Imagine waking up this morning as World Surf League CEO Erik Logan. Sleep still in eyes. Excited, though slightly nervous, with the start of the 2020/21 Championship Tour Season mere weeks away. Competition. World’s best surfers, world’s best waves. Heats.
Scores in and out of the excellent range.
You get out of bed, make a cup of bracing herbal tea still wearing your Kai Lenny pajamas, check the El Porto surf cam, throwing “Hawaiian Handshakes” to the boys in the lineup and whispering “See you in two shakas…” giggling at the play on words then walk past your wall mounted Laird Hamilton signed SUP to the front door to retrieve the morning paper.
The New York Times.
Only the best.
After flipping through many scary stories of Covid-19 spikes and President Trump’s lasting damage to the nation, you stumble across the headline Endless Subscribers: Surfers Follow a New Path to Stardom with the subhead “In the digital era, a carefully crafted persona has become more valuable than contest results.”
You read again “…more valuable than contest results.”
A shiver races up your spine.
Surely the sentiment was meant in jest. You laugh at your own tension, purpose to do some mindfulness exercises later in the day and press forward, excited that surfing is getting the spotlight it needs and, as surfing’s “Global Home,” it will all reflect directly on Santa Monica.
Except the whole thing starts with Sterling Spencer and his forsaking of contests and going the traditional structures in order to carve his own path.
Spencer’s vision held true. After decades during which legacy surf publications folded and the glow of contests dimmed, the longstanding route for promoting the sport and its participants has almost entirely vanished. Surfers remade it, cultivating their own audiences through the digital world and in turn altering the way professionals map their careers. The value of stories told by surfers soon eclipsed the world rankings, and a carefully crafted persona garnered more currency than contest results.
The piece transitions to Dane Reynolds and how he too became truly famous without contests and then to Jamie O’Brien…
With weekly videos that follow his life on the North Shore of Oahu and abroad, O’Brien has gained 655,000 YouTube subscribers, 10,000 more than the World Surf League.
Alana Blanchard, 30, followed a similar path after leaving the World Surf League’s tour in 2015. Her 1.8 million Instagram followers dwarf the number of her former sponsor Rip Curl by 800,000. O’Brien and Blanchard didn’t just get past the gatekeepers. They leveled the whole structure.
“Ten years after I quit surfing, I became a professional surfer through making YouTube videos,” said Graeff, who is known as Ben Gravy. His career took off when a 2017 video of him surfing off a ferry’s wake in his native New Jersey went viral.
And by the time your eyes find the last line, a quote from Justin Quintall saying, “You are your own media outlet…” tears are also streaming out of them, landing softly on your customized Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch placemats.
A hit piece.
The Gray Lady just carried out a hit piece on your World Surf League.