Hello Facebook, Goodbye Surfing!

Surfing's ultimate sell-out?

I hate everything about Facebook. I hate that it leeches away time and energy. I hate that it allows people to live shadow lives, cultivate false personas, or justify hateful behaviour by forming hateful allegiances with hateful strangers.

And I hate that Facebook owns the data of so many people, just as it now owns professional surfing.

I’m sure the WSL considered a subscription model to let us watch events, but obviously they’ve dismissed it as not viable at this stage. It’s probably the right decision for them, but not for me. Outsourcing broadcast and tech expertise and mainlining to millions of potential viewers is likely a “smart” move, but it doesn’t feel like the right one. I would gladly pay to keep surfing free from the shackles of tech behemoths and Big Data.

In my mind the marriage between the WSL and Facebook is surfing’s ultimate sell-out and I can’t believe more people don’t see that.

I gave up on Facebook a while back. It was making me angry and condescending. It was sapping my hope, and it was casting a gloomy net of opinion and judgement over family and friends.

Facebook stokes the embers of the worst versions of ourselves, the ones we push back in daily life and polite company. It is a platform to hoist our human failings for the world to see – greed, vanity, deceit, jealousy, bitterness, obsession with the self…you name it.

I object to people “liking” tragedy and serious illness, just as much as I object to them spraying love hearts and thumbs up emojis at blatant attention seeking and cries for help.

Recently a young boy from my town was killed in a car crash. I watched as the community clambered over each other in comment threads and faux heartbreak posts to grieve the hardest and fastest. A race to see who could get the most likes for a pithy post about a 17-year-old boy, smashed against a tree on a singletrack road. And I watched as the dead boy’s brother stumbled through some awkward posts of his own, unable to find the words or the will to grieve publically for his little brother, yet carried on a tide of competition to see who could be the most sympathetic, the most hurt. Some things are best kept private.

Declarations of love on FB are just as bad. I don’t think it would be a stretch to map the correlation between the professed happiness of a couple on FB and their actual happiness. Touting your wonderous union online is absolutely the death knells of that relationship.

People actually define themselves by their FB posts. I know a guy who came back from a snowboarding trip genuinely downbeat because “Facebook didn’t really make it look as good as it was”.

I know another guy, who, when his old man died, was told by FB that his dad’s profile page could and would not be removed. It had to stay there, frozen in the ether, his father’s memory presided over by grief tourists.

I shudder at the idea of being defined by things that I once posted on Facebook. I imagine dying tomorrow, and then, when my son is old enough, him trying to build a picture of his father based on look-at-me posts and vitriolic commentary I’ve been sucked into online. Better not to engage at all, I think. Better to opt out.

Which is what I did some months ago now. I know my page is still there, on an algorithmic hair trigger, ready to launch once more should I accidentally make an errant log in. But I haven’t so far, and I don’t intend to. Not even for surfing.

I haven’t missed FB. I find myself lagging on the occasional water cooler conversation, but that hardly matters. I can enjoy genuine interactions these days. Conversations with friends (you know, actual friends) that aren’t pre-loaded with pre-conceptions. It takes a moment or two for people to catch on. It takes a second for them to rediscover face-to-face engagement. After we’ve got by the statutory “Oh, so you didn’t see that on FB?”, conversations can actually feel real again.

So it’s against this background that I’ll bid adieu to watching pro surfing. On principle I can’t accept the union with FB. I understand it, sure. I understand that it’s a financial decision and a business decision and yet another decision in pursuit of pro surfing’s white whale – the mainstream audience – but I will not step aboard.

I love professional surfing, as dubiously entertaining as it may be.

But I will not sell myself or my data to Facebook in order to watch it, even for free.


"I hear you Turp n Pottz. I see you Michel Bourez. Nice squirt off the bottom, Spartan."
"I hear you Turp n Pottz. I see you Michel Bourez. Nice squirt off the bottom, Spartan." | Photo: @kook_of_the_day

Unicorn: The non-surfing surf fan!

For years the WSL has promised a non-endemic embrace. Is it here?

Now, ever since the Association of Surfing Professionals changed itself to the World Surf League and made its goal to grow the competitive surf audience outside those who actually surf, I’ve been chuckling. Sometimes my chuckle manifested itself as a snide under the breath sort of thing like when Gabriel Medina paddled out on a Samsung surfboard while his step-father Charlie guided him from the beach.

Sometimes it rolled into a full-bellied laugh like when ex-WSL CEO Paul Speaker did anything at all.

But it has always been there, bubbling, because what sane non-surfing person could ever be convinced that the best waste of their time is watching competitive surfing? It is barely ok for you and me and we are full blown tards. And so I chuckle and chuckle and chuckle thinking the non-surfing surf fan doesn’t exist…

…until this morning when the chuckle was snatched from my tard mouth and I was presented with a unicorn. The world’s first non-surfing surf fan. Let us turn to Forbes magazine for her story.

It’s my goal in life to travel to as many places as possible. Unfortunately, after almost drowning when I was 12, I’ve consistently done everything I could to avoid beaches due to my paralyzing fear of the ocean. Considering that most of the world is made up of water, 13 years later, I finally realized that I was limiting myself to so many life experiences and something had to change.

Since most of my friends and family have tried to teach me how to swim by guiding me straight into the water, I figure I’d switch up my strategy this time around by watching and learning first. That’s where the Volcom Pipe Pro held on Hawaii’s North Shore in Oahu came into play. It was the first surf competition I’ve ever seen and the sport completely changed my outlook on the ocean.

Seeing these athletes ride wave after wave was mesmerizing, but at the same time, there was no sense of arrogance among any of them. They showed me that it’s not about controlling or dominating the water, all you have to do is respect it.

The author, a younger woman, goes on to take a surf lesson and conquer her fears etc. but her way in, her door, was through watching competitive surfing. Is she the first? Are all the eggs ex-WSL CEO Paul Speaker delicately laid ready to hatch? Are ego-less professional surfers ready to become the biggest sports’ stars on earth?

I did not see this coming.


Mark Mathews
"It felt so good I threw my arms up in the air when I should have been racing," says Mark, barrelled for the first time since October 2016. | Photo: @markmathewssurf via @coreywilson

Kirra Miracle: Mark Mathews returns to surf!

Told he'd never surf again! Wraps himself inside Cyclone Gita!

One year and a half ago, the Sydney big-wave surfer Mark Mathews wrapped up his pro surfing career with a wipeout on an eight-foot wave that dislocated his knee, tore an artery, fractured a shin and ruined the nerves in his foot.

Doctors told him he wouldn’t surf again.

“I was lucky not to be a wheelchair,” he says.

Mark was working with the go-behind-photographer Leroy Bellet on a project for Red Bull. 

Leroy’s speciality is the double-tow where both photographer and subject are towed into the same wave, a technique pioneered by Laurent Pujol with his famous monkey-on-the-back angle. The pair were towed into an eight-foot ledge on the NSW South Coast. The wave went below sea-level, as the ledges Mr Mathews favours are prone to do, and he jumped off when the lip in front of him started to crumble. Mark was sucked over the falls and landed foot first on the reef.

Mark Mathews wipeout
The wave that crippled Mark Mathews, October 2016.

“I thought my leg was broken,” says Mark, whose nickname “Chalk” references his innumerable injuries including a shoulder injury at Jaws that had kept him out of the water for the previous nine months. “I’d only just started surfing again.”

Mark was put in a full-body brace and taken by helicopter to hospital. Doctors told him he might lose his leg .

“The first op was an artery transfer. After the surgery the doc came out and told my girl he was sure I would keep my leg.”

But surf? Probs not.

Miracles? They happen.

Mark got the leg and, yesterday, got tubed for the first time in eighteen months. Fortuitously, Mark and his girlfriend, Britt, who is from Queensland, had moved to Kirra three days earlier.

The cost of living, the mostly shitty waves, ooowee, it gets a brother down. For a hundred bucks more than the rent he was paying to live in a small nineteen forties-built flat in Maroubra, he could have swinging luxury at Kirra, a sauna, gym and gun-barrel views straight into the Supabank.

On the Sunday, as Cyclone Gita flicked the switches, the frustration of watching other people get drained got the better of him and he took a longer-than-usual board out at Snapper to see if he could somehow drag himself onto his feet and into a tube.

“I shit myself and didn’t want to wipeout. I went over the falls three times and came in,” he says. “I was fucking salty looking at photos and footage of people getting pitted. I sat there on my balcony and watched Parko get ten after ten after ten.

That night, his ol pal Ryan Hipwood called him, told him to be at the West Tweed Head boat ramp at five-forty-five in the morning and he’d deposit, via step-offs, Mark into the first tubes he’d been near since October 2016.

“We came out on dark, we were the first ones out. I had some epic waves, most I didn’t make. On one I got lit up, smashed the bottom and my leg was sweet as. Fuck…yeah! When I got home I jumped on (weather forecasting site) buoyweather.com thinking, where are the waves, where can I get pitted again? I’m still fucked, and surfing so bad, but it was sick fun.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/BfZLx8sF1gw/?hl=en&taken-by=markmathewssurf

How did it feel to see the world from the inside of a wave again?

“It felt like home,” he says.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BfXpDuCFFGd/


Which is your favorite generation?

...like to surf with etc?

This morning I read a complete evisceration of the film director Quintin Tarantino by the very sharp writer Jim Goad and it gave me quite a pause.There I sat, at my desk, pausing then wondering if I should re-order my general outlook and let’s chew on some choice bits together before discussing.

And that’s Tarantino’s main problem—he’s empty. Hopelessly postmodern. Incurably ironic. And entirely safe. He’s a slobbering, drooling, film-school nerd who stuffs his movies full of bloodshed and curse words, apparently hoping no one will notice the Uber-geek behind the camera who’s likely wearing either panties or diapers. He bears the unmistakably soft air of someone who’s never been punched in the face. For all of his films’ alleged danger and violence, it’s always seemed barkingly obvious to me that he’s a twerpy fake who’d burst into tears if he chipped a fingernail. He’s an emblem of a generation which truly knows nothing beyond pop culture and gets nearly all of its “life experiences” from a screen.

Oof! A punch maybe not to the face but right into the guts of a whole generation but which generation, I wondered? Is this a terrible mirror held to the face of Gen X? The Millennials? Both? It seems mostly millennial  with the knowing “nothing beyond pop culture” and “getting nearly all of its life experiences from a screen” but that could be my pride speaking.

But surfing. There are three generations in the water right now. Baby Boomers, Generation X and the Millennials but which is the worst? I used to think the Greatest Generation (pre-Baby Boom) would never be topped for sheer arrogance and shit candy but that was before the Millennials matured. Their safe space, pudgy misguided social justice rage, limp leftism lack of self-awareness is very painful.

But, and here is why I paused, I like Quentin Tarantino films. I like almost all of them and love Pulp Fiction so…. does this make the Millennials ok? Does this mean Gen X is the worst? Or the Boomers?

Which is surfing’s greatest generation?

Help!


Meet: Olympic surfing’s twin flame!

Which sport should surfing mirror to reach maximum Olympic success? Ice prancing!

This week, while dipping in to the spectacle that is the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, I had an epiphany. Between back-to-back-fourteens, Luge moose-knuckles and Australian disappointment, my mind invariably wandered back to surfing; what will ‘Olympic Surfing’ even look like?

How will the world see our sport?

Personally, I maintain two simultaneous and opposing beliefs regarding surfing at the Olympics:

1. Surfers understand that surfing is more than the sum of its parts. Those post-NDA articles that flooded the surfing world on Feb. 1st were almost universally scrambling to point out that surfing is not merely a product that can be replicated in a man-made pool. Wavepools are a shit-ton of fun, but they aren’t ‘surfing’.

2. Most of us secretly want Olympic Surfing to do well. Not necessarily as well as the WSL aspires, with prime-time network spots and a growing inland fan base, but well enough to not make us look like complete fuckwits on the world stage. Modestly well. Face-savingly well.

So we’re stuck. The harsh reality of a flat waiting period during July in Japan means that Olympic surfing will almost definitely require a wavepool to succeed. For the purpose of this article, I’m buying the rumours and taking the pool as a given.

Maybe it would appease the core surf fans if we called wave pool surfing by another name? Skateboarding has street, ramp and freestyle living side-by-side within the shade of their cultural umbrella. Why can’t we have surfing, pool surfing and fucking-foil-boarders?

I looked to established Olympic sports to see what works; finding an effective format here, discovering a fair-but-subjective scoring system there, and building a Frankenstein’s Monster that could make Olympic Surfing palatable for the villagers and scientists alike.

The obvious starting point is snowboarding; it’s a board sport that has successfully become an Olympic staple. They use a subjective judging system with the highest and lowest scores dropped. They focus on areas such as difficulty, variety, progression and execution. They even have a refreshing honesty about their judging process:
There is no true universal consensus on “deductions” or how to determine an exact score. More than anything, scores are a means to an end – a way for judges to accurately position athletes on the leaderboard.

For example, the very first athlete to compete might sometimes receive what’s deemed to be a “low” score, relatively speaking. This is simply because judges, who have to evaluate the run they just witnessed against theoretical runs they think might occur later on, need to leave themselves cushioning to account for other competitors. (In other words, you will likely never see a rider score a perfect 100 unless they are the final athlete to take a run.)

The WSL could learn a thing or two about transparency from our snowboarding pals.

Unfortunately, snowboarding is almost entirely about what’s happening in the air, with little room in its judging criteria for the balance between surfing in and above the water. We need more nuance in our judging.

So, I cast the net wider. I looked at other judged Olympic sports and tried to find the set of criteria that best suited our sport. Then, when I was losing hope, an unlikely saviour arrived.

Taste this small sample and tell me we haven’t found our shining beacon of Olympic success:

Surfing Skills

Defined by overall cleanness and sureness, rail control and flow over the wave surface demonstrated by a command of the surfing vocabulary (barrels, airs, turns etc.), the clarity of technique and the use of effortless power to accelerate and vary speed.

In evaluating the Surfing Skills, the following must be considered:

•Use of deep barrels, big airs, critical turns;
•Balance, rhythmic action and precision of board placement;
•Flow and glide;
•Varied use of power, speed and acceleration;
•Use of multi directional surfing (lefts and rights);
•Use of progression.

And they continue:

Transitions
The varied and purposeful use of intricate manoeuvres, body positions, and style that links all elements.
In evaluating the Transitions, the following must be considered:

•Continuity of movements from one element to another;
•Variety;
•Difficulty;
•Quality.

Sounds perfect, right?

And to which noble Olympic sport do we owe such complementary criteria? Diving? Synchronised swimming? Trampoline?

No.

Ice Dancing.

All I had to do was swap ‘skate’ for ‘surf’ and ‘blade’ for ‘board’ and voilà: I had the blueprint for Olympic surfing.

Figure Skating possesses a set of judging criteria so beautifully suited to pool surfing that you’d think it was scribed by Richie Porta Pritamo Ahrendt himself. More so, it celebrates a new opportunity that traditional surfing contests have overlooked for far too long, something that could launch Olympic surfing beyond the briny backwaters of coastal towns and into the hearts and malls of the American mid-west:

Interpretation of the Music / Timing
The personal, creative, and genuine translation of the rhythm, character and content of music to movement on water.
In evaluating the Interpretation of the Music (/Timing), the following must be considered:

•Movement and manoeuvres in time to the music (Timing);
•Expression of the music’s character / feeling and rhythm, when clearly identifiable;
•Use of finesse to reflect the details and nuances of the music;
• Surfers reflecting the character and rhythm of the music;
•Keeping a good balance between surfing to the beat and melody.

Music! Finesse! Routines!

If surfing in a wavepool for an Olympic medal doesn’t represent surfing, then it sure as hell needs to represent the Olympics. A consistent and reliable wave source allows for the type of planned routines that are otherwise impossible. And with that comes the opportunity for music, for routines, for costumes. For spectacle.

Just imagine the glorious vision of Filipe Toledo, sporting a decorative-yet-masculine lycra bodysuit as he waits for the pulsing drums of Motörhead’s Overkill to signal the start of his wave. He’d stroke his way into a flawless right-hander and run through a manic-yet-well-rehearsed wave dancing routine while fans lap up every delicious second from the bleachers. Filipe would deliver a genuine translation of the rhythm, character and content of music to movement on water. And Lemmy would, for one brief moment, return to us, resurrected through the violent poetry of Filipe’s surfing.

And Slater? Oh, he would defy both his age and retirement to produce a perfect physical duet to a live, side-of-pool performance from Eddy Vedder. Eddy’s music and lyrics would have been honed through hours of secret rehearsals alongside the King of the wavepool, providing such a seamless union between surfing and music that Jack Johnson would slit his wrists with puka shells in shame.

Medina could dirty things up to pumping UK grime beats on one wave, before showing the world his softer side with a smooth-as-armpit interpretation of Lembra on the next.
Would Jordy blast Darude’s Sandstorm while throwing down superman airs and new-school claims with abandon? Or would he fly stealth? It’s so hard to know until we see it.
Try the game yourself: What would Adriano have as his music? Which hat would Conner Coffin wear to accentuate his costume? Who could synchronise with the fastest bpm?
With Ice Dancing as our Olympic guide, the possibilities are endless.

Oh, and for the purists I have a new name by which my Frankenstein’s Monster can be differentiated from our original sport: wave dancing.

You’re welcome.