There is no other sport like Surfing. I will go to the grave defending the ever changing dynamic sport that is surfing and how it’s superior to all other sports. Now obviously that’s my opinion, but there is reason to back it up. Every surf session is different. In fact, every wave is different. You can never surf the same wave and never re-create the same session. There are elements that dictate how and when a wave breaks thousands of miles before they reach the shore. In all other board sports, including snowboarding, you can replicate a situation. The kickers stay in the same spot as the run before and they remain the same size, the rails and boxes and planters and stairs will all be there exactly as you left them the day before. Pretty much nothing remains the same in Surfing from session to session.
Here in lies the problem when it comes to commercially advancing the sport. There will be a lot of people reading this that will say, surfing needs to stay core and blah blah blah. The fact remains it is already a commercial giant in terms of selling clothes and overall lifestyle and no matter how big it gets, the core reason as to why surfing is so amazing will never change as long as there are oceans and waves. In a recent ESPN article, Kelly Slater listed somethings he would like to see changed as to the way the ASP runs and operates. I very much agree with the majority of his points and I would like to address a few and see what your thoughts are.
ASP taking more control: As it is currently, the ASP organizes the events but each sponsor is in charge of marketing their events and their athletes. How much visibility an event gets is entirely out of the ASP’s hands and up to the brand controlling the contest. Kelly mentioned it should not be this way,
“The new governing body should own and run the events, own the media, do the marketing, bring in sponsors. Right now, the ASP doesn’t own any of those things, because it didn’t do the groundwork in the beginning. Sponsors own, run and market the events. That needs to change.”
As things stand, it would not be financially feasible for the ASP to do this because there is one huge piece of the pie missing, ticket sales. You gotta pay money to go see Tony Hawk bust out on a Half pipe, or Travis Pastrana pull a double backflip. The X-Games, the Dew Tour, and all those other similar events all charge for viewing pleasure. They also sell concessions and merchandise and yes all of this doesn’t go directly into the pocket of the event organizers, but enough of it does to make a huge difference in terms of visibility and marketing. You want to watch Chris Ward and Freddy Patacchia go head to head? You walk to the beach, there are no bleachers or box seats. The ASP doesn’t see a dime from fans in comparison to all
the other boardsports and major sporting events.
Enter the Wave Pool: The reason the ASP doesn’t charge is because the beach is free and I don’t think that should ever change. However, the possibility of adding a wave pool into the schedule of the ASP might be the solution to generating cash to start a marketing division that solely works on promoting events and athletes without corporate brand agendas. A wave pool would provide a setting that would make the sport of Surfing more exciting and real to the everyday person. Think how many people go to the X-Games or Dew Tour that don’t skate or ride MX? They go for the entertainment. Everyone thinks surfing is amazing, everyone wishes they could do it, and everyone enjoys watching people on waves, but not everyone can get to the beach. You bring a wave pool into the mix and all of the sudden you have a format with bleachers, and sky boxes, and concessions and an event that thousands of people can watch live and millions can watch on TV. The controlled wave environment would allow for superior TV viewing as you would not be subject to weather or swells. Now, don’t get me wrong, as I stated above there is nothing that can change the dynamics of surfing and that is why it’s such a powerful experience for those that participate in it. But would adding 3-4 wave pools into the circuit dilute that element? I would say the positive visibility that would come from it would out way the negatives.
You would have a more controlled wave environment that would allow riders to go bigger, ride more waves and truly compete on a skill level as opposed to a “time the sets, take advantage of wave priority” method. Veterans often have advantage in ASP as they now how to use the current format to their advantage. And I am not saying to take that away, but every other board sport has a course that doesn’t change that allows the competition to be based solely on who does better, cleaner more technical tricks with the same opportunity given. Could you imagine watching Bruce Irons, Jamie O’brien or Dane Reynolds in a wave pool with perfect vertical lips, they would be soaring 10 ft in front of you. Riders could take more risks and perform far more technical tricks and that makes for better and more exciting competition. Look back on when the rumors that Tony Hawk was going to pull the first competition 900 at the X-Games, or when Shaun White was going to do a 1260 on the Half Pipe. Or When Travis Pastrana was going to pull a double back flip. There is drama and marketability and something that interests the average non-enthusiast viewer. People that don’t own motorcycles were emailing their friends Travis’s double backflip the next morning at work. We don’t have that yet in competitive surfing.
“Among the biggest problems with televising surfing are that traditional surfing contests are too time-consuming, that waves are too unpredictable and that judging is too nuanced for the uninitiated. But recent innovations in the competition format and the development of wave pools that could serve as surfing arenas could help bring competitive surfing to a larger audience.” NY Times
“We would be able to schedule a contest on Friday at 6 p.m., live on TV. Picture a wave going around in a circle indefinitely. There’s a bridge over the wave for viewing, a Plexiglas bottom so fans can watch guys surf above them, and a crow’s nest in the middle so people can watch the best guys in the world surf the wave all the way around them. Kids could stand on the edge of the pool and get sprayed by their favorite surfers.” Kelly Slater
Wave pool stops should also be in land locked states or big coastal spots with no waves, the ASP could have stops in Vegas, Utah, New York, Texas, Chicago. Once the technology and end product can produce a world class break, surfing will become one of the most widely adapted and participated sports in the world. If you could truly progress your surfing in a wave pool in Vegas and then go to the coast and shred, you will have kids entering the ‘CT from places you could never imagine. Flash backs of Rick Kane from North Shore come to mind. You will see people driving with boards strapped to their roof in land locked states. You will have pro shops and local contests selling out tickets, kids going to school with sponsorship deals. Surfing will reach mainstream media as a sport, which will mean better and bigger events both in and out of the beach, better purses and better paid athletes. The entire sport will change in terms of visibility and exposure.
Whether that is good or bad? Time will tell. For the sport itself I think it will be good, for the core surfers that don’t care about world titles or ‘CT standings it will be annoying as you might be getting dropped in on by a kid from Kentucky with a bad farmer tan.