If you were CEO of the WSL you'd be smirking too!
If you were CEO of the WSL you'd be smirking too!

Analysis: The Legacy of Paul Speaker!

What worked. What didn't.

Tough, tumultuous end to the year, rocky start to the new. Losing Rory Parker and then Paul Speaker, hard break for the Grit.

No doubt Chas will make vodka lemonades out of it. Maybe a year of wearing black. Friday the 13th is 13 days sober for me, not even a little crushed up Ritalin in an orange juice to push through a dog day afternoon.

It’s appropriate then to take a sober look at the legacy of Paul Speaker, former head of the NFL and what he leaves for the next sucker/CEO.

Just a little historical clarification first to clear up what is becoming a common error. When Speaker  and Terry Hardy as Principals of ZoSea acquired the ASP it was a more or less hostile takeover according to someone very senior on the ASP board at the time.

They didn’t buy the ASP; they threw it a lifeline. Thirty years of professional surfing under the banner of the ASP had a market value of exactly zero dollars. Therefore calculations about Speaker’s motivations in stepping down based on his continuing part ownership of the WSL are a moot point.

Of course he still owns it, unless he finds a buyer to divest him of his share he continues on being an owner. What the current market value of the WSL is to a buyer is a separate issue. Someone gives you a car for free, whether that’s an asset or a liability depends on if you can sell it or it breaks down and you need to pay someone to tow it to the wreckers.

Lets begin the analysis. No purple prose, no semi-colons, no torrid mangled metaphors. Just real talk.

  1. Vision. Speaker had a crystal-clear vision. He wanted to turn every surf spot where a contest was held into a stadium, control access ruthlessly and have total control over every aspect of branding and content. To that end he fenced off contests, made a (legally dubious) ambit claim on public property as to what could be done and claimed total ownership of everything happening within, on pain of being ejected by hired security. This strongman tactic put the surf media off-side immediately and he subsequently avoided all contact with the surf media. God knows why, he would’ve been softballed by compliant hacks within minutes if he had the balls to show up with the plebs. Was this vision the correct one for the sport? I say no. Surfing and fascism don’t mix. His parting lament for a surf league in Kelly Slater’s wave tubs shows he hangs on to the stadium dream.
  2. Business Model. The ASP functioned as a tax write-off and marketing arm for the surf brands and thus as a sporting league was worth nothing. It has value to coastal communities as a driver of economic activity via tourism and this has been most fully recognised in Australia where taxpayers via government agencies underwrite all three CT events. This is the only recognised and functioning business model for pro surfing: big-top surfing at high-traffic locations financed by governments. The dream of big dollar broadcast rights remains just that. Journalism by Stu Nettle at Swellnet showed the WSL was inflating viewer figures, the reason a broadcast rights deal has not eventuated. Merchandising looks like a cheesy add-on at this stage.
  3. Centre of Gravity. One of Speaker’s first moves was to move the WSL headquarters from Coolangatta to Santa Monica, ostensibly to crack the much bigger US market. This has been an abject failure. America with roughly 325 million people has one CT event, despite a highly successful attempt to colonise the massive east coast market in 2011 with a second event. Australia with 24 million people has three CT events. Pro surfing remains a primarily Australian phenomena, accepted as a mainstream activity and bankrolled by governments at all levels. Sans the wavepool expansion into buttefuck middle America the dream of US acceptance of pro surfing remains a money pit. What business folks call a sunk cost.
  4. Expansion into new markets. It was Brodie Carr who made the initial push into China and Taiwan. Speaker has not lost ground there. A little league QS in Israel counts as a minor accomplishment. Japan remains a glaring omission. Indonesia, even moreso. Oakley, following their CT event at Keramas, were ready to ink a much longer term deal for a continuing event there. They could not come to terms with the WSL over branding issues and the deal lapsed. A major opportunity squandered.
  5. Stabilisation of the Tour. Speaker stabilised a Tour that was looking increasingly shaky when he took over. He added J-Bay, an event that finally gets a naming sponsor, and has retained the Fiji Pro, the best event on Tour which remains without a sponsor. This has drained capital but provided credibility to the WSL. He has to get a pass mark for keeping the schedule on an even keel. Throwing the hail mary pass now to Ziff is a move that smacks of weirdness. Ziff knows less than Speaker about surfing. He’s an angel investor. A guy who inherited a pile and turned it into a bigger pile.
  6. Women’s Surfing. This has to be the great golden achievement of Speaker’s reign. Turning what was really an expensive hobby for a few gals into a bona-fide sporting powerhouse with pay parity (sort of) and massive media exposure. He was lucky in having a generational harvest of talent to showcase but nonetheless the decision to back and bankroll women’s pro surfing is a mighty achievement.
  7. Performance. The greatest let down of Speaker’s reign is the maintenance of the status quo as far as the actual product of pro surfing is concerned. There was the golden opportunity for renewal and reinvention when ZoSEa took over. The same product had been rejected by the market for thirty years. No point repackaging it and trying to sell it again. It had been tested and tasted and passed on. The problem: too much low consequence dross taking up too much time, a format that rewarded conservatism and safe surfing. The solution: not even attempted by Speaker. A monumental failure of leadership. The last performance world title, where a surfer blitzed his opponents was Slater in 2011. Following that we got Parkinson and the consistency formula, perfected by Fanning and then adopted by Medina, De Souza and now JJF. JJF’s freesurfing clips should be the greatest wake-up call for the WSL’s moribund format and claims to be showcasing the best surfing from the best surfers. They’re getting 70% of the JJF performance envelope, if they’re lucky.Did we miss anything? Fan engagement? Lets thrash it in the comments.

Kalani David Faces Open-Heart Surgery!

Young Hawaiian falls victim to rare genetic disorder!

Kalani David almost died — again. His first dance with the devil happened this August, when he suffered a heart-stopping seizure at an Oceanside, CA skatepark. You can read about that here, but the gist is that Kalani suffers from a rare genetic disorder called Wolff Parkinson-White Syndrome, which messes with the heart’s electrical functions and can be fatal if left untreated. He is nineteen.

Three weeks ago Kalani suffered a similar seizure on Oahu, only this time it happened in the middle of the night. After seizing for up to six hours, Kalani was found by a friend and brought to a local hospital. He was then put into a medically-induced coma that lasted two days.

Since waking up, Kalani has spent the majority of his time in the hospital undergoing tests and procedures. Today he was put under the knife for an open-heart surgery. Moments before anesthetization, he posted this message to Instagram:

Getting my surgery done today, but I have one thing to say before his happens. There’s a lot going on right now personally with family and I have this to say. Keoni, Just know that the things that have been said about me are false. I love you till the death of me. You’re my baby brother and always have been my baby brother since you were born, I’d do anything for you. I held you right when you came out the womb. I’ve been born with this heart disease and now with all the stress and emotions it’s been triggered. The doctor said I’m lucky to even be alive after seizing for more than 6 hours. Which I was dead for 2 days. I’m going into heart surgery right now to get this extra piece of muscle burned. I gotta move on with my life and focus on my career. I love you Keoni just know that, I’m always here for you, love you boo boo your big brother Kalani.

This post is strange and ambiguous in and of itself, but when paired with his recent string of Instagram installments (read through the last ~20 photo captions), well the story just gets even more murky.

I’m not sure what’s going on, but it doesn’t seem… good.

We wish Kalani the best in his surgery (he went under at 10 AM Hawaii time) and hope to hear from him soon.

**UPDATE: Kalani is out of surgery and appears to be doing well!

Noa Deane: The New Bruce Irons?

The similarities are indisputable!

This isn’t news, but it’s still worth talking about. Noa Deane’s move from Rusty to Volcom is the biggest of his career. It’s also quite fitting. The young man seems genuinely passionate about not giving a fuck, and isn’t that what Volcom’s all about?

At least they used to be. When I was maybe 10, my friend Tommy Salvesen had the coolest rashguard. Black, long sleeve, with the digital representaion of a human skeleton across the entire front. I wanted it more than anything.

Somewhere along the sleeve were embroidered these three words: Youth Against Establishment.

In all its glory.

“What does that mean?” I asked Tommy, a knowledgable 14-year-old.

“It’s kinda like us kids saying F-U to The Man, and doing what we want.”

The coolest! But then in 2014 Volcom changed it’s slogan to True to This and it’s like… True to WHAT?

Watching this clip of Noa, I’m reminded of a man who was once very young and very against establishment. His name was Bruce and he was just as belligerently raucous as Wayne’s towheaded progeny. While Noa’s stylish approach, creepy fingers, and general disregard for life or limb are fair points of comparison to our beloved BI, those giant lien grabs are downright uncanny.

It will be interesting to what comes of Noa, who is dripping with talent but has an apparent proclivity for substance abuse. We’ve seen what happened to Andy, to Bruce, and to tens of other world-class surfers who were all but destroyed by their taste for the hooch or the crack or the smack

Stab reportedly offered Noa a profile concept in which he would get sober and fit for a month to see how a change of lifestyle would affect his surfing. Noa declined because he felt that it “wasn’t him”, and that it would hurt his personal brand in the eyes of his fans, most of whom are probably sixteen. That seems troubling on multiple levels.

But hey, welcome to Volcom!

Best Of… WSL CEO Paul Speaker!

Or when it was revealed that he demands two roses waiting for him when he travels.

Have you heard of celebrity riders? They are the lists of requirements the rich and famous demand from the service class. Some are normal, like water bottles and Butterfinger candy bars.

Others are honorable. Jack Johnston, surfing minstrel, insists that his music venues change all their lightbulbs to the energy saving sort and staff bike valets.

Still others are grandly bizarre. Iggy Pop stipulates that there must be seven dwarves at each of his shows dressed up like the famous Disney Snow White troupe. Katy Perry, a person to wash and cut her vegetables. Eminem, a koi pond. Dustin Diamond, that no person in his presence call him “Screech.”

What about World Surf League CEO Paul Speaker? Rumor has it that he requires two roses to be sitting on his limo/Towncar seat and two more in his hotel rooms.


The hell?

Totally amazing!

It it wonderful that Mr. Speaker has a rider at all, don’t you think? In his mind he must be a powerful lord overseeing a robust and thriving business. Or maybe in his mind he is a precious pop star whose every emotional whim must be catered to immediately?

Or maybe in his mind he is a renaissance painter and needs reminders that life is both beautiful but fragile always by his side?

Or maybe he is a li’l freak?

Ozzie Wright Israel
Ozzie Wright, as WSL surfer, with Joel Fitzgerald twin-fin, in Israel. What an enigma he is! | Photo: Derek Rielly

The WSL Doubles-Down on Israel!

The world qualifying series returns, with more cash and even more laughs!

There ain’t much else in this world I hate than saying no to a good time. And,  saying no to a trans-continental surf trip to the ground zero of outrageous fun kills me.


Oh, Israel.

Have I mentioned the joint before? It’s a bewitching sliver of desert and singing blue sea just to the right of Cyprus, atop Egypt, just left of Syria, and a day’s drive away from the bustling markets of Baghdad.

Of course, you already know that it’s the only country in the Middle East where democracy flourishes, where men and women are equal, where the booze flows and everyone dances and where you might meet a cute girl with a pistol strapped to her narrow waist.

A caveat: the famed machine-gut toting IDF girls are generally chubby, and only passably friendly.

Last year, I took Ozzie Wright and Otis Carey there for Israel’s first-ever WSL event. Oz was so thrilled he wrote a song called Jesus is the King of the Jews. 

This year, I’ve got an interview with a former Australian prime minister for a book project right in the middle of the waiting period.

Do I want to go to Israel? Yes!

Can I? No!

Anyway, the WSL event in 2016 was a 1500-point WQS. It was won by Pedro Henrique, studs, and Maude Le Car, gals.

This year there is more cash, the gals side of things has doubled in points, Reef has taken over from Billabong as the co-sponsor with Seat motor cars, and the event organiser, Mr Yossi Zamir, who rolls out the red carpet like no other, is asking all pro surfers to come, come, come!

The contest runs from January 19 to 28, and, as the WSL says,

The urban jungle of Tel Aviv, deserted South and the mountains in the North are just a fraction of all the beauty this country has to offer. And if you still need persuading, the locals incredible welcome will definitely win your affection.

Read more here! 

(And, for our pals who might harbour a little antipathy toward the Jews, read here.)