"Rumors swirled before the pandemic that he was shopping the league around for a sale at a price of $150 million."
Forbes magazine wealth intern Isabelle “I write about billionaires” Bousquette has lifted the veil on surfing’s great cultural battlefield for American mainstream readers, casting Dirk Ziff’s WSL-led VALS in one corner and BeachGrit’s so–called grumpy locals in the other.
In a very long piece, thousand-plus words, too long probs won’t read etc, Bousquette examines the money Ziff has poured into the WSL hole, “He invested $25 million into the league in 2012 and subsequently became the majority owner, pouring in at least $25 million more, according to a 2017 lawsuit filed by a former investor” and the role the Olympics might play in giving the League an opening into the fabled millions of middle-America fans sought but never caught.
Ziff’s World Surf League has already seen a 25% increase in hours of online content watched by viewers of its first six events of 2021, compared with the first six events two years ago, according to Erik Logan, the league’s CEO. “People are excited about surfing because it’s in the Olympics,” Logan says.
There’s a bit of history about the takeover of the ASP, the aforementioned lawsuit which says former CEO Paul Speaker was sacked and bought out for twelve-million dollars and examines the failure of its plan to leverage the KS pool and “build-out of a global network of WSL-branded high-performance training centers utilizing this wave technology.”
BeachGrit swings in midway through.
The reclusive billionaire has been a polarizing figure for many in the surfing community. Some have seen his quest for a mainstream audience as alienating to the core surf community. Specifically, one irreverent online publication known as BeachGrit has positioned itself as a nemesis to Ziff, writing headlines like: “If you were drowning, and co-waterperson of the year Dirk Ziff was in the water, would you feel confident?”
Also cameo-ing is Sean Doherty, the owner of Surfing World magazine who says the WSL is running a fool’s errand.
Yet it remains to be seen whether surfing can ever enter the mainstream. Sean Doherty, who’s covered the industry since 1997 for various publications and now owns Surfing World Magazine, isn’t optimistic. “[Surf brands] have always believed that there’s a huge mainstream audience, particularly in America, who don’t surf but, if surfing was presented the right way, would engage with it,” he says. “The previous incarnation of the sport learned that this was always fool’s gold and it’s never really existed.”
And will Ziff keep pouring his cash into the WSL hole?
It took 12 years after its Olympic debut for snowboarding to find a Shaun White, and it’s unclear how long Ziff will continue backing the WSL. Rumors swirled before the pandemic that he was shopping the league around for a sale at a price of $150 million. The WSL declined to comment on these rumors.