6:15 PM, Thursday February 12, 2015, Santa Monica: I reach for a bottle of $10 Cabernet and watch its innards flood my glass. I’m at the World Surf League’s weekly happy hour and why not? The catered tacos just arrived and the music isn’t half-bad. My boss is alongside me, drinking whiskey while flirting with a coquettish employee who bats every last eyelash to match his interest — speaking of which, isn’t it an interesting crowd? Half of it consists of wetsuit-tanned disciples of surf, all of whom fought tooth and nail or at least college degree to win their gig with the League. The other half wear collared shirts from clothing companies that you and I and John John have never heard of. They’ve been plucked from different industries for being good at what they do, and now they’re being asked to apply that good to the sport of surfing. On top of their collared shirts, they wear guilty smiles. Smiles that know they went from that to this. That being corporate America and this being people getting drunk, eating tacos, flirting and talking about how good Teahupo’o was last year. At the office. On a Thursday.
Fast forward to now.
It’s 6:15 PM Wednesday March 11, 2015 in Coolangatta. Miguel Pupo just beat Jadson Andre in the last heat of Round 2 of the 2015 Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast on what was supposed to be the last day of the event’s waiting period. The waves ranged from the size of a fire hydrant to the size of a white picket fence and the wind was no more cooperative than Vladamir Putin. In colloquial terms, it was a struggle. A struggle surrounded by questions, decisions, and decisions being questioned. Should they have ran at D-Bah last week? They decided to extend the waiting period. Should they have decided to run at D-Bah today?
Really, the struggle and its questions are all just symptoms of a bigger issue.
That issue: the growth and monetization of surfing. Some people celebrate it, some people scoff at it, some people anonymously accuse it of thieving the soul from surfing and then go to sleep probably dreaming of dolphins and yin yangs and shit. The issue is relevant today because last year, the ASP (as they answered to at the time) felt the surge benefits of invested money to fiddle around with. And last year, surfing experienced the largest leap in professionalization since its very zinc-oxide beginnings. They lucked into one of the best seasons ever seen. J-Bay was spectacular. Tahiti broke the internet. And every other event was far better than Putin pissing all over this fire hydrant at the Superbank. Yet here we are.
I spoke with a WSL employee earlier — the disciple kind — and he told me about how some of the guilty smile kind were having a hard time wrapping their heads around what’s happening here. “What’s Duranbah,” they asked “And why aren’t the barrels happening?” Shockingly enough, money doesn’t fix everything. Still, it fixes a lot.
The surfing we saw today was broadcasted to every stable internet connection in the world. It was in HD and full of insight and interview. Even though the waves were indecent, the performance level was 2015. Filipe stuck a thousand airs, Kolohe stuck it to Jeremy Flores and Italo Ferreira stuck a very nice welcome mat on the doorstep of the 2015 WCT. You watched. I watched. It was entertaining and it was surfing in the raw form. It may not have been 8 feet of Pipeline, but the oohs and ahhs (and various other noises typically reserved for sexual climax) were just the same. That’s worth shaking a few nickels out of, and investing those nickels back into the sport a la the WSL’s entire business model.
The waves aren’t forecasted to drastically change in the next few days, but you’ll still watch. I’ll still watch, too. John John will still surf and the people wearing the shirts from brands foreign to John will still watch him do it. Regardless of the apathetic surf, it’ll still be lively surfing. It’ll still be the thing that we all devoted at least some portion of our lives to and it’ll still be brought to us in a lavish package — fancy collars and all. So let’s cheers a cheap Australian beer (no, not Fosters) to the growth and monetization of surfing while we enjoy the conclusion of the Quik Pro. And, WSL, we can simply email Milwaukee and jack those numbers up when Chopes is on. —Brendan “Yeah, Just Here Filming For My Innersection” Buckley