The Porn Situation

AA5Q1168Photo: Brent Bielmann

In the last few weeks The Washington Post, Time Magazine, Bill O’Reilly, BuzzFeed, ABC, NBC, BBC and every other ‘BC spun some sort of surfing through their news cycle. It began with Mick Fanning at J-Bay. SHAAAAAARK! It continued with Jamie O’Brien at Teahupo’o. FIIIIIRE! And the most recent “surf” headlines celebrated the dirt bike daring of Robbie Maddison. WHAT THE FUUUUUUCK!?! It’s all very different and exciting, but sorta feels wrong. Doesn’t it? I was talking about it with a friend in the water yesterday — all this shock and awe and mainstream coverage — and he asked me, “Do you think it’s good for the sport?”

Hmmmmmm.

Well, unless you’re Bill Cosby or Walter “The Lion Slayer” Palmer, there’s no such thing as bad press. These recent spectacles have propelled surfing into the international consciousness and, if you talk to anyone that makes a dime from wave riding (WSL, pro surfers, surf brands, SURFING Magazine, myself), that’s a good thing. Kids like Johnny Nebraska see all this and think, “Surfing is edgy, surfing is dangerous, surfing is sexy.” And because of that, he’s more likely to tune into Teahupo’o, buy some Bong boardies and maybe even try surfing on his next family vacay to California. A rising tide floats all ships.

On the other hand, surfing is really fun and exhilarating as it is. I did it today at 2-foot Steamer Lane — no fins, no flames, no motor — and had a ball. But with these stunts, are we establishing an unrealistic excitement threshold for potential surf fans? It’s a porn situation, if you think about it. Without exposure to anything different, even the most awkward, lights out, missionary sex is fantastic. But with the plethora of seven minute 43 second videos of wild, weird and limit-pushing sex that exist online, stretching our imaginations, you almost feel like you’re doing it wrong if there’s only one girl in the bedroom. I certainly don’t want Johnny to be disappointed when he goes to a surf shop to buy a wetsuit and learns that the kerosene and matches are sold separately.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if these viral videos are good for our sport or not. Because they exist. They’re exciting. And we can’t look away. Perhaps when surfing is more widely understood, when wave pools become common in Middle America and beyond, Johnny will start to appreciate Hiroto Ohhara’s nuanced dissection of 1-foot Huntington Beach. But until then, he’s fast-forwarding to the money shot.
—Taylor Paul