The Biggest Blunders In Surf History

Cloudbreak, in all her glory. Photo: CareyCloubreak, without a jersey in sight. Photo: Tom Carey

The Eddie was on. The swell was hyped and re-hyped and for 48-hours it was all anyone could talk about. A small city was constructed on the beach at Waimea and the majority of Oahu clogged the Kam highway hours before the sun. The surfers were ready. The WSL was ready. Instagram was ready.

But the waves weren’t ready at all.

The contest was called off just before 8 a.m., after the predicted swell failed to materialize. The beach moaned and the Internet let out a collective sigh of disappointment. What are we supposed to do now?

In the SURFING office it sparked a discussion: What are some of the biggest blunders in the history of professional surfing? We called Matt Warshaw, author of the great Encyclopedia of Surfing, to discuss. —Zander Morton

SURFING: Hi, Matt. How are you today?

Matt: I’m good! A little disappointed. I had my spectator hat on. I was all ready to watch the Eddie today. It sort of feels like, I dunno….big wave-es interrupt-es [laughs].

SURFING: A let down, right? All of that hype!

Matt: A part of me loves that they still can’t nail it. Forecasting keeps getting better and better — yet they can still manage to fuck up a call as big as this one. It’s like: Good for you, nature — you can still fool us all.

SURFING: After this morning’s false alarm we got to talking about the biggest blunders in pro surfing history. And for the record, we don’t consider this Eddie no-go as one of them; it was just the catalyst for the conversation, and this call. Does anything spring to mind?

Matt: If you wanna talk blunders you gotta go way back to 1928 and the Pacific Coast Surf Championships in Corona Del Mar. The Orange County paper took out an ad hyping the inclusion of Duke Kahanamoku — the most popular surfer in the world at the time — and everyone showed up to see him. But the Duke never showed. So right off the bat, one of the first major surf contests ever held was a major letdown, at least to spectators.

SURFING: So you could say that early professional surfing had a rocky start?

Matt: Yep. In those early days there was also a few times where contest organizers skipped town with the money they were meant to pay the surfers. It happened to Joey Buran in 1978 at an event in Oceanside and to my knowledge Joey never got the money. He won the contest, was given a $3,000 dollar check and it bounced.

SURFING: I wonder if, like some of the QS guys currently owed money by the Brazilian government, he’s still hunting his cash?

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Matt: Hopefully with interest! [laughs] And that leads us to the ‘80s. And maybe this isn’t a pro surfing fuck up, but it’s certainly a pro surfing felony: The Allentown, Pennsylvania wave pool contest. That contest was billed — straight-faced — as the 1985 World Inland Surfing Championships. And it was the equivalent of a CT event today. Tom Carroll won it and got points towards the world title (which he had won the previous two years). The hype was hilarious. They were telling people it was going to be 6- to- 8 feet and then it was waist high, dribbly mush. It was horrifying.

SURFING: That one was bad. How about, more recently, the mid-year CT cutoff?

Below is what came out of Bobby Martinez's mouth this morning to have the surf world in such a tizzy.Photo: Sherm

Matt: That one didn’t bother me. I’m one of these guys who think the tour should only be 16 or 24 guys. I don’t care what happens down at the bottom unless I’m reading Lewis Samuel’s power rankings. It’s strange to me, for whatever reason, I feel like the WSL will never oversimplify things. I don’t know why they aren’t jumping at the thought of trimming the field way back and holding two-day events. I’m scratching my head trying to figure it out and it’s not like the weird Republican candidates where I know who they’re playing too. The WSL is a black box and I have no idea what they’re thinking. And it’s a closed shop, so no one gets to ask.

SURFING: OK. Well how about the time Kelly got crowned World Champ in San Francisco one heat too early?

Matt: [laughs] You know, that one was a shame, but I didn’t think it was a big deal. Someone just added something up wrong. Heads didn’t need to roll. It’s human error, it happens. Shit, I can’t balance my own checkbook.

SURFING: True. And it didn’t affect the result. Slater still ended up winning the world title one heat later, fair and square.

IMG_4671Photo: Sherm

Matt: The far more embarrassing math miscue actually happened in 2002 when Slater won the Eddie, and nobody made much noise about it. They were getting ready to crown Tony Ray as the champion of the event, when Kelly notices — on the podium and right before they announce Brock Little in fifth place — that they had improperly counted one of Kelly’s scores, and that it was Kelly, not Tony, that had actually won the event. And this is after Tony had thought for two hours he had won the Eddie!

SURFING: Wow. That one must’ve hurt!

Matt: Right? Poor Tony. That was close to being so much bigger of a deal than what the WSL did in San Francisco. I mean, they were minutes from crowning the wrong person the champion of one of the most prestigious contests in our sport.

SURFING: How about more recently, when the WSL called Cloudbreak off in 2012. You know, on that day. Your thoughts?

Matt: Now we’re talking. That one angered me. But, to put a positive spin on it, they wouldn’t do that again. They learned their lesson. I’m not sure what the downside would have been to keep running that day. I know the wind was a little sketchy and Raoni Monteiro hurt his knee, but I would have much rather watched CT guys either go or not go, than to watch them cancel the event. Where was the upside for the WSL in canceling that day?

Dave Wassell on the down-day of days at the Volcom Fiji Pro. Photo: Stuart Gibson

SURFING: That big wave freesurf would’ve been trumped watching Filipe go or not go in those conditions. The world wanted to see!

Matt: Exactly! But I love the WSL. I don’t jab, thrust and cut as hard as some guys. I do take my shots, but it’s because I love talking surfing. I love the WSL because I like watching athletes competing under pressure. Sure, there’s room for improvement, but I feel like the WSL brings us all together. It brings conversation to the virtual table. We’re all watching together and criticizing together and it’s the thing that binds us more than anything else. And it’s our right as fans to say what a shitty job sports organizations are doing. It’s our job to call them out when they get it wrong. And the WSL isn’t immune to that. You think the NFL is? Those guys take heat!

SURFING: Yeah they do. It’s just that the NFL is sitting in a much larger glass house.

Matt: That’s true, but it’s our job to gather our stones and let them go. That’s what’s so fun about being a fan. The Eddie didn’t go today but the WSL and Quiksilver still gave us another reason to come together and be the big, happy, dysfunctional surfing family I always hope we’ll be. And I love them for it. As much as I complain, I hope we never change.