The great surf historian barbecues the WSL commentary team…
The Encyclopedia of Surfing (click!) is the ongoing, life-work of the former pro surfer turned surfing magazine editor turned historian, Matt Warshaw. This morning, Matt wrote a hurtful piece barbecuing the brave men and women who front the WSL broadcasts.
Here’s a taste.
“Martin Potter’s jaw-grinding voice sounds as if its been filtered through six espresso shots and a migraine headache. Ross Williams’ has me considering preemptive adenoidal surgery for my son. Todd Kline? Car saleman. Rosy Hodge? Who can hear her above the angel choir and softly strumming lutes?
“And then Joe Turpel. During a trifling Round Two heat between a couple of backbenchers, Peter Mel, from the channel, reported that he wasn’t sure if Glen Simpson was or was not riding a quad, and Turpel replied “Thanks for the insight, Pete!” at which point a rhesus monkey began flinging itself against the opposing sides of my skull because Mel’s comment was exactly, definitively, almost scientifically the opposite of insightful. Turpel hurts me on a both a professional and personal level.”
Immediately, I challenged Warshaw to back up his cruelty in the following email exchange.
BeachGrit: Why do the commentators trouble you so? I love every single second! Joe, whom you say hurts you, is the voice of surf! No does it better than Martin Potter…
Warshaw: Growing up in Los Angeles as a sports fan, you listened to Vin Scully all summer and fall, and Chick Hearn all winter and spring. Scully was the Dodgers announcer; Hearn did the Lakers. Both guys were so incredibly good. Vin was the ultimate in laid-back cool, very even-toned, unflappable, but so deep-down smart about the game, and had a million little stories vignettes that he’d casually drop into the conversation at the perfect time. Hearn was the opposite, all hyper and excitable. But again, monstrously smart about the game, and filled up with great stories. The point being, you’d turn the radio on just to be in their presence. They were every bit as good at what they did, every bit as practiced and professional, as the guys they were covering. So right there, that’s the unscientific measure I put to the WSL announcers. How good are they at their job compared to the guys they’re talking about? One-tenth as good? No way, not even that high. I mean, with Scully and Hearn it was the exact opposite of the WSL, where lots of people hit mute during the webcast. Even if the Dodgers or Lakers were having a shit game, you’d keep the radio on for the announcing. Vic Scully, by the way, is still at it. Eighty-seven years old! Sixty-six years in the biz!
BeachGrit: Of the WSL crew, who does it best, y’think?
Warshaw: Ross Williams and Ron Blakey. Ross has a friendly presence, and knows what it’s like to be out there hunting scores. But his voice has me reaching for the Mucinex bottle. Blakey I like too, and he’s probably the one who could take it furthest, but there’s something weird he does with word emphasis that kind of drives me up the wall. Just sort of boldfacing words to generate excitement, even when things aren’t at all exciting. It’s like a guy revving his bike in neutral.
Warshaw: He just seems irritated at all times. He’s kind of a bully. He likes to intimidate. He’s always been that way, even at 15. It made him great as a surfer, but it doesn’t work in the booth.
BeachGrit: Strider, he of the fantastic steroidal tits?
Warshaw: The greatest mystery of all. Fantastic surfer, amazing life story, from all accounts a super nice person. But Strider’s ongoing WSL presence is maybe the best indicator that the organization has no real interest in improving the product.
BeachGrit: And Joe!
Warshaw: Has to be the WSL’s sweetest, most decent person. And has the best TV face, after Rosy Hodge. But just so . . . blank! So opinion-free. Joe brings nothing to the table but mellow, mindless enthusiasm, and yeah it drives me nuts. Tell me again what you like about him?
BeachGrit: What do I like? The sing-song tone and, yeah, the pretty face. I do like Ron and Joe’s matching Hugh Grant foppish cuts.
Warshaw: What happened to the newbie, the girl from LA? What was her name? She wasn’t doing the heavy lifting, just quick little post-heat interviews mostly, but she was good. Chelsea Cannell! The best of the whole WSL gang actually, in terms of doing her job right. What happened to her?
BeachGrit: What did happen to Chelsea! This I’ll investigate! You liked her too?
Warshaw: Very much! If she was let go, wow, see if she’ll tell you what it’s like behind the scenes. Except she probably won’t. Too nice. Too professional. What I said about Potter earlier, you know, he’ll be the guy, once the WSL craters, who gives us the real story. I’m so looking forward to hearing about what this has all been like the past couple of years. The paranoia and secrecy and lies are going to explode someday and it will be amazing, and Pottz will be the first to tell us how it all went down.
BeachGrit: Would you ever do it?
Warshaw: Step into the booth?
Warshaw: Oh fuck no! What those guys are trying to do is incredibly difficult and fraught and just terrifying. I wouldn’t set foot in there for a million bucks. People have this idea that you just stroll in, put the headphone on and start slinging bon mots—no way! It’s just like surfing at the highest level. You need natural talent, and you need to work at it constantly. It ain’t like sitting around watching the webcast with friends. It’s a high-wire act, and I have huge respect for anybody who does it well.
BeachGrit: Last one, where are the people of colour? Is surfing that racist they couldn’t find one commentator of African descent? Or anyone LGBT? Or a native Indian? Or a Muslim, maybe?
Warshaw: Sal Masekela was pretty good on the mic. Too bro-down, too much of a back-slapper, but smart, and has such a great voice. Strider’s in there, but not Sal? How is that possible? There must be so much at work here that we just don’t know anything about. Maybe Strider works for free, and Sal wanted to get paid. Who knows?