Splitsville

posted by / News / March 10, 2008

The National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) and Surfing America announced last week that they have called it quits, bringing back haunting visions of divided amateur surfing, 10-place finishes at Worlds and America’s tumultuous competitive past. Another wrench thrown into the machine that finally felt well oiled. The split means no surfer can qualify for the U.S.A. Surf Team through the NSSA anymore and the two organizations are in no way affiliated, leaving kids with a competitive war on two fronts.

“I want to keep this as positive as possible,” said NSSA Executive Director Janice Aragon of the split. “When we did join, things were different. We were told that every organization would maintain their autonomy. But as the years have gone on, they’ve been implementing more and more rules and regulations that go against our business practices and we didn’t feel was in the best interest of the NSSA. So our board voted to not renew our membership.”

Surfing America executive director Mike Gerard feels the new mandated requirements are only to strengthen the organizations. “When Surfing America got the NGB (National Governing Body) status in April of 2004, we all signed an agreement to work together in good faith. The program keeps getting better and better and we felt it was time to integrate things more –– things like universal Surfing America memberships. It’s a standard business model for a non-profit, everyone paying dues to keep benefiting the program. We also wanted to make sure all the organizations have ASP-certified judges, and they just didn’t want mandates of any kind.”

And while all parties involved are adamant that the change will have little effect on the caliber of surfing in either organization, including current Surfing America coach Joey Buran who stressed that this is “no big deal for the team,” the gory past of amateur surfing in the States makes one feel like the Trojan War may rage once again.

Taking a look at American competitive surfing’s past, one can quickly see what makes people so nervous about the split. Ever since the NSSA’s inception in 1978 when Huntington Beach banking executive Chuck Allen severed all ties with other amateur surfing organizations and started it, the NSSA been the rebel child of the then, United States Surfing Association (USSF). The two organizations were initially under one umbrella, but it was clear and present that the NSSA would eventually do its own thing.

The first backfire between the two occurred when the NSSA made it clear they wanted to go big or go home. They signed on major corporate sponsors like {{{Dodge}}}. They enlisted fiery coaches like Peter Townend and Ian Cairns. They focused on performance and less on the grassroots barbecue atmosphere of the WSA and ESA. The results were swift and before you knew it, in 1984, nine of the 10 surfers who qualified for the U.S. National team were from the NSSA. The backfire had turned into an explosion and the NSSA was lighting the fuse.


Former NSSA stand-out and Team USA competitor Taylor Knox

After several back and forth bomb-lobs between the two organizations, in 1993 Janice Aragon, who had been in control of the NSSA since 1989, came in and severed all ties with the USSF and never looked back, even ignoring a push by USSF executive director Paul West in 1999 to join the two again. The NSSA had become a powerhouse and the U.S. team was about to go to pasture.

June of 2000 was the final countdown for the U.S. Team. Amid confusion and lackluster planning, the U.S. sent a hodgepodge team to Brazil to represent their country and they would return with a 10th-place finish and a board bag full of embarrassment.

Seven years later Joey Buran had seen enough. The California kid and former Pipe Master took the reigns of the U.S. National Team behind the Pac Sun Surfing America banner with a mission to bring respectability back to American Amateur surfing. Since Surfing America has been appointed NGB status the team has finished with silver in 2004, bronze in 2005 and a 5th in 2007 and doesn’t plan to stop until they’ve got gold. Which makes the NSSA’s decision to pull out at this point an interesting one.

“Honestly, for me and the team, we’re good,” Buran said of the NSSA pull out this week. “We’ve got all the support in the world and I’ve got the best surfers in the country on the team and they’re going to continue to do what they need to do to stay on the team.”

And the NSSA isn’t too worried either. “I can’t imagine this changing kids’ desire to participate in our events,” said Janice Aragon. “After talking to many of them, it didn’t faze them at all. They didn’t seem to care either way. Besides, kids surf in a million contests. The kids who want to do the U.S. team will find ways to do it.”

And let’s hope so. As the momentum builds for the U.S. team on an international level, it would be a shame to see them fall back into the pitfalls of the past. And that’s one thing Joey Buran is aware of and won’t let happen.

“The NSSA does what they do, and I would never tell anyone not to do the NSSA. They’re always going to do their own thing. But we’re (Surfing America) going to be fine. Seven years ago this would be a problem but the landscape has changed now. We were on a freeway together but NSSA took an offramp. I’ll still have the best surfers in the country on the team.”


Lower Trestles: The NSSA’s trump card?

Buran is also confident that there will be a strong tour available for surfers to garner international experience to prepare them more effectively for the WQS very soon. “We’ll have a west coast tour implemented next year,” said Buran. “No one should be unsettled. I launched the PSAA so I’m pretty familiar with how to run a tour. And we’ll be able to offer international experience, where kids can surf against guys like Tonino Benson and Jordy Smith.”

If Buran’s enthusiasm is any indication for the future of American surfing, then everything should be fine. And if Janice Aragon’s confidence is any indication of the NSSA’s future, then this breakup could just be a divorce that should have been inked a long time ago.

“We’ll continue running the same quality program that we’ve been doing. What else can you do?” said Janice. “The team is a wonderful thing for the kids who want to do it. It’s just not going to run through us anymore.”

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