A glimpse of a post-WSL future…
Some time a little while back in the early days of Covid chaos the posit was made that if, or when, pro surfing fell over one of the potential outcomes was the Aussie taxpayer, pro surfing’s most faithful stakeholder whose deep pockets never run dry when it comes time to rattle the tin, could pick up the pieces and run their own Tour.
That vision has now come to pass with the development and broadcast (on free-to-air TV) of a new concept tagged Rivals.
Rivals is a Surfing Australia joint, an organisation generously plumped by a spigot of gubbermint funding and made even more flush by the entrepreneurial zeal of its former and most successful CEO, Andrew Stark.
Starky, if you are new to the game, is now head honcho of WSL Australasia and chief pitch man for the Kelly Slater tub proposal at Coolum.
The premise of Rivals is simple yet brilliant.
Take former pros, film them shit-talking each other to generate some pre-”match” heat, add some biographical sauce to the sausage, then document a single two-hour session at their homebreak culled from a forty-five day waiting period with the best three waves chosen by the surfer and judged by the audience.
We’re used to seeing the ageless Kelly Slater as the avatar of the middle-aged surfer but Hog, and others in Rivals provide a more representative sample of the effects of a life in the church of the open sky.
It ain’t pretty. We age terribly.
It offers an elegant circumvention of pro surfing’s thorniest challenges in this accursed 2020. That being Covid travel restrictions and the environmental indulgence of excess travel.
I paid no attention to the flurry of promo emails and caught up with the series by mistake on YouTube, starting with episode three featuring Nathan “Hog” Hedge. We’re used to seeing the ageless Kelly Slater as the avatar of the middle-aged surfer but Hog, and others in Rivals provide a more representative sample of the effects of a life in the church of the open sky.
It ain’t pretty.
We age terribly.
Still, Hog rips and the cameos of the Carroll brothers, muscles rippling in their dotage and heads that would scare a dog out of a butcher’s shop, are inspirational.
It’s worth the watch for that alone.
The Hog segment of Rivals confirmed an impression I hold as a truism: pro surfers get more media attention at the beginning of their CT careers but become far more interesting once they are off Tour. Kelly being one exception; he’s far more interesting now.
Fanning is another, at the other end of the scale. He’s as interesting as he’s ever been but gets far more attention now off the Tour.
Not sure about the states but in Australia Fanning is bigger than Jesus right now.
Sixty Minutes segment on his new bub, front page in glossy magazines, a bona fide celebrity down under.
His omniscience continues in Rivals, where it makes a nice contrast with his former Coolie Kid honchos Joel Parkinson and Dean Morrison. Parko looks like every second fifty-year-old Deus Dad walking the streets of Byron Bay with a salt and pepper beard nursing a kombucha and a mild hangover.
Dingo wears the countenance of the man used to physical labour signed up to cage fight in twent-one days.
The chemistry between the Coolie kids illustrates a weakness of the series. Not everyone can carry an Ep.
Hog pulls it off, as does Josh Kerr.
Jay Bottle Thompson’s segment is much weaker. The high point is Botts trying to negotiate his way through Sunday morning Burleigh with a wave count artificially inflated by some very cunty behaviour. I say high point when I mean low point but it does foreground pro surfing’s elephant in the room.
Which is the very uneasy detente between pro surfing and the vast majority of recreational surfers upon which it depends for it’s fan base and access to venues.
How fucking exciting would it be to see the local concretor after a night on the meth and a bad row with the missus aimed up at Dingo or even Saint Mick?
Rivals, which takes place in amongst the recreational rabble, features the very real potential for true carnage. No disrespect to Bottle but he has the mien of a man who couldn’t punch his way out of a wet paper bag. I’m not condoning it, or even encouraging it but how fucking exciting would it be to see the local concretor after a night on the meth and a bad row with the missus aimed up at Dingo or even Saint Mick?
Thats always been a black irony of the govt funded surfing bureaucratic-industrial state. They foment chaos and violence amongst the very people who’s interests they are supposed to represent.
Would Rivals keep any incident in the final show?
I think, yes.
The excellent narration is written and delivered by Jed Smith, one half of the Ain’t that Swell team. Jed plays it for laughs with a hyper-bogan delivery and realism that is the anti-Turpel in almost every way.
Maybe a delivery that is too Australian for an international audience?
Judging by some of the comments below the line in YouTube, yes.
If the producers of Rivals have missed a trick it’s by keeping the talent confirmed to old pros. How much more entertaining to have an Ep with Noa Deane, Creed or Craig Anderson, rather than old warhorses like Bottle or “Micro” Hall.
That would bridge the pro surfer/freesurfer divide perfectly in a post contest world.
Still, as a glimpse of a post-WSL future or even as alternative to being smothered in the slow moving sludge river of schmaltz that is their commissioned content, Rivals is as thirst quenching as an ice cold VB and as brilliant as the blazing sunshine in an Antipodean sky.
Now, who’ll give me odds on the first pro to get their porthole punched out by a cuckolded reccie.