The Trouble With Live Surfing

pipemastersday3_brentbielmann005Pipeline. Photo: Brent Bielmann

Pipe was firing. People were surfing. Cameras were rolling. Internet was doing whatever the hell it is that Internet does and the broadcast was live. You probably weren’t watching.

Red Bull tried a little something last weekend. They brought big cameras and a deep crew to the Volcom house at Pipeline and produced a high-quality stream of one of the world’s best waves having a very good day. There were no commentators for you to bitch about and all the best waves were replayed during lulls. It was raw and it was fantastic and very few people saw it.

Why?

There are two answers.

The simple answer is that were some promotional woes. They partnered with Surfline, but Surfline ended up pulling it off their site as they felt it threatened their live streaming products. Other media brands weren’t so excited to pick it up because, well, they weren’t partners. This all resulted in an audience that was significantly smaller than what Red Bull had aimed for.

The complex answer isn’t an answer. It’s another question. Does live surfing work?

We’re in an interesting age of surf media. You might still bring a magazine to the beach or the bathroom or the seat of an airplane, but gone is the glossy glory of print’s heyday. Social media hasn’t changed the tides, it has completely destroyed the gravity of the moon. Everything is different now. And while things will continue to evolve and become even more different, these days there’s a whole lot of value in now. People — media consumers, you — are way more excited by an average photo or clip from JUST NOW! than a carefully assembled collection of surfing that happened last month.

So, live surfing makes perfect sense.

Except…

Except attention spans suck. Bad. So much so that you should treat yourself to a bavarian pretzel if you’re still reading this. Nobody wants to sit around and wait for something to happen — they’ve already opened four new tabs of stories to read (or skim over) and haven’t even seen the bottom of their Instagram feeds yet. We are a generation of people who decide whether or not we might enjoy another individual’s company based off of a half-second look at a small, pixelated rendition of their face. Sometimes with cracked egos. Sometimes through cracked screens.

And that’s the trouble with live surfing.

Maybe it comes down to structure. Live events work when they are structured, from the Super Bowl to the Drug Aware Pro Margaret River. Those events come with a guarantee: something is going to happen. It might not be the best game and in the case of Margaret River it almost certainly won’t be the best heat, but someone is guaranteed to win.

So the challenge is to bring some form of structure into a live surfing broadcast. The right formula could spawn a format that eclipses the WSL, or at least twists the sport into a medley of medals a la skate and snow. The wrong formula[s] will only be remembered by the accounting department. Red Bull’s going to try it again. We’re going to give it a whirl on one of Factory trips at some point (which, as of now, aren’t exactly live but are pretty close and are still the best thing going). There will be a lot of trial and inevitably a lot of error, but it’ll all be in the name of getting you closer to the finer moments of the sport you love.

Ain’t that something? —Brendan Buckley