The template for the WSL comes straight from the ATP. Who knew? Bobby knew!
I thought it was common knowledge that the WSL is built on the blueprint of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP). The contest/tournament calendar, the ranking system, the contest format and now the exhibition extras – all the same as the ATP.
It makes sense, therefore, that professional surfing’s owner has turned the reigns over to Sophie Goldschmidt with her four years experience as a vice-president at the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association).
It ain’t sexy but it ain’t crazy, if you dig.
Listen. If you were a minnow sport like surfing and looking to a big brother for advice, tennis makes sense. Count the similarities: an individual sport, competitors from a wide variety of nations, tournaments scattered around the world. And tennis has provided household names and reaped fortunes for over half a century.
But Tennis is a rich man’s game. The outfits, the tradition, the silence. That ain’t surf or it at least it wasn’t.
And isn’t tennis really about the four grand slams? Does anyone actually tune in for anything else?
Tennis certainly doesn’t have super-star names who don’t compete but attract fabulous salaries and starry eyes for knocking the ball around the practise court. There’s no Dane Reynolds, no Creed McTaggart, no Craig Anderson. And judging from tennis’s moves trying to shorten and re-jig the format over the past few years, you know they’re having a golf-type issue in trying to appeal to the new generation.
If we look purely from a governing body’s format, what has the WSL borrowed?
1. Tournament Structure – Tennis has the Challenger Tour and the World Tour. Surfing has the Qualification Series and Championship Tour. Both formats allow competitors to earn points through lower events and use these points to qualify for higher-rated events.
2. Tournament Funding – The level of an ATP event (points available), all depends on the prizemoney offered, and as a result the more funded to the governing body. Want to stage the ATP1000 in your crummy little neighbourhood, just cough up the cash and it’s yours. Surfing is the same game. Fork out the money and you can have a QS10,000 at your local break.
3. Hopman Cup / Founders Cup – Did anyone else notice that Sophie’s first big splash, The Founders Cup, takes its colours from the Hopman Cup? International all-team tournament with mixed gender teams? Hopman.
4. Nitto ATP Finals / WSL Mentawaii Finals – The WSL will introduce a finals series to finish of the year in 2019. When this was announced everyone’s eyes went to a NBA/NFL/MLB finals format thinking those jocks were the inspiration. It was actually tennis that has had a finals format for years now. With an Emirates-sponsored ATP Race to London points ladder.
What does the future hold? Tennis has pushed towards indoor single day/night exhibitions to lure millennials in with loud music, flashy lights and a shorter time frame, the Laver Cup for example.
What’s surfing got? Pools, pools, pools.
And another similarity, to quote Billie Jean King, “Tennis is a perfect combination of violent action taking place in an atmosphere of total tranquility.”
Multiple news outlets reported, yesterday, on the World Surf League’s alleged edict to photographers/videographers not to focus on female professional surfers’ rumps whilst duck diving/bottom turning. The original story appeared in Stab, though the WSL’s Vice-President of Global Brand Identity, Mr. Dave Prodan, told the Herald that Stab‘s reporting was “largely inaccurate.”
Still, a fun enough moment though it did not seem particularly noteworthy to me. I don’t ever recall seeing very tightly framed shots of female professional surfers’ rumps during a webcast nor have I ever read any complaints about any uncomfortable leering by the WSL’s lensmen.
Still. Fun. And even more fun when seven-time world champ Layne Beachley goes on the radio to discuss.
Now, where would you think Ms. Beachley would come down on the issue? Do you think she would decry blatant sexism whilst praising the WSL on its (now debunked) stricter guidelines? Well you are wrong. Layne says bring the sexy!
I respect the fact women can choose the bikinis they wish to surf in based on comfort or practicality. It’s up to them to choose how they want to present themselves. I think it’s a step in the wrong direction as far as telling cameramen that they can’t film girls duck-diving or doing bottom turns, because that’s a natural part of surfing. I appreciate the “zooming in” part though, I don’t think there’s any need to zoom in on it.
I’ve always been a proponent of “sex sells”, and that was a part of the generation that I came through, and we just struggled to get any attention and recognition, let alone sponsorships.
We’ve broken down those barriers and now the women are actually embracing there femininity, their beauty, their style, their grace and their sexiness. And if that’s helping them sell the sport and improve their chances of being supported throughout their careers, then good luck to them.
Such a wonderfully reasoned response in these shrill times. Don’t you think?
Day 4, Quik Pro: “Zero tolerance for score faking!”
Mick Fanning disappears; Filipe soars; judges discover the joys of tough love.
Kelly and I share many traits and life circumstances, including teenaged daughters, bad backs, suspicion of the media and bad insomnia. Laying awake listening to the vast industrial hum of 999 Twin Towns pokies in the wee hours I fretted that calling the mood yesterday soviet and sour was too harsh, just a reflection of my inner state after too many Coronas drunk with the great Mullet.
When Kelly announced his withdrawal I thought: the sport has moved on, you won’t be missed, we’ll get on fine without you. But we didn’t. Not yesterday anyhow. Save Medina and Parkinson, a world without Kelly felt smaller, more constrained and predictable: a QS World with a bush league vibe. The surfing, in waves tailor-made for flaring and high perf, was safety to the max and I am very, very, very, very happy that Pritamo Ahrendt scored it accordingly. A ballsy statement.
Today, was different.
Launching the Fanning Foamy out of Mermaids corner in the dark I got throttled by a squadron of gaping Snapper rocks caverns (do not Google) and smoked down to Rainbow Bay. A close range cyclone swell. I know this fucking music! Every Queensland pointbreak surfer does. Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Ragged Glory. Find the bass line and enjoy the guitar squalls. Shut up and paddle.
The crowd finally engaged with the surfing, but it wasn’t Fanning they cheered. It was Toledo vs Ferreira that raised the crowd from three days of somnolence.
After watching the Fanning Coffin heat, magnificently eulogised by Joe Turpe,l I realised there really is only one path forwards for a man described as an “angel” by Owen Wright. He must become the next Secretary-General of the United Nations. Imagine the global one-two punch of Parko as Mayor of Coolangatta and Fanning as Secretary-General of the UN. That would really put pro surfing into audience growth mode.
Italo’s backhand, best on tour, seemed undeniable against Filipe. But the crowd thought otherwise and judges seemed to cripple it by a crucial margin. Incensed, I stormed the media room to demand a judge breakdown. The spread on the best scoring waves differed by a point and a half which would have made all the difference in a heat decided by less than a point but Filipe had the crowd, had the jazz and by close of play the ends justified the means.
Mikey Wright has a schtick but it’s real, at least as far as the old skool warm-up goes: throwing a football around, the jumping jacks and the bush hat and big shaggy dog. Big man up close, well-muscled, 15-17% body fat. Could be a second-rower or a wide receiver. Behind the bogan facade are rock-solid skills and the crucial trait of composure.
“Whats the strategy against Medina?” I asked his coach Troy Brooks.
“Start strong and find the better waves. Mikey will do the bigger turns.”
That is a supremely confident strategy for a Wildcard to take into a heat against a World Champ and event winner.
Verging on arrogance. He will do bigger turns than Medina? OK, lets see it.
Medina was preparing up on the rocks. Strange scene. Very quiet, very holy. A crowd was gathered around. Girls on their haunches, boys with heads bowed. Medina himself was still and silent. Seconds passed like minutes. Sweat flowed like rivers. Then he raised his head and started to move. The silent crowd erupted with cheers and hallelujahs and speaking in tongues. A feeling like electricity passed through the crowd in sizzling ripples. A Brazilian girl fell backwards into me. I put my hand up to say it’s OK.
She said, “No prablem, eets tha life man”.
Mikey put the game plan into action, perfectly. Big strong, raw opening ride with completed powerful turns. Did exactly what he did to John Florence: overpowered him in the opening exchange to the tune of a two-point spread. A two- point spread is hard to overcome if a surfer can maintain composure. It was wonderful to watch Medina try and jam against Ragged Glory and find his own rhythm.
The judges were showing zero tolerance for score manufacturing and faking. Medina got a four for the best backhand blast I’ve ever seen. That turn felt like a kick in the guts from a mule, on the beach, well in the Corona Pavilion. The Australian Mullet put another big, brutal ride on the scoreboard and then let Medina swing away on shittier waves, only losing priority with two minutes to go. Gabby got choked out by the clock. Gone.
“How do you rate that performance?” I asked Troy Brooks.
“On par, for Mikey,” he said.
“Anything to improve upon?”
“He made a tactical error two minutes to go handing over priority but had such a mental advantage from the opening spread he got away with it.”
The Colapinto/Parkinson heat had mad drama. Gaping holes spitting from deep behind the rocks (no Google) were waiting to be stuffed by J-Parko. But it was Griff who proved to be the rarest of all phenomena: a fully formed rookie. He had the strategy elasticity to lash the wider sections with an abundance of repertoire and then out Parko Parko when he bomb-dropped into a bulbous keg and slithered out a tiny foamy hole at the top. If Team Parko review the tape honestly they might revise retirement plans. There is a world of pain ahead in those match-ups for Parko. For real.
My notes go squiffy here, sometime after noon. Coronas were making me see double, the Queensland sun cooked my brain but I think I had fully flip-flopped on the Slater position by then. The sport is fine without him. It’s just the dead wood of round two that distorted perspective.
Fanning’s last heat was odd, to the max. Like Medina, a small crowd gathered around him as he prepared. The mood amongst the crowd was tense and expectant. Fanning rocked off, people pushed closer to the sea. The webcast gave almost zero indication of the crazy energy focussing on Snapper Rocks.
But it wasn’t Mick who harnessed it. The big O grabbed the heat by the neck like a pitbull and just savaged it. From a close vantage point it looked very committed and big surfing.Mick struggled, got a legrope tangled around his feet, stumbled, couldn’t find a deep tube and in the end went out with a whimper. Fanning. Out!
The crowd gathered, waiting to pay their respects. But Mick went around the back of the main WSL structure and never re-appeared. A strange feeling came over the crowd. Was that it? It ends like this?
Filipe’s first ride passed in this strange, respectful silence. The great Mick Fanning had just surfed his last heat at Snapper, something should be happening. Some ceremony to commemorate the occasion. Not just business as usual.
But nothing did and on Filipe’s second wave, about which my notes read: Say fucking what?! wrt some piece of outrageous showmanship, maybe the tweaked club sandwich, the crowd erupted and Mick was……..was forgotten. Terrible to say, but true. Finally judges saw what they wanted to see and Toledo started strafing the scoreboard with 8’s and 9’s.
By chance, I saw a line of people stretched down the street down near McDonalds Greenmount. Families clutching posters mostly and there, wearing dark shades, Michael Fanning, an angel to all was discharging his duties as a World Champion surfer, apparently, as far as I could see, with great distinction.
Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast Round 3 Results:
Heat 1: Owen Wright (AUS) 14.50 def. Willian Cardoso (BRA) 9.04
Heat 2: Mick Fanning (AUS) 11.67 def. Conner Coffin (USA) 7.37
Heat 3: Tomas Hermes (BRA) 12.40 def. Kolohe Andino (USA) 9.60.
Heat 4: Filipe Toledo (BRA) 14.60 def. Italo Ferreira (BRA) 13.70
Heat 5: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 13.36 def. Jeremy Flores (FRA) 13.10
Heat 6: Mikey Wright (AUS) 16.07 def. Gabriel Medina (BRA) 14.90
Heat 7: Julian Wilson (AUS) 7.30 def. Michael February (ZAF) 7.10
Heat 8: Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) 15.26 def. Frederico Morais (PRT) 11.10
Heat 9: Griffin Colapinto (USA) 13.50 def. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 12.94
Heat 10: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 15.07 def. Wade Carmichael (AUS) 13.60
Heat 11: Michel Bourez (PYF) 12.50 def. Connor O’Leary (AUS) 6.43
Heat 12: Michael Rodrigues (BRA) 15.00 def. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 14.40
Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast Round 4 Results:
Heat 1: Owen Wright (AUS) 17.00, Tomas Hermes (BRA) 11.20, Mick Fanning (AUS) 10.43
Heat 2: Filipe Toledo (BRA) 15.70, Adrian Buchan (AUS) 14.60, Mikey Wright (AUS) 11.20
Heat 3: Julian Wilson (AUS) 15.97, Griffin Colapinto (USA) 13.83, Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) 11.67
Heat 4: Michel Bourez (PYF) 13.97, Michael Rodrigues (BRA) 13.83, Adriano de Souza (BRA) 13.53
Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast Quarterfinal Matchups:
QF 1: Owen Wright (AUS) vs. Adrian Buchan (AUS)
QF 2: Filipe Toledo (BRA) vs. Tomas Hermes (BRA)
QF 3: Julian Wilson (AUS) vs. Michael Rodrigues (BRA)
QF 4: Michel Bourez (PYF) vs. Griffin Colapinto (USA)
Roxy Pro Gold Coast Semifinal Matchups:
Heat 1: Lakey Peterson (USA) vs. Malia Manuel (HAW)
Heat 2: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) vs. Keely Andrew (AUS)
Jack Freestone too! Off the books, allegedly, for 2019!
Joel Parkinson is not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time in his career. But here he is, allegedly, though he cannot say the terrain is entirely unfamiliar. He is on the Gold Coast right now, participating in the World Surf League’s 2018 kickoff and, by all accounts, surfing well. But a rumor just floating past my ears as I picked up dry cleaning that his relationship with Billabong will end in 2019. Stablemate Jack Freestone’s too.
And he has certainly watched many of his friends leave, or be left by, longtime sponsors. He watched Andy Irons’ younger brother Bruce and Volcom part ways. He watched Kelly Slater and Quiksilver go on without each other. And now, if the whisper is to be believed, it is his turn. Still a young man, by some accounts, but the product of a different generation.
He traveled in the course of his career from the meticulous to the slime, witnessing the Association of Surfing Professionals become the World Surf League along the way and winning one of their world champion trophies in 2012.
But what now? What happens when an arguably young man reaches the end?
I’ve always thought Joel Parkinson had a bit of the statesman in him or at least since the first time I spoke with him on Oahu’s North Shore. His voice is uncharacteristically high though he can be easily understood. Bogan is a language as natural as human breath, I’ve come to find. It is a chipped tongue in which the endings fill up the pauses, covering those gaps and gaucheries of conversation that embarrass Americans and the British. It’s a language whose inertia has remained on the plus side. It’s a language in which the voice runs to all levels and Joel Parkinson’s voice mostly runs very high.
I cannot remember what we spoke about but my memory has him as a statesman. And if it is true that Billabong is indeed taking his contract off the books for 2019 then I hope he runs for Coolangatta city council. I think he would do well there. I think his star would rise and he would someday be elected Prime Minister.
Come read Sophie Goldschmidt's vision for the surf future!
I had the opportunity to meet Sophie Goldschmidt, the World Surf League’s chief executive, at Surf Ranch alongside the most important surf journalists of our day (minus Steve Shearer, Matt Warshaw and David Lee Scales) at a small Mexican restaurant on Lemoore’s main drag. I cannot properly recall if she was drinking margaritas or not, nor if she ordered a chimichanga, but I was happy for professional surfing that she was there.
Her predecessor, Mr. Paul Speaker, did not possess the temerity for face to face meetings. If I’m allowed to parse his brief run at the top, I would say that he believed in surfing without surfers. That he could take the core physical/competitive activity, burn off the ugly cancers, repackage and sell it to the rest of the world. Bigger than football. Bigger than life.
Unfortunately for him, surfing’s ugly cancers metastasized long ago and cannot be cut away.
Ms. Goldschmidt seems to recognize this fact, see her meeting at a small Mexican restaurant and read her words in a new, wide ranging ESPN W interview. It is well worth a read. My favorite bit was when first told about professional surfing, her response was, “Wow, this exists?”
I also enjoyed her take on the new Facebook partnership.
We feel for our long-term growth, we need to invest in technology in our events, in the infrastructure that we’re building out around our operations, in the Kelly Slater Wave Company, in our marketing and communications resources. I wouldn’t say we’re niche, but we’re not nearly as mainstream as we’d like to be. We’re really in audience-growth mode. We were so excited to expand our Facebook deal, which was pretty groundbreaking for us. One of the key reasons we went with it is because it’s free. You don’t have to pay to watch content on Facebook, and that’s really important to us. Maybe some at some point down the road, we will have some kind of subscription service for content, but I think, philosophically, it’s always going to be important that a significant amount of our content is available for free. It’s kind of the surfing ethos to a certain extent.
Gross, unrealistic expectations certainly are the surfer’s ethos. No wonder Paul Speaker tried to perform surgery.