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Holiday repeat: “Pro surfing is wildly boring!” says NY Times

Derek Rielly

by Derek Rielly

Surf for love and not for gold, says Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Bill Finnegan… 

Who has given us more precious insight into the game of surf than the New York-based, Pulitzer Prize winning writer Bill Finnegan? His memoir Barbarian Days treats surf as love affair, as fundamental do-or-die. I believe there is no better book on surf and destiny and man’s natural urges.

Read about Bill here. 

Today, in the New York Times, very prestigious in some eyes, or, in the words of Gavin McInnes: “New York Times readers wear J.Crew blazers and long for a world where black people would be their friend” Bill cast his eye on the relationship between being paid to surf and just surfing for the laughs.

Here’s a taste.

“Organized competition is entirely peripheral to surfing qua surfing. People surf for love. The pastime lends itself to obsession. Surfers travel to the ends of the earth to find great, remote waves. I spent much of my 20s chasing waves through the Southern Hemisphere. Most surfers have home breaks that they come to know at a subgranular level of detail. Committed surfing is a deep immersion, literal and philosophical, in the ocean. The goal, if there is a goal, is a certain drenching experience of beauty. It’s quite possible to surf for decades without laying eyes on a surf contest.

More visibly, there is an international pro tour, on which some of the world’s best surfers perform occasional miracles in 30-minute heats. The judging is wonky, obtuse, subjective. Surfing is, after all, more like dance than it is like baseball. Then there’s the ocean. If the waves are good, the contest will be good… If the waves are crummy, the contest will be unwatchable.

“But, with increased popularity, a slapdash competitive structure, different in each surf region, has developed. More visibly, there is an international pro tour, on which some of the world’s best surfers perform occasional miracles in 30-minute heats. The judging is wonky, obtuse, subjective. Surfing is, after all, more like dance than it is like baseball. Then there’s the ocean. If the waves are good, the contest will be good — and in that case I will probably be in the global audience, glued to the live-stream, waiting for something transcendent to happen. If the waves are crummy, the contest will be unwatchable.

“Surfing photographs well. It makes mesmerizing video. It is not, however, a spectator sport. With the exception of a few spots, on random days — contest organizers struggle to find just these spots and days — it is wildly boring to watch. The action is hard to see from shore, and there’s usually not much of it. Lulls between waves are long, rides mostly short and unexciting. Surfers themselves can watch waves for hours, but they’re accustomed to lulls. Everybody else is much happier with the highlight reel.”

Later, he begs for surfing to become uncool. It’s an incisive piece.

Read the full story here.