WSL: The new No Fun League!

Welcome geriatrics, to the greatest show on surf!

America’s National Football League (NFL) gets slapped with the moniker “No Fun League” from time to time due to its litigious nature, love of fining players, disallowing elaborate end zone celebration, etc. It really can be a soggy wet blanket but an even soggier, wetter blanket has just dropped on the professional sport scene and it is called the WSL!

CEO Paul Speaker and crew have gone out of their way to make pro surfing a game for geriatrics. Take this latest KFC commercial dust-up, for instance. If pressed, I have to admit that Chick-fil-a makes a better sandwich but the piece was light and funny and completely unoffensive. And yet, the WSL is siding with Mick Fanning’s mom in trying to get it removed from the airwaves. I am sure that Mick Fanning’s mom is a lovely woman (she once got very angry with me!) but she is also old. Are the sensitivities of old people really where the WSL wants to be positioning the brand? When it gets out that the league has its singlet in a bunch over a South African parody will younger consumers say, “Rad. The WSL is like the cranky elderly man who shouts at me for skateboarding down the sidewalk. I like it…”?

Likewise with forcibly removing cute videos from your very own BeachGrit and the much less provocative/totally vanilla Surfing Life. “Take those down, youngsters!” CEO Paul Speaker crows from his rocking chair. “Take those down dagnabbit!” Graham Stapelberg echoes waiting nearby to rub Vics Vapo-Rub on CEO Speaker’s chest.

I get that professional surfing is a different game than “free” surfing except for it’s not and it shouldn’t be and it used to not be. I’ve told this story many times but I will tell it again. I made tons of fun, a few years back, when the WSL was called the ASP and CEO Paul Speaker was called CEO Brodie Carr. I made fun of the surfers, events, locations, and CEO Carr, especially that he wore a deliciously tight baby blue t-shirt, like, always. What did he do? Challenge me to an arm-wrestling match. He bounded into the bar where I was drinking a beer, hood over his head like Floyd Money Mayweather, and smashed me very easily. I have loved Brodie ever since and it is because he doesn’t take himself ultra-seriously. It is because he knows, above all, surfing is a laugh.

And CEO Speaker, any time you want to have a go I’ll be waiting. Graham Stapelberg can even come rub Vics Vapo-Rub on your bicep before I smash you.

Back in braver days, with a braver leader.
Back in braver days, with a braver leader.

Mick Fanning mom

Fanning’s mom attacks KFC shark parody!

And says WSL is taking legal action against delicious fried chicken restaurant chain…

A week or so ago, KFC South Africa released an advertisement spoofing the Mick Fanning J-Bay shark hit.

“Next level awesome,” is the tagline.

Did you think it was funny and representative, perhaps, of what a loose gang we surfers are? Or were you, like Mick Fanning’s mom Liz, and the magazine Surfer, very angry?

“I think it is very disrespectful,” Liz told Fairfax media. “They’ve put a lookalike in the video. It really brings back a lot of trauma for everybody who has been attacked by a shark. Some families have had fatalities and some people are still absolutely scarred without limbs. It’s disrespectful to them and Mick is not at all happy with that.”

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “Ms Osborne said the World Surf League last week contacted Fanning, who is in Europe preparing for a competition, to tell him it believed the ad was in breach of its rules. ‘Their lawyers were getting in touch with KFC to get it off [the air],’ Ms Osborne said. ‘The comment that Mick made [was] that it’s disrespectful to anyone who has been attacked by a shark and he wants it off as well. We’re very upset about it.’

As mentioned, Surfer magazine also gnashed teeth. “The guy quarrels with a shark on live webcast, sees his life flash before his eyes, and now a fried-chicken chain is poking fun at his close call,” said Surfer.

I liked the advertisement mainly because it got thrown to nearly three million people on BeachGrit’s little Facebook page, with 7000 shares. A BeachGrit record!

Mason Ho and Michael Ho
Mason Ho is lifting weights in preparation for Portugal! Serious! | Photo: Lost surfboards

Fantasy Team: Rory Parker’s Portugal Picks!

Pour a little Bede Durbidge, Ace Buchan, Mason Ho and Aritz Aranburu sauce onto your Fanning steak… 

Stealing the idea of fantasy surfer from Surfer may be the best idea the WSL ever had. It’s a fun way to stay involved with the Tour, and it keeps those of us cursed with a competitive bent engaged in events we’d otherwise ignore.

Last year had me thinking that I was pretty damn good at picking my guys. I don’t remember how I placed overall, but I beat my Dad and placed first in my groups, and that was all I really cared about. It’s nice being able to call your father and tell him he sucks.

This year… well this year has been a shitshow. The garbage surf, tons of injuries, guys having meltdowns, I can barely tell which way is up.

So, instead of picking with my head, which has not been working at all, for Portugal I’m going with my gut.

Adriano de Souza and Mick Fanning: Mick and de Souza get a nod for the tops spots. Both have dialed in a technically perfect approach to grinding through heats. Nothing exciting or progressive or really very interesting at all, but they know what the judges want to see, and have no problem giving it to them.

Jeremy Flores: The anger is toned down for the moment, and it seems to be working for him. Like ADS, I feel like people dislike him enough to not pick him on principal, so this is a hail mary to make up some points.

John John Florence: This is a bad pick and I know it, but I really want to see him surf good, which he really hasn’t been. I don’t know if it’s the ankle, or if he’s just not really feeling it, but I’m holding out hope that it starts clicking again.

Bede Durbidge and Ace Buchan: Australian workhorses seem like decent choices, and I couldn’t think of anyone better. I should probably replace one of them with Nat Young, but I hate how he surfs. What is it about Santa Cruz that breeds such awful style?

Mason Ho: He’s definitely going to lose that first round heat, there’s never been a Hawaii born competitor that can out-jockey two Brazilians at the same time. But he’s capable of JJF level flashes of genius, and seems to be stoked on the contest scene. Plus, he’s totes adorbs!

Aritz Aranburu: I like his name.

The coquettish Kolohe Andino and the superb Mason Ho.
The coquettish Kolohe Andino and the superb Mason Ho.

Premonition: Kolohe or Mason to win Portugal!

Do you think Mason Ho or Kolohe Andino will win the Mocha Rip Curl Pro in Portugal? I do!

I can’t imagine what put me in this, how shall I phrase it… spiritual state. I was busy moving the amyl nitrate ampoules away from my bedside table, arranging various books and magazines in their place and away from judging eyes, when I had a moment of extreme clarity, a mental projection.

It was this: either Kolohe Andino, the coquettish Californian WCT surfer (the reluctant cuckolder of disc jockeys) or Mason Ho, Rip Curl’s recent-ish signing, would win the Moche Rip Curl Pro in Portugal.

For Kolohe, he is presently unencumbered by any expectation and just one week ago, easily beat Kelly Slater in France, despite Kelly’s Machiavellian tactics. There is no anxiety, no discomfort in Kolohe’s game. He is generous even when he’s on the skids and when on the ascendancy, he is confident without appearing puerile.

Press play on the clip below to see what Kolohe can do in Portugal when he has complete confidence and an irresistible desire to succeed.

Mason Ho, on the other hand, could blow the lid off a steaming plate. He didn’t freeze at the Rip Curl Pro at Bells, his first wildcard of the year, and beat the current world number Mick Fanning and the recently retired Fred Pattachia Jr.

I immediately summoned Mason Ho in Portugal to discuss. Mason preferred email to a phone call on the pretence that, “I’m afraid what I’d tell you about getting the wildcard. I’m feeling super confident!”

And so I asked, in written form:

BeachGrit: Do nerves strike you? Are you nervous? Can you describe how you feel inside?

Mason: I play dumb to nerves. They kinda excite me. I’m excited.

BeachGrit: What’s it like to surf in a WCT event? I get all squeeze-y in the chest when I surf a local contest. What it’s like to surf against, say, Mick Fanning? Does your heart beat fast?

Mason: Everything seems slow motion. Comp mode around a WCT is fun.

BeachGrit: What was your experience like at Bells?

Mason: It was a really cool experience and I’m super stoked I got to do that. THANK you Rip Curl! Although I wasn’t toooooo stoked on my performance.

BeachGrit: I thought you’d freeze in a CT, you were marvellous. How’d y’stay so cool?

Mason: Magic mint tea.

BeachGrit: Tell me about Portugal? You got some empty tubs, yeah?

Mason: Yeah, the waves were firrrrring this morning. I was baffled. Didn’t see one person the whole time on the beach or in the water. I came with my pops and friend Rory Pringle about five days ago and we’ve been having a blast.

BeachGrit: What’s the strategy for this contest? What’s your game?

Mason: Good boards, good wave selection, half show, half business

Mystery: Where is the champ?

Let Makua Rothman take a swing!

Makua Rothman won last year’s inaugural World Surf League Big Wave World Tour and what a story it was because he was not part of the World Surf League Big Wave World Tour. He won as a wildcard. It is akin to Dane Reynolds winning the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast as a wild card and then winning all of his other wild card events, like the the Fiji Pro and Quiksilver Pro France and thus winning the title.

Except you can’t really see the story anywhere, or how the story plays out this year, because the WSL isn’t broadcasting big wave events. Hmmmmmmm. Strange, no? If the WSL is trying to grow its fan base, especially non-endemically, wouldn’t you think big waves would be an extremely helpful component? They are instantly understandable to those who don’t find the beauty in three foot Rio or six foot France.

In any case, another big wave event not part of the Big Wave World Tour, Titans of Maverick, will also hopefully run this year. The format seems amazing, the history unimpeachable, except Makua and will not be surfing in it either. And, damn all, whatever you feel about Makua or his last name, shouldn’t the champ be in every big wave event no matter where it is until he ain’t the champ anymore?

I think maybe yes.