Business: Surfline’s US hegemony cracking?

Has leading surf check site gotten too greedy?

If you live in the United States of America and enjoy either actively or passively checking the surf then, for years, Surfline has been your source. Oh it is a semi-helpful website featuring almost-scientific surf forecasts though does fall squarely in with the squares re. editorial content. Its editor-in-chief, Marcus Sanders, is one of the best and brightest in the game but I would imagine his hopes and dreams are severely curtailed by an aggressively conservative corporate worldview that finds drugs bad, sex worse and slavery an underutilized production tool.

It is also the official wave forecasting tool of the World Surf League and, as an extension, Michelob Ultra beer.

In any case, Surfline has enjoyed a near monopoly on computerized surf checking since its inception but is all about to change? Recently, the website stopped offering little 15 second snippets of surf camera action at select beaches for free and has slid the entire surf check offering behind a paywall. All fine and good but does it leave the door open for competitors?

A new, exciting partnership in Australia suggests yes and let’s read about Nick Carroll’s Coastalwatch and the behemoth Fox Sports.

Fox Sports has announced a new partnership with Australia’s leading provider of surf cams, Coastalwatch, which will deliver users free access to their Surf Check app for the first time with over 100 live streams from Australia’s most popular surfing spots.

The landmark deal, which gives Fox Sports and MCN exclusive commercial rights to the app through advertising and sponsorship space, is set to solidify the network’s already strong relationship with surfing.

Under the relaunched app, which is now available on both iOS and android smartphones, Foxtel will be able to market directly to a large body of prospective subscribers, with the popular surfing app having amassed over 500,000 downloads since its creation.

Fox Sports’ head of digital Brad Schultz said: “Surfing has always been a part of Fox Sports’ DNA and we’re delighted to partner with Australia’s most popular surfing platform.

“Coastalwatch already has over 3.6 million unique visitors logging in every year, and Fox Sports will now provide access to more surfers, with the app now free to download.

“Surfing and sport go hand-in-hand in Australian culture. The focus of this partnership is to grow the sport, and to explore ways to tap into Coastalwatch’s engaged audience to grow Foxtel.”

See what I’m getting at here? Surfers checking the surf, and checking it multiple times a day, and checking it when they are not near the surf or able to surf or even caring about what’s happening in the surf is a guarantee. I don’t know how valuable these eyeballs are but they could be good for padding a bottom line of unique viewers.

So, what if ESPN or Fake News CNN or the Failing New York Times or some other actual media property decided to offer free surf cams in exchange for clicks? I don’t think surfers have any real allegiance to Surfline’s product and I think they would flee in droves thereby tanking the website and 35% of Huntington Beach’s office rental economy.

But what do you think? Has abject greed clouded Surfline’s vision? Will it soon go the way of Standard Oil?

Italo Ferreira
Italo Ferreira knows how to play tricks. | Photo: WSL

(More) news from US Open: WSL reveals Airshow Format!

Eighteen surfers. Four-hour long events. Oh it sounds like a prophecy from the future of professional surfing…

If you were in Huntington Beach last night, which neither Chas or I were, you might’ve stumbled into the saloon where Josh Kerr was busy announcing the format for the WSL’s airshow at France in October.

Alongside walls of crudely drawn nudes, Josh laid out a plan to exorcise the demons of Airshows Past while still fulfilling WSL CEO Sophie Goldschmidt’s prophecy that “Many people say the future of surfing is in the air.” 

According to Josh, and as reported by Surfer magazine’s Todd Prodanovitch,

–There will be 18 competitors: 16 hand-picked by Kerr, and two wildcard slots that will be up for grabs (they have yet to announce how surfers will be able to snag those last two spots)

–The entire contest will be a 4 hours long

–There will be 6, 30-minute preliminary heats, with 6 surfers in each heat, each surfer surfing in two heats

–Airs are the only maneuvers that will be scored, and only the top two airs from each surfer will be counted

–The cumulative two-air score of each surfer will be ranked against all other surfers in the competition, regardless of heat, leaderboard-style

–A surfer’s best air is doubled, and their two scoring airs don’t have to be from the same heat

–At the end of the preliminary heats, after a 20-minute break, the top 6 surfers on the leaderboard will surf in a 40-minute final

–Competitors in 7th place or below will get equal prize money

“I tried to create a format where you have enough time to really go for it and pull something if you’re a consistent aerialist, which all the invitees are, of course,” says Kerr. “It’s all about creating an environment where no one is holding back. We’re going to be really harsh on the judging criteria, whether it’s layback landings or forcing the air on a bad section. To get in the 9-point range, you’re going to need to pull something close to the maneuver of the year.”

It’s a departure from the format of the old airshows of the ’90s and ’00s, where you had to land two airs in every heat to advance. According to Kerr, that encouraged low-risk, more consistent airs rather than unbridled progression, which is the goal of the new Air Invitational.

Eighteen surfers? Four-hour long events?

That’s sugar I can swallow…


Day 3, US Open: “Why is Peter Mel Crushing on Wade Carmichael?”

Big-wave surfer and noted commentator finds love while children play grab-ass in shallows!

Just when you didn’t think it would get any smaller, it did. And today’s 11:00ish A.M. start guaranteed a rising bump on the water from start to finish.

When I tuned in, guys were sitting 30-odd feet from dry sand, closer to the water’s edge than the kids wading and playing grab-ass in the distance. Such is the nature of truly dismal surf. Much like the conditions, it seemed that everybody had a case of the Wednesdays: the commentators seemed fatigued, the surfers were similarly weary and many betrayed visible frustrations with the scene. Shit, I felt bad for ‘em and I was office jockeying from 800km away.

But you know who I really feel bad for?

The Women’s CT. It just dawned on me that this contest is a goddamn CT for the women. Okay, save me the shit about how none of ‘em can do an air or surf when it’s big anyways. I can’t imagine busting my ass to ascend to the fabled ranks of high professionalism only to realize that one-foot windchop is the apex of my professional career. At least the QS men have the illusion of surfing Pipe and Supertubos and Chopes. The women? Mid-summer Huntington.

But you know who don’t give no fucks about some negligible windchop? Michael Rodrigues. After Crisanto and Italo turned up the volume on Tuesday, Miggy Rods got the party started in the first heat with 7 waves in 12 minutes, culminating in an effortless frontside reverse that was still memorable—remarkable, even—after watching three days of the same turn from all comers in the field. The whole heat was a four-man airshow. Which got me thinking about…

The Air Reverse as Kickflip. As usual the commentary is shit, but it’s a pretty good barometer of two things: first, what the present mental state of surfing (at least in proximity to the industry) and, second, what agenda the WSL is pushing in the background. Rodrigues, Seth Moniz, Cody Young, and Soli Bailey all threw and made multiple air reverses in the opening heat, forcing the commentators—if not the judges—to embark on a discussion about the nuance behind each guy’s style and approach to the same trick. Skate nerds know how big the “pro X has the best kickflip” debates are, and I’m kinda stoked to think that surfing’s level is so high, and ‘tricks’ so common that average surfers are getting into the minutiae of style, nuance, and approach that have long characterized wood & wheels. Ain’t every air reverse made the same. One conversation I’m not into is…

The endless and undying rotation discussion. I certainly don’t give a fuck if it’s a 360 or 540. Do you? (Editor’s note: Yes! Its a 540!) Well Chris Coté does and he couldn’t let it go for two whole heats, just like that semi-estranged uncle who wants to tell you that story again about the pretty hooker that he’s super glad he didn’t marry after all. Where I can get down with Coté and Mel is the idea that switch surfing is the future. I dunno to what extent it will ever register given the current criteria, but there’s gonna be a pro who only surfs frontside because his switch game renders the very idea of a natural stance obsolete. And that is gnarly to contemplate. You know what else is gnarly to contemplate?

Heat #18 had CT vets Banting, Freestone, Coleborn, and O’Leary going head to head. Banting took it out after riding only four waves and was completely candid about being sans sponsor after the win. Coleborn looked chappy and frustrated after missing a beauty of an early huck headed towards the pier. O’Leary, currently in residence on the CT, finished dead last (as did Wade Carmichael and Connner Coffin in their heats). Coupled with Brett Simpson’s last-place finish in a heat characterized by high drama lead changes and post-heat nail-biting, the whole landscape of Spartans in decline was kinda sad. But that sadness was tempered by…

Just how adorable Alejo Muniz’s son is. Alejo wins his heat easy, pops a pacifier in his six-month-old son’s mouth and marches him onto the post-heat interview, where the li’l guy kept clubbing at the mic and cooing at Rosy Hodge (Editor’s note: read about my date with comely Rosy!). If we can’t have drug-addled miscreants and weirdos in pro surfing anymore, I’m okay with having a legion of jovial guys with big smiles and cute babies.

Speaking of cute babies…Kanoa Igarashi looked in form with the day’s high total of 15.64. And as for big smiles, Evan Geiselman unsurprisingly held it down in the fairly Atlantic conditions, causing me to wonder why there weren’t more Floridians in the draw. I also wondered why the fuck he was wearing a lei in his victory chat. Apparently, some local chick comes down to the comp every year and gives Geiselman a lei. I’d make a crude joke, but perhaps the poor lass has a learning disability or something, so fuck you for thinking I was going there. Bigger than her crush on Ev though was…

Pete Mel’s crush on Wade Carmichael. After Mel and Turpel speculated over whether Rob Machado’s long hair was contractually obligated, Mel went all in on the finer points of Carmichael’s wildman marketing potential. The ideal client, per Mel? Harley Davidson. Wrong answer Petey, cuz guess what? The only thing Wade’s marketing is WSL Merino sweaters, the new worldwide avatar of tough and rugged!

Vans US Open of Surfing Men’s QS Round 2 Results:
Heat 17: Michael Rodrigues (BRA) 13.83, Seth Moniz (HAW) 13.27, Cody Young (HAW) 11.40, Soli Bailey (AUS) 9.34
Heat 18: Matt Banting (AUS) 13.00, Jack Freestone (AUS) 12.20, Mitch Coleborn (AUS) 10.50, Connor O’Leary (AUS) 8.57
Heat 19: Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 11.97, Ethan Ewing (AUS) 11.43, Lucas Silveira (BRA) 10.63, Brett Simpson (USA) 9.56
Heat 20: Maxime Huscenot (FRA) 12.33, Cooper Chapman (USA) 11.90, Parker Coffin (USA) 10.36, Parker Coffin (USA) 10.30
Heat 21: Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) 15.64, Nat Young (USA) 12.00, Artiz Aranburu (ESP) 10.90, Timothee Bisso (FRA) 9.43
Heat 22: Alejo Muniz (BRA) 14.00, Ian Crane (USA) 12.20, Tomas Hermes (BRA) 11.20, Marcos Correa (BRA) 10.67
Heat 23: Michael February (ZAF) 13.44, Benji Brand (HAW) 10.84, Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) 10.00, Hizunome Bettero (BRA) 8.77
Heat 24: Evan Geiselman (USA) 13.33, Davey Cathels (AUS) 10.97, Kyuss King (AUS) 9.23, Wade Carmichael (AUS) 6.87

Upcoming Vans US Open Men’s QS Round 3 Matchups:
Heat 1: Kei Kobayashi (USA), Keanu Asing (HAW), Yago Dora (BRA), Adriano de Souza (BRA)
Heat 2: Ramzi Boukhiam (MOR), Reef Heazlewood (AUS), Heitor Alves (BRA), Ryan Callinan (AUS)
Heat 3:Kolohe Andino (USA), David Van Zyl (ZAF), Lucca Mesinas (PER), Griffin Colapinto (USA)
Heat 4: Joshua Moniz (HAW), Tanner Gudauskas (USA), Jesse Mendes (BRA), Dion Atkinson (AUS)
Heat 5: Deivid Silva (BRA), Ezekiel Lau (HAW), Cam Richards (USA), Thiago Camarao (BRA)
Heat 6: Bino Lopes (BRA), Miguel Pupo (BRA), Jorgann Couzinet (FRA), Victor Bernardo (BRA)
Heat 7: Italo Ferreira (BRA), Joan Duru (FRA), Tanner Hendrickson (HAW), Charly Martin (FRA)
Heat 8: Mihimana Braye (PYF), Peterson Crisanto (BRA), Jadson Andre (BRA), Beyrick De Vries (ZAF)
Heat 9: Michael Rodrigues (BRA), Matt Banting (AUS), Ethan Ewing (AUS), Cooper Chapman (AUS)
Heat 10: Maxime Huscenot (FRA), Patrick Gudauskas (USA), Jack Freestone (AUS), Seth Moniz (HAW)
Heat 11: Kanoa Igarashi (JPN), Alejo Muniz (BRA), Benji Brand (HAW), Davey Cathels (AUS)
Heat 12: Evan Geiselman (USA), Michael February (ZAF), Ian Crane (USA), Nat Young (USA)

Revealed: What’s next in beer and surfing!

"Seeing everyone drink it is kind of our dream come true!"

Someday I am going to write about something other than the World Surf League here. Not today. BeachGrit was a just birthed little thing when an unknown by the name of Paul Speaker led a group in purchasing the Association of Professional Surfers for free. I scratched my head then and again when the name was changed to World Surf League and again when he promised that billions of people would soon become wildly addicted to the spectacle and again and again and again and again and again every time he opened his broad mouth.

I wanted to meet with him so badly and begged any and everyone for an interview but, alas, was rebuffed at every turn. “Is he too busy?” I wondered. “Too… busy?”

Then Paul Speaker was fired. I breathed a sigh, initially of relief but then depression, thinking the absurdity of his reign would never be matched.

But then, as if by magic, a kindly British woman descended from professional tennis and voila!

We were back in business!

I won’t backward fin you with too many details. You’ve been along for the ride but each and every day presents a bounty that Herr Speaker should be envy.

Like today on Instagram and let us read together:

The Ultra Brewing Collective, WSL, and the Kelly Slater Wave Co set the stage for what’s next in beer and surfing while taking inspiration from what’s truly great in this world — nature and the human spirit.

Mic drop.

(Until tomorrow)

Book extract: How a hard-charging son-of-a-bitch busted his neck on an Indo trip and wound up in a chair.

Australian surfer Darren Longbottom went to the Ments and all he got was a lousy wheelchair…

Ten years ago, the hard-charging big brother of shaper and pro Dylan Longbottom, flew to the Menatwais for a little r and r, hit his head on his board and wound up losing the spark that powered his four limbs.

Darren Longbottom, who is now forty six, has a couple of kids, owns surf shops which he stocks with his little bro’s boards and powers around in a metal chair. He also co-wrote a book called Beyond the Break: How a freak accident turned an Australian surfer’s dream into a nightmare.

It’s an ultimately uplifting story, I suppose, “survival against the odds” and so forth, but  it sends shivers along my mercifully still functioning spinal cord.

The hurt. The despair. It’s a mighty slashing underscore.

As Dylan told The Sydney Morning Herald,

“He’s been through so much. His wife left him a year and a half after the accident. But still, I never saw him angry, even at the beginning, after the accident. I would have been angry, but he actually went the opposite way. He mellowed out. He became more accepting of people, less critical of them, more patient. I felt so sorry for him, seeing him in the chair. Then he’d say, “I surfed for 33 years, which is more than most people surf in their lifetime. I’ve had so many waves!” And he was content with that. That’s his strength, to be able to look at it that way.”

This extract is called Moment of Impact.

Blue water. Blue water and silence … And then, BOOM!

It was as if someone had turned on the television with the volume set at its highest level, a flood of visions from my life flickering by at lightning speed, stuffing thirty-five years into a few seconds. It is a heavy, heavy feeling. My wife, Aimee, and my daughter, Bowie … back further … our old house in Cronulla … Christmas at my grandparents’ riding skaties with Dylan and Danny … pulling stupid faces at every soccer team photo. And now, not alive, just drifting in a vacuum.

A huge surge of energy came without warning and hit me like an electric shock. I took my first breath after what felt like an eternity. I was awake and in water, bobbing like a cork. The shock was the burst of adrenaline, pulling me back from the edge of nothing. I struggled to work out what was happening, before I was back under water and sinking. Why was I sinking? Why couldn’t I get back to the surface? I was swimming, for God’s sake, and I’m a good swimmer, kicking as hard as I could, willing myself, telling myself to surface.

What’s happening? Swim, you idiot, get back to the surface.

My head finally broke through into the air, and I felt that enormous surge of energy again, another shock, as I took another breath.

My thoughts were still muddled, but this time I saw something in the corner of my vision. Grab it! Just grab it! I wedged the floating object under my armpit so that I wouldn’t go under again. Now I had time to try to gather my thoughts and analyse what was happening. I was in the clearest water imaginable, under a sky that almost blended into the blue of the ocean. I realised that what I had grabbed was my surfboard – or what was left of it – but I still couldn’t piece together what was happening. Even with the adrenaline running through my system I was beginning to feel completely exhausted, almost empty. What I did know was that I was in a load of trouble, and I let out a cry, ‘HELP ME, HELP ME!’

Stew pulled up on the jet-ski, and pieces of my memory started to come back together. We had been doing tow-ins, using a jet-ski to whip us into waves earlier and faster. There were a bunch of us taking turns. Stew was shooting out the back of the waves on the jet-ski when he saw my broken board in the water and thought he’d check to see if I was okay.

As he pulled up, he looked puzzled. He didn’t know if this was a joke, given my reputation as a joker. Any of my closest friends would have just laughed at the sight – me hanging onto half a board, hardly moving, as if mortally wounded. Luckily Stew realised the enormity of the situation and jumped off the ski into the water to help me. I was still shouting, ‘Help me!’

But Stew couldn’t hear me – no-one could. I was beginning to drift away again, everything so vivid one moment … then nothing.

Stew yelled out to the others – Prezzo, Greenie, Big Nathe and Crusty – who raced in to help. Greenie was the first to arrive; he’d seen Stew jump off the ski and was already paddling hard, thinking something was wrong with the ski, only to find I was all messed up.

We’d been surfing some random ‘bombie’ waves outside of a break called Thunders, a remote location in the Mentawais, fourteen hours by boat from Sumatra in Indonesia. The conditions were perfect: sunny, not a breath of wind, consistent swell with waves three to six feet high, palm trees in the distance. We were close to the reef, a mixture of volcanic rock and coral, so it’s all razor sharp, and the water was only six feet deep.

The last thing I remember was pulling off the wave and flying through the air …

Now we were in the impact zone with the dry reef ten metres behind us. Unbelievably, the water had gone dead flat. Another wave would have rolled us all and pushed us, along with the jet-ski, onto the reef with no escape, but the surface of the ocean was like a lake. It was eerie.

Whether I passed out through exhaustion or fainted, I couldn’t tell. Maybe knowing someone was there caused the adrenaline to dissipate. I drifted into a dreamlike state; I could hear but I couldn’t see. I thought I was talking, but I had no idea what I was saying.

The jet-ski had a rescue sled on the back – a foam platform, like a massive bodyboard. The boys were struggling to get me onto the sled; I was like a dead weight. I heard someone say, ‘We’ve got to get out of here before a wave comes!’ Greenie got me in a bear hug – I still don’t know how he did it because I’m twice his size – and he threw me on my back onto the sled.

But, still, the ocean was flat.

Greenie then jumped on top to secure me and yelled, ‘Let’s, go. GO!’

We set off for the boat, but we had all been surfing and both Greenie and I still had leg-ropes attached to our boards. Given the urgency, we had forgotten about them, but with the first thrust of the jet-ski the boards acted like an anchor and pulled us both off the back.

Big Nathe was still in the water, and Greenie yelled out for him to throw me back onto the sled while he took our leggies off and stayed with our boards. Nathe got me on in one heave and jumped on top of me as Greenie had.

Stew sped away again and backed off just as quickly once we got out of the impact zone.

As the ski jolted to a halt, I made a shocking discovery. In the ten minutes that had passed, adrenaline running through my body, visions flashing before my eyes and my brain trying to gather my thoughts, I still hadn’t grasped the severity of what had happened.

I was on my back, Nathe still on top, stabilising me, when we abruptly came to a halt and I saw my left leg fly, with momentum, up past my eyes, almost reaching my shoulder. In that split second my focus narrowed in on that vision and I snapped back to reality, realising what I had just seen. I shouted, ‘I can’t feel my leg … I can’t feel anything!’

Big Nathe repeated my words to the rest of the boys.

Whether it was the rush of finally putting together what was happening or my brain going into recovery mode, I fell silent as we raced towards the boat.

I had just experienced an enormous moment in my life. It was Saturday, 20 May 2008, and we were in one of the most remote parts of Indonesia, and breaking my neck was just the start of an incredible journey, a journey where whatever could go wrong, did go wrong …

Help a brother out and buy the book here.