top surfers, all but one of them American, decided to defy the ASP WCT rulebook and surf in the ESPN X Games, despite the Games being denied an ASP sanction. Theoretically, this action would’ve led to their being banned from the world title race.In the background: Boost Mobile, very pissed that another event was getting a chance at some of the WCT pros for a lot less than Boost’s massive investment in the Trestles WCT event in September; the US surf industry, determined that their pros should be in the Games and thus gain valuable promo and TV time; the ASP management, cringing in the knowledge they might have to actually ban Kelly Slater, the Lopezes and the Hobgoods from the world tour; ESPN, psyched at the chance to include the source of boardsports in their marquee show; and Brad Gerlach, hoping against hope that he’d be able to unveil his team-based competition system known as The Game.Somehow, at a crisis meeting last Friday, a last-minute deal was brokered, the Games got a sanction, and the surfers — suddenly known as the X Games Nine — surfed without penalty. “Yeah, I’m proud of what we did,” says Kelly Slater. “We bonded together and forced change. It was a powerful statement.”At the crisis meeting last Friday, Kelly said, “There was clearly a way around the whole thing even though no one wanted to admit it. We basically just resolved it directly with Boost, saying, ‘You scratch our backs and we’ll scratch yours.’”Scratching their backs meant allowing the surfers to surf the Games without a fight from Boost; scratching Boost’s back meant Boost stickers on every WCT members’ boards during the X Games.The rule blocking WCT pros from competing in non-sanctioned events originated with the pros themselves. It dates back to 1999, when Derek Hynd’s rebel IS Tour was trying to lure dissident surfers away from the WCT. Back then, the rebel-tour threat triggered massive changes on tour, including a doubling of WCT event prizemoney and an increased commitment to high quality surf locations.Kelly said the meeting “got a little heated”, primarily because of the threat of potential lawsuits from both ESPN — with whom the Nine had signed contracts — and Boost, who was telling the ASP that as much as they wanted the guys to surf their event, if they let the X Games Nine surf Trestles, then ASP rules don’t mean anything. They also contended they had legal issues with the ASP due to the ASP’s failure to even tell Boost about the X Games sanction.ESPN’s Chris Stiepock is happy. “Obviously, I’m very, very happy how it all turned out. I hold that group of surfers in very high esteem, and for them to put their necks out to surf in the X Games, well, it’s one of the high points of my career.”Stiepock says he “never pressured (the surfers) to uphold the contract they signed, just told them I needed to know. I went to the meeting at Oceanside to tell them to make a decision since there was so much prep we had to do if we went to Plan B.”There’s still going to be some ramifications on what happened — a washout — but everyone can come out of it looking OK.”Does it leave a bad taste in your mouth with the ASP? “I’d be lying if I didn’t say we had a rough week last week. But it is water under the bridge, and I’m sure we can work together and move the sport forward.”Even Boost’s Peter Adderton is happy with the way it turned out. He secured a {{{Fox}}} Television deal for the Trestles WCT event — in synch with other WCT TV programming on Fox — and is now on the full court press to get the word out. “You could see it in the surfers’ eyes: they shouldn’t have been caught in the middle of this,” he says.”Fortunately, we resolved it with the surfers, which is priority number one. But the ASP’s got some serious questions to answer on the way they operate. There was a serious system breakdown there.”Was anyone not happy, in fact? The ASP’s Peter Whittaker was feeling a bit like Kofi Annan of the U.N. might at times — in a word, harrassed. It’s no secret that his and {{{Rabbit}}} Bartholomew’s names have been mud throughout this incident, partly thanks to how the sanctioning was handled, but partly perhaps because they’re the middlemen — and when there’s trouble, the middleman is always easiest to blame. There will be an ASP Board meeting in California in September, where, said Whittaker, “Management will be proposing a complete {{{review}}} of specialty sanctioning procedures”.What does that mean? “There’s so many conflicting opinions about the role of specialty events. The Board has to sit down and see what constitutes a true specialty — and whether or not an event might be just trying to get hold of the ASP’s assets for a lot less money.”– Nick Carroll + Evan Slater

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