"The logo represents people who take risks on every single wave they ride," says Carson.
The graphic designer David Carson (yeah, the famous one, click here) isn’t afraid to swing his opinions on surf around.
And what an opinion it is, coming from someone who was a pro in the seventies (signature model board, full-page ads etc) and who appears to watch every single heat in every single major surfing event, QS and CT, who shaped his life around one perfect Caribbean wave and whose style of graphic design is still widely imitated.
For the last six months, David and I’ve been back-and-forthing about WSL logos. He was vocal about how bad the current one was (I was nonplussed but didn’t hate it with the same vehemence) and I said, how about you design one?
I was expecting, eventually, maybe half a dozen. This morning he sent me 151 versions of the logo. Some are playful, some are hard-edged, most a mix of both. Watch a movie of ’em after the interview.
And Carson’s reasoning behind it all?
BeachGrit: You lit up on the original WSL logo. What didn’t you like about it?
Carson: It has no soul. The logo just doesn’t represent the sport very well. It’s pedestrian, unoriginal, forgettable, safe, gentrified and corporate. All things surfing is NOT, at least to me. The zillions of people worldwide, intrigued for decades, who might have felt surfing is unique, are now being shown, no, it’s not. The essence of surfing, the surfing experience, what people feel about it are all belied by this mindless little logo.
Do you see people clamouring for tee shirts with it? Stickering their cars, walls, friends, bikes or computers with it? …nooo. It has no particular intrigue nor design unique to surfing.
Surfing’s been an integral part of my life for over 40 years, and it’s disappointing to see the lack of imagination, spark, inventiveness and cultural awareness. I would have liked to see a logo and branding truer to the sport, its history and future, as well as the unique individuals involved with it all.
I think many others would love to have been excited about the new WSL logo, which is just the weak ASP logo with new letters. World Sleeping League. World Snoring League, World Sunning League, whatever. it’s just a huge missed opportunity to send a message about the sport globally. That it…is… unique and…does… have different ways of doing things other sports don’t.
With the shark media-fest worldwide after Mick’s encounter, millions of people for the first time saw anything related to the WSL. Snd what did they see? A generic little round corporate logo.. similar to countless other logos.
“Oh thats surfing? I thought they were more, ah, different? Free-spirited? rebellious, or something.”
BeachGrit: From a technical point of view, what’s wrong with the logo?
Carson: Nothing is given any importance. All lines are the same width and it’s by far the most common logo, or button, shape in the world, a circle. And those lines. What are those? Rays of sunshine? Lightning? A button someone found on the computer? They’re given as much importance as the wave. Or the letters or the border of the circle. It’s forgettable and evokes no emotion or flavour of the activity it is supposed to represent. Mechanically, I’m sure its perfect, same width to all the lines, correct spelling, perfect circle. But is it surfing? It feels more like a student’s first try on illustrator.
BeachGrit: What about the broadcast graphics?
Carson: The broadcast in that first year of WSL was a bit of a trainwreck. Every possible bad TV graphic cliche was used and overused apparently because someone knew how to use them. Transparent, 3-D flying logos, huge metal letters, complete with rivets and beveled edges, clanking down on the sea over Tahiti or France or wherever, sometimes flying up and swirling from the depths of the ocean. Very silly suff. Luckily, they’ve toned it down this season.
And the boxes with scores and smiling surfers? And fake wind blowing fake flags?Very hard to read. The whole thing looked, and looks, like surfing is trying to follow football, soccer, badminton, lawn bowling,cricket, rugby and other sports that have adopted a certain look for on screen “graphics”.
Having said that, this year they did clean it up a bit and it’s less offensive. But still adrift somewhere in the Walmart, professional wrestling and Las Vegas worlds of broadcast design.
BeachGrit: Why did you apply for a gig as creative director at the WSL recently? And what was their response?
Carson: Given my experience and background in art direction and design, in motion graphics and all things related, along with a life long passion for surfing, it seemed like a great fit to me. It also seemed like a great challenge, combining two of my great passions. Design and surfing. I’m positive I could have helped notch up the overall level of all the design and communication related aspects of the WSL. I actually applied three separate times but I never heard a single thing back. Not a word. It’s common practice in the real and business and corporate worlds to let applicants know you have, at very least, received their application. And then, to let them know, either thanks or no thanks.
BeachGrit: I don’t know anyone who consumes as much pro surfing as you and who holds such strong opinions. What excites you at the moment, pro surfing-wise?
Carson: Dane Reynolds, Filipe and John John’s level of surfing. I finally kinda understand what all the mad crazy world soccer fans feel with their sport. I’m a bit obsessed when a WSL event is on and often watch every single heat and stress over bad decisions by judges or competitors or mother nature.
But, to be clear, the current state for watching pro surfing has never been better: live, slo-mo, instant replays, it’s never been better. No question. I usually root for the underdogs or wildcards. I enjoy the drama, personal and professional, rooting for the underdogs, watching surfing at a level I could only dream about, checking out new equipment and waves, the ads and commercials, all of it really. I enjoy all the various subplots and personalities. For example, Kelly is at a fascinating point in his career. It’s too late for him to go out on top, so how does he exit? Like CJ? Like Jordan? All sports have top athletes who just don’t know when to leave. It’s gotta be really difficult and many, or most, of the very best stay too long..
BeachGrit: How about surfing in general?
Carson: There are two times during my day-to-day life when I feel totally in the moment. Surfing and when I’m deeply involved in a design project.
I so often pull out of waves and people tell me I was smiling or I hoot when I realise a great wave is lining up in front of me or I see someone elses as I’m paddling out. Or even for a great empty wave. And those that know me personally would never imagine I’m a hooting kinda guy.
It really is that indescribable thing. I take it all in: that first jump into the water, the sunsets, the wind changes, the smells and sounds, the views. I’m never anywhere it the world where I couldn’t tell you if the wind is offshore wherever the nearest beach might be. And you can always keep learning, experimenting, new experiences, new equipment, new challenges.
Sometimes in graphic design interviews people ask me, what are you working on now, and I say, my cutback.
BeachGrit: What just kills you about pro surfing?
Carson: One, the whole idea that they called off a pro contest because the surf got too big and perfect, that’s still mind-blowing to me.
Two, I just watched a heat from HB and the top in-form surfer of the event just completed a crazy air in ridiculous, deplorable conditions. He got a 2.5. The one commentator, the teddy bear big guy one who took the mike away from the world champ, was in disbelief saying it must have been a mistake, can’t be right, had to at least be a four he said. His co-announcer replied, as any good company man would, well, the judges have seen him do that just so many times, so he got scored low.
What? Judge the difficulty of the move please. Very few of the WSL top 34 could have pulled that move and none of the judges could even dream about making that move or what goes into completing it.
And, by the way, who are these mysterious people ,not allowed to talk to the press or explain any of their decisions, kept far away from all media and public, making these life-changing decisions as they hide away in the dark behind security guards and iPads? Oops, sorry, Samsung imitation iPads.
Three, overhyped Californian surfers who never quite deliver. California hasn’t had a world-class, game-changing surfer since Dane Reynolds. And the best surfers in San Clemente are all Brazilans.
Four, I love the pride and passion of the Brazilians and am surprised by the racism and hate toward Brasilians. Primarily, it seems, by Australians if Stab is to be believed.
Five, the way pro surfing swept Andy Irons’ death under the carpet. It missed a huge opportunity to help educate the youth of the world, of all ages, and the dangers and dumbness of some drugs.
Seven, claims. Stop ’em. Should be penalized for them. Watch John John finish a ride. No claim needed, the surfing speaks for itself. Kelly had a great idea – make the surfers pay for any claim that doesn’t then score in the excellent range!
Judges are human. There is no doubt claiming has helped a surfer or three through a heat and, more recently, has kept some from advancing. Even Adriano rarely does them. Kolohe’s ranked 30th in the world and his are the worst ever. Doubled handed “give me the money ” ones and just yesterday, half-way through his ride, claiming each individual manoeuvre. A new low for claim land.
BeachGrit: Now tell me all about your house overlooking the best wave in the Caribbean?
Carson: Well. I’m a lucky man. I jump off my front yard, have a few paddles and am in the line up. no drift. No cold water. Often I’m the only one out. The wave is a long, high-performance righthander with a little bit of everything. I can tell from my porch when the first ridable wave of a new swell comes down the point. Sometimes I’m already out waiting for it, thanks to Surfline and Magic Seaweed. I never tire of watching the offshore lines of any swell or mindsurfing if it’s tiny and still perfect. I can see the point from my bed, can’t sleep if it’s big or a new swell is arriving. It’s truly,and literally, a dream set up. I bought the house 17 years ago sight unseen. I only knew of its location. I’ve never had buyer’s remorse.