Pro surfing is "wildly boring" writes Bill Finnegan in today's NY Times…
Who has given us more precious insight into the game of surf, lately, than the New York 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.
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.
How many times have you watched Blake Vincent Kueny’s delicate masterpiece View From a Blue Moon? Ten times? Twenty? Have you wept at the sheer beauty? What about that voice that rises above the glorious plucks of violin string and says, “The ocean floor rises five miles to the shores of what people call the Seven Mile Miracle. What would it be like to be born on this island? To grow up on these shores? To witness this water everyday? You’re about to meet someone who did.”
Who could that possibly be about?
Just kidding. of course it is John John Florence but who actually says those magical words?
Wait for it……………………………….
John C. Rielly!
That’s right, the comedian best known for turns as Will Ferrell’s sidekick in Step Brothers and Talladega Nights said very serious things about John John and Oahu’s North Shore. And son of a bitch. I love the trailer, I do, but what I wouldn’t give for a little comedy! John C. might be the funniest of all actors. He cracks me up…They should have loosened the leash and made funny! But maybe the movie will surprise with laughs. If not, watch John C. Rielly and Will Ferrell here.
Lounge chair critics can go to hell, says the world champion and noted commentator…
Filipe won. Who cares? Not me. Another luck of the draw garbage wave catching contest, though I’m sure the wildcards are pretty jazzed, as they should be. A quarter or semi result against the “world’s best” is damn impressive, regardless of wave quality.
The highlight of my night was a candid lapse from the hairiest back in surfing, Mr Martin Potter. Prompted by a remark from Turpel regarding the difficulty some surfers have adjusting to life in the public eye, Pottz took the ball and ran with it. (At around 50min, if video doesn’t autoplay at the correct spot)
“First of all, Joe, I think, who are those critics, number one? Where are they? They’re probably sitting on their lounge, right now, not… These guys are some of the world’s best, being put in challenging conditions. Keanu’s here for a reason. He’s fought his way onto the tour and he belongs, you know? Obviously there’s those guys out there that’ll sit back and go ‘Oh, he doesn’t belong to be on tour,’ but, I mean, who are these people, anyway? Does it even matter what they say? I think you’ve gotta put all that stuff aside.”
Good advice, for the surfers. It’s true, people love to hate.If you put yourself out there you’re gonna get ripped to shreds. Either learn to deal, or retreat from the public eye. Go to college, become an accountant.
For competitive surfing as a whole… maybe might not be the best tack to take.
Surfing is relatively unique in that it improves when removed from a competitive context. Fitting your surfing into the neat little package necessary to consistently grab the scores you need means dialing it down. Trying your hardest doesn’t win heats, linking together a series of sevens does. Which is why guys like ADS and Fanning do so well. They’re not trying to surf their best, they’re just trying to win. Which they do, albeit in a repetitively uninspiring fashion.
The rich bastards who own surfing, the former drug smugglers who ran the industry for decades, the wannabe yuppie fucks slinging trash from the Orange County ghetto, or the big money Johnny-come-latelies trying to cash in ten years too late, would love nothing more than to control the discourse. Tell us what, or who, is cool. Sell those shorts, offshore production and watch the money roll in. And that can work, if you’re fine with a perpetual feast then famine cycle, and stay positioned to dump your stake the moment things starting heading south again.
But that only works for the guys on top. Their golden parachutes will settle them safely in their beachfront mansions. Lay everyone off, watch the company burn, emerge from the ashes when the trend cycles back around. But the work-a-day chumps, the guys drawing a paycheck, they get left in the lurch. Without the fans, the haters, the internet experts, they’ve got nothing. If the dialogue stops the talking heads are left spewing nonsense into the void.
Once you remove the criticism, whether it takes the form of just condemnation of the current judging criteria, racist anti-Brazilian diatribe, or web based click bait pseudo-journalism, there’s not much left.
Because the WSL is selling a bland, boring, bullshit product. Without the spice supplied by outside sources it all just tastes like crap.
What a final day of surfing at the Rip Curl Pro Portugal! Wait, did you not watch?
This is the Age of Conspiracy Theory. Events accelerate away from human understanding, as they did in Portugal, and we seek the surety of an unseen hand in the narrative. Wouldn’t you, if the WSL was a quisling under your command, seek the drama of a mad Pipe showdown and engineer, any way you could, results to favour that outcome? That’s what Kelly thought when Fanning was denied the chance to clinch the Title on Portugese shores by a local wildcard and thus make Pipe a dead rubber.
The wildcard keeps the locals on the beach, grows the sport locally and the showdown moves to Pipe. Here’s another, shocking, giblet of conspiracy theory to chew on as we digest both the Portugese result and the much bigger implications for Pro surfing and world sport.
“My Doctor thinks I’m a parasite.” That’s not some horrific nightmare visited upon me after twelve days of relentless late night nightmare close-outs but an actual newspaper headline. You can read it here. The translation from Portugese super journalist Sara Sanz Pinto concerns none other than Robert Kelly Slater who dropped the bombshell that he may have parasites that are affecting his testosterone production. Doesn’t that explain everything? Really and truly. The weird little flame outs and flat spots. The slow decline down the ratings. Frantic emails to both Sara and King Kelly for clarification on the parasite issue have gone unanswered at time of writing. It does provide some comfort for fans struggling to come to terms with the fact that for the first time, well ever since he came on Tour, Slater is going into Pipe with zero chance of winning the Title. All because of a little fucking bug freeloading off his testosterone. What an ignominious end to the Age of Slater.
Pro surfing abhors a fairytale: normally the house wins, the little man gets his dream crushed. Not this time. I would have bet the house I don’t own on Medina winning both his QF against Ferreira and the whole comp. It looked destined, baked in to the theory. Medina had him comboed after 5 minutes with a pair of sixes. The sound of dogs barking came through the webby, a clear sign. But of what? Italo speared a hollow left in the throat then dissected a right to throw the combo right back at Medina. He finished Medina off with a wild tail high spin into the onshore. Somehow I’d written off Italo based on a dim view of the Aus and American rookie talent. Bad call. Italo personifies the current reality of catastrophic victory for the Brazilian storm. They’ve stormed the citadel and found nothing there except aging stars and a few straggling journeymen; their western peers constructing Instagram careers well out of harms way.
Lets zoom out and widen the frame. Nostalgia is a bitch teat I try not to suckle on too often but five years ago to the week, Nov 2010 was the great turning point in modern professional surfing. It was the last week alive for Andy Irons, the height of Dane, Slater about to ice Title Ten. On the shore of Puerto Rico the sport was delicately poised. It had enlarged it’s conceptions to accommodate Dane; artistic and jock elements had reached an unlikely equilibrium. What we were seeing live was the true state of the art. It could have gone either way. The companies crumbled and ZoSea pounced with a total jock vision; once more the old whore would get a fresh coat of makeup and be wheeled out to middle America to face rejection, yet again. The last best hope for Pro surfing to become a performance art collective, something like seeing the best musicians at their peak live, was lost. When AI died the music died with him.
Doesn’t the current status of JJF prove that point? While we watch him sit and wait, neuteured by format and sub-par surf a trailer was released showing him at full potential. The fact the sport can’t extract and showcase pinnacle performances from Dane and JJF is the ultimate rebuttal to Speakers NFL vision for surfing.
The Final was the direct result of the WSL/Speaker model. They created a sport and seeing a dissipated American response and an aging or overrated Australian hierarchy the latinos simply reached up and picked the low hanging fruit on offer. There was no bipolarity in their thinking, no hesitation in the action. Hence two twenty year old Brazilians fighting it out in the Final in scrappy beachbreak. No conspiracy theory needed.
Did you watch the Final? Or did you boycott because it was two Brazilians? An existential question for the WSL. 7 am Hawaii, 10am LA, 1pm NYC, 4am Sydney. Judging waves is nothing like an objective science, more a voodoo mix of emotion and groupthink and the effect of the unseen hand but you’d be a cold fish in a wet sock if you didn’t give Toledo’s opening wave a Ten. Ferreira lofted high into the golden heavens and was robbed of a ten for the biggest air of the year, or ever. Toldeo kept boosting, Ferreira refused to submit. It was the best Final of the Year, the first time a dominant performance hadn’t seen an opponent buckle. By the time it was ended the high water mark of Dane, of Slater had been washed away. If you missed it, you blew it.
Should Portugal be iced? No. It’s the perfect litmus for where the sport is at. Portugal makes sense, Portugal is the future. The dogs have stopped barking and the caravan rolls onto Pipe, last chance for aging heroes to exit with dignity intact.
World Title Scenarios
* If Mick Fanning finishes 25th/13th
Owen Wright & Julian Wilson will need a 1st;
Gabriel Medina will need a 3rd or better;
Adriano de Souza will need a 9th or better;
Filipe Toledo will need a 13th or better to clinch the World Title;
* If Fanning finishes 9th
Medina will need a 1st;
De Souza will need a 5th;
Toledo will need a 9th;
* If Fanning finishes 5th
Medina will need a 1st;
De Souza will need a 3rd;
Toledo will need a 5th;
* If Fanning finishes 3rd
De Souza will need a 2nd;
Toledo will need a 3rd;
* If Fanning finishes 2nd
De Souza will need a 1st;
Toledo will need a 1st;
If Mick wins the event he will clinch the World Title.
North County surf spot wakes to an unpleasant surprise.
A surfer’s body was found next to a broken surfboard this early morning at North County San Diego’s Swamis. Nothing much is known yet. Police responded to a 911 call that said a man was laying, in wetsuit, face down next to his broken board. When paramedics arrived he was pronounced dead at the scene and not taken to the hospital.
We have been having a run of very fun surf and it has been a touch bigger than normal but not, like, crazy big. Odd to think, for some reason, that surfing can lead to death. Of course there are sharks and those who conquer massive waves have a different set of dangers but for the every day man, or at least to me, it feels odd. One minute motoring down the line, the next getting smashed and drowning.