The Age Of Criticism

CW_RIO14_01250Critics, and John John. Photo: Corey Wilson

Everyone loves to criticize. To sit, in the motionless sanctuary of a sideline, and tell the people who are actually doing things how to do them better.

When it comes to surfing, most of this criticism is directed at the WSL. Bells sucks! They shouldn’t have held it that day! Adriano got over-scored, Mick got under-scored and why is Glenn Hall in a position to be scored at all? The age of the Internet has brought out the critic in all of us and handed it a microphone — or at least a neat little box to type a comment into. It’s a good thing. Critique is often a parent of progress and nothing kills a sport quite like stagnancy.

But, in all fairness, critique has an ugly side too. It loses its beauty when it refuses to offer any sort of solution or reasoning. Case in point: Noa Deane’s Surfer Poll sentiment in 2014.

I think his intentions were good. In my mind, he was trying to say: Modern surfing is a lot more than a yearly trot to the World Title and maybe we should put more emphasis on the beautiful, inspiring things that happen away from the contest scene. But booze, youth and a soapbox can all be heavy influencers — even heavier, a combination of the three — and haven’t you ever said anything that came out wrong?

There’s a lot of irony in how his criticism was criticized, but that’s another story.

At any rate, Noa set a great example of how not to critique something. Unless you’re looking to stir the pot just to watch the ripples.

Which brings us to Albee Layer’s recent post on Instagram:

Although Albee does offer some insight instead of just taking an NWA lyric and turning it tremendously caucasian, it might seem as though he was searching for controversy. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Albee for years and, like Noa, I believe he was coming from a good place. He didn’t write that to piss people off or to take anything away from anyone. He wrote it because he wants to make surfing better.

With that in mind, I called him and asked for an elaboration.

“I could go on for days about how the WSL could be better. But I don’t know, I probably need to bite my tongue at some point. [laughs]”

Photo: Brent BielmannAlbee Layer. Photo: Brent Bielmann

No. He doesn’t. Albee paddled into the best, biggest barrel this world has ever seen. He has landed 540s and Judos. He even won the biggest alternative contest in recent history — in a wave pool, nonetheless. He should write down his every thought on the state of surfing and transmit it all to the world. I prodded and our conversation continued. It went like this.

In its current state, do you think the WSL is doing more harm than good for progressive surfing?
They are absolutely doing more harm. They suppress progressive surfing and reward safe surfing. I love watching good turns, but people need to realize that airs are going to push surfing more than anything else. I’m not saying that’s where all the emphasis should be, but I am saying they need to focus on it more.

Do you think the problem is with the format or with the judging?
They have a good format, but I don’t think they use it right. The guys on tour are amazing athletes, but being the best should mean more than “a solid foundation” as Potts loves to say. They shouldn’t be able to declare someone as the best surfer in the world if they don’t even have to land a good air. Airs require more skill. Just look at the number of people in the world who are able to complete a long ride full of good turns and compare that to the number of people who are able to pull a really good air. You’ll find way more people who can do turns and that’s what makes airs so exciting.

They should be encouraging that. Like, imagine if you had to do airs go get scores and Mick trained for that. He’d be amazing! I bet he’d be doing crazy shit. So, the bottom line is that the WSL doesn’t understand or promote progressive surfing as well as they should.

Would you have more interest in competing if they did?
Yes, for sure. If they understood it and made changes that reflect that, it would force everyone to progress rather than just win with the same two old maneuvers — right now, all you need to do is be able to read a barrel and have a good turn. It’s still awesome to watch, but if someone needs a 9 and they know they need to do something big in order to get it, it would make it so much more fun and exciting for everyone involved.

Our conversation ended with some pleasantries and I started chipping away at the words you just read. Hours later, just as I was about to publish this, Albee texted me.

“Last idea: what if the WSL gave away an award at the end of the year for the best video part made from contest footage. Whoever has the best highlight reel deserves something because they are getting people to watch surfing just as much, if not more, than whoever is winning titles.”

The critic again.

It’s there, always, in all of us. Never sleeping. Always thinking. It’s time we embrace that.

Let’s speak our minds, let’s shout our thoughts. Let’s talk, let’s swear, let’s comment and criticize and condemn and condone. Let’s argue. Let’s fight. Let’s pour our hearts into our side and let’s open ’em up to the other. Let’s figure things out. Let’s keep talking until we’re doing it from a new frontier.

The future of surfing might not be clear. But it’s certainly not hidden somewhere in silence.