ESPN pivots to surfing
ESPN pivots to surfing

World Surf League inks sexy deal with “worldwide leader in sports” ESPN to air 2024 Championship Tour

"A fantastic opportunity to bring (surfing) to more viewers and new audiences across different platforms..."

A constant drumbeat of the World Surf League becoming rapidly unviable has grown louder and louder in recent days. Two of the greatest surfers ever, one Carissa Moore and Stephanie Gilmore, have chosen to step away, announcing retirement plans directly before the season. The vacated office of CEO has yet to be filled after Erik Logan’s spectacular departure. The PR interns are very in over their teenaged heads and Filipe Toledo has already been inked to win the next three tours.

Though the stink of failure merely being used as camouflage to mask unprecedented growth and success?


For, hours ago, it was revealed that the entire 2024 Championship Tour will be aired on “the worldwide leader in sports.”

Cherie Cohen, WSL Chief Revenue Officer responsible for wins like Bailey Ladders, declared, “Working with ESPN this season is a fantastic opportunity to bring the sport to more viewers and new audiences across different platforms in the United States. They are the biggest name in sports content in the USA, and this agreement offers us the opportunity to share surfing with the millions of subscribers across their digital properties as well as on linear television.”

ESPN vice president of programming and acquisitions, Tim Reed, winked, “We are thrilled to showcase the 2024 WSL Championship Tour across ESPN platforms. Distributing the WSL CT live events rights on ESPN+ provides our audiences full access to the premier surf tour, where the top men and women will compete for the championship crown at legendary surf spots all over the world. The WSL CT is a great addition to the platform and live competitive surfing will fit well alongside an already significant content offering. We look forward to kicking off the season in Hawaii next week.”

Now, do you image that viewership of professional surfing will explode? Surfing and ESPN have a nice relationship as it relates to the famed Body Issue.

Kelly Slater in ESPN's Body Issue.
Kelly Slater in ESPN’s Body Issue.

Pure sex.

Somehow, the news did not make ESPN’s main feed.

More as the story develops.

Brazil's Filipe Toledo basking in glory.
Brazil's Filipe Toledo basking in glory.

Brazil tightens stranglehold around competitive professional surfing after Nazaré sweep

Brazil's surfing domination now officially recognized by "the most trusted name in news."

Days ago, the world marveled as Portugal’s Nazaré turned on for the Tudor Big Wave Challenge. While the event didn’t get the grandest surf, leaving haters hating, it was certainly contestable and, at the end, two worthy champions held their trophies high. On the men’s side Lucas Chumbo. On the women’s, Maya Gabeira. Pedro “Scooby” Vianna might have won something too. All, in any case, hailing from the land of progress and order.

CNN, which bills itself as the “the most trusted name in news,” logged the event thusly: Brazil dominates ‘magical’ Nazaré Big Wave Challenge as swells reach almost 40 feet.

Brazil dominates and this is true not only of big wave surfing but, as every surf fan knows, of tiny waves as well. When, two years ago, World Surf League, which bills itself as “the global home of surfing,” decided to crown champions at Lower Trestles instead of Pipeline, it essentially guaranteed a decade long run of Filipe Toledo wins. The surfing portion of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was won by Brazil. The surfing portion of the 2024 Teahupo’o Olympics will not be won by Brazil, thanks to the aforementioned bravest coward, but that will merely be a small hiccup with Brazil locked to win the 2028 Los Angeles Games and the 2032 Brisbane Games too.

Brazil ad infinitum.

Well earned and well deserved.

How long, though, do you image those who are fortunate enough to sing “Hino Nacional Brasileiro” at full voice will feel marginalized and ignored by the powers that be?

Five more years?


Until the global home of surfing moves from its California-based veterinarian office to a gleaming suite in Brasilia?

Well, for now they have CNN even though a new report has just come out revealing that the 24-hour news network is being beaten in the ratings by the History Channel and “an obscure Western network.”

The stinking west.

Always meddling in Brazil’s rise to glory.

Average surfer
Average surfer doin' his wide-stance shuffle on a wave.

“The rapid digitisation and monetisation of online surf tutorials is a blight on surfing!”

So why, then, does Ombe Surf give our reporter a "tingling and goosebumps sensation?"

So there’s this online surf school. Ombe Surf. You may have seen it on YouTube, or in your Facebook ads. It’s one in a sea of many. Maybe you’ve signed up to it yourself.

Ombe’s a slick operation. Fronted by former South African pro Clayton Neinaber and his side-kick Anthony Laye. Based somewhere out of the Gold Coast, Australia.

Clayton is thin faced, wiry framed. His bookish spectacles, soft voice and reserved countenance give the impression of an accountant or government mandarin. But this belies his informed experience as a WQS surfer, shaper, and high-profile surf coach.

Clayton and Anthony from Ombe Surf
Clay and Tony from Ombe Surf.

Anthony, meanwhile, is the embodiment of the modern-day VAL. Tanned, handsome, barrel chested. Deep booming voice. Polished English accent. He’s articulate and endearing. As a relatively recent arrival to surfing, he’s the perfect foil to his South African counterpart, asking those dumb questions and interpreting Clayton’s sage advice so it can be easily consumed by the layperson.

Each week or thereabouts the pair break down famous surfers and their techniques on the Ombe YouTube channel. Ethan Ewing. Torren Martyn. Morgan Cibilic. Devon Howard.

Ostensibly the videos are prepared by the Ombe team as a free online resource for aspiring beginner and intermediate surfers to improve their technique. The tutorials are one of many digital assets they offer up front. There’s podcasts, live feeds etc.

The ultimate goal, beyond developing the capability and proficiency of the broader surfing public – the rising tide that lifts all boats – is to entice viewers behind the paywall.

Here you can access, as is my understanding:
* more detailed training
* bespoke feedback
* rigorous training courses etc.

All well and good. And, judging by their professional studio, customised merch and highly engaged social media platforms, it is a successful business model

I don’t mean for this to be an ad for Ombe. Online surf schools are a dime a dozen. I think the rapid digitisation and monetisation of surf tutorials is a blight on the sport.

But I derive a different pleasure from Ombe. One that I am sure was entirely unintended. Yet it is now equally as powerful for the Ombe team, in that it is spurring me to write about their offerings on the world’s second biggest* little surf website.

You see, I enjoy these online surf tutorial videos on an ASMR level.

“ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response; a term used to describe a tingling, static-like, or goosebumps sensation in response to specific triggering audio or visual stimuli. These sensations are said to spread across the skull or down the back of the neck and, for some, down the spine or limbs”

People have all types of kinks when it comes to ASMR. Whispering. Touching. The wet sopping of lips sinking into a fresh tuna steak. I won’t even go into x-rated versions.

But for me it’s an attention thing. Completely asexual. Born in the doctor’s room, as far as I can tell. One of my earliest memories is of the family GP writing out a prescription for some long-forgotten illness while I sat in mama’s lap. His hand resting on the thin transfer paper. Ballpoint pen softly clicking as he scrawled out his instructions. A look of serene concentration on his face. Something about the entire tableau put me into a momentary trance-like state.


It’s hard to describe the feeling if you haven’t experienced it. A warm fog envelops your body, soft yet heavy. Your mind in a transcendent haze.

I discovered other triggers as I grew older. Interstitial moments in life what would elicit this low-grade euphoria:
* Watching my father reading the newspaper.
* A finger being traced along a map.
* My wife looking for sunspots on my back.

And now, two grown men breaking down the mechanics of a Mick Fanning top turn on a YouTube surf tutorial.

There was a star danced, and under that was I born.

Let me take you to my star:

The Ombe online surf tutorial videos open with your typical schmaltyz introduction from Anthony, followed by cheese-ball opening credits. Some horrible dub-step-esque ‘amp up’ track likely purchased for free from a song library.

Ignore this.

Wait until Clayton appears. The intro fades. We are greeted with a split screen. The footage of Fanning takes precedence while Clayton and Anthony appear in a smaller window inset on the top left. There’s no annoying background music. Just gentle silence as they cue the tape.

Clayton explains what they will be looking at today: Mick’s speed and fluidity through turns, and the amount of ground he covers on the face of the wave due to the correct engagement of his rail.

All very important fundamentals, Clayton says.

But I don’t care, I don’t care. I just want to hear him talk. The background ambient noise from the mics whirs quietly as Clayton’s soft falsetto elongates the vowels and accentuates the consonants.

“See Mick wrapping this one around as his hands leave the rail. Now looking back down the line, all in one movement, it’s aaaabsolutely beau-tiful…”

His incantations float through the tinny laptop speakers and into my ears like lazy springtime clouds.

Anthony’s booming baritone momentarily disrupts my stupor, but it doesn’t take long for Clayton to breeze back in. The discord only further increases my response.

(Sidenote: All the great presenter duos go for this low/high pitched voice combination. Chuck D and Flavor Flav. Chas Smith and David Lee Scales.)

Clayton will regularly freeze frame the video, using a pen-tool to illustrate particular body movements, hand placements, directional changes. Other times he uses a small mouse pad to cue the footage in either direction.

Watch as Mick curls and uncurls. Curls. Uncurls.

Even the soft roll back and forth on the footage elicits a sensory response. You imagine Clayton’s slender finger rolling on the cool grey pad. Like an ultrasound wand gliding along smooth, lubricated skin.

Do you feel the softness? The tingling of the touch sending sensory signals sliding up and down your spine?

Maybe it’s just me.

On it goes.

There’s hours of the stuff. You can look it up online yourself. It’s all there. There for me to call on whenever I feel the need. Maybe after a particularly mind-numbing meeting, or a tough session in the water.

I’ve watched so many of these online surf tutorials just for my ASMR kicks that my top turn is improving purely through osmosis.

I wonder whether Clayton and Anthony realise this bliss they have created for me with their online surf tutorials?

Would they? Could they?

Or are they just two ignorant house painters accidentally producing a sensory Sistine Chapel?

Next week it’s Mikey Feb. Billed as an analysis of his effortless style. But it’s not February’s silky smooth surfing I’ll be tuning in and zoning out to.

What a wonderful gift this is. What an amazing world we live in.

Sam McIntosh (right) before realizing his big catch had been caught.
Sam McIntosh (right) before realizing his big catch had been caught.

Stab Magazine co-founder Sam McIntosh weeps bitterly into pillow after realization big catch Ben Gravy has already “been had!”

Love dashed.

The surf world was stunned, yesterday, after typically only accidentally controversial Stab Magazine lobbed purposeful wild accusations at some of history’s most beloved surfers. Co-founder Sam McIntosh, taking to email, informed his slack-jawed premium members that “Jordy Smith Sued For $500k As A Teenager For Trying To Change Sponsor” and “Why John Florence Didn’t Sign A $5m Rip Curl Deal And How He Turned Down The Volcom Pipe House As A Signing Bonus” plus “How Red Bull Dropped Andy Irons Because Of Cocaine Use.”

Truly shocking.

The Australian handsome McIntosh had kept those salacious nuggets hidden and quiet, according to his message, to nab prime talent for much-loved video projects like How Surfers Get Paid and Stab in the Dark. The biggest fish in his pond? New Jersey’s Ben Gravy.

The universally adored New Jersey novelty wave enthusiast is wonderfully interesting, McIntosh very much correct in chasing even after Gravy told him, “You won’t get me, dude.” Well, after enough inoffensive headlines, McIntosh revealed, “Spoiler: We got him.”

You can imagine the chagrin, today, then, when Stab‘s “prepubescent sincere surf journalists” learned that Gravy had already been had and by two swamp creatures in a wild ménage à trois.

Though do you remember Dirty Water episode 13, which premiered 4 years ago and featured Gravy speaking openly to BeachGrit, which is notable for its offensive headlines?

It’s ok if you need a little refresher. Feel free to do such here.

In any case, do you think Gravy being sullied makes Sam McIntosh very sad? Bitterly crying into his crisp pillow? One that previously cradled what he thought to be Gravy’s unsullied movie star handsome curls?

I’d argue it most certainly does.

Sad days wherever Stab calls home now.

Stephanie Gilmore retires
Stephanie Gilmore, on the Snapper Rocks racetrack. No tour in 2024, howevs.

World’s best-ever female surfer Stephanie Gilmore steps away from pro tour

"I have goals and dreams that I am still chasing – I’m excited for something fresh this year," says Stephanie Gilmore.

It ain’t a surprise to anyone who breezes through BeachGrit because, as predicted three days ago, eight-time world champ Stephanie Gilmore has stepped away from the pro tour, ostensibly for one year, likely forever.

Stephanie Gilmore, who turns thirty-six in one week, and who won her first world title in her rookie year of 2007, follows the five-time champ Carissa Moore into the sunset. Moore will surf her last WSL event Pipe but will defend her Olympic title at Teahupoo in July. 

Stephanie Gilmore made the announcement on Instagram, telling her seven-hundred thousand followers.

“I am planning to take this tour season off as a refresh for myself physically, mentally, and to enjoy following swells and free surfing in new places,” Gilmore writes.”I have some projects and trips I want to do, which haven’t been possible while traveling for the tour season. I am still passionate and dedicated to competing, and I have goals and dreams that I am still chasing – I’m excited for something fresh this year and I look forward to returning to competition in 2025.”

The zenith for Stephanie Gilmore’s career came in 2022 when she dominated Finals Day, starting in fifth place, mowing through all-comers before beating Carissa Moore in the winner-take-all surf-off.

A win for the ages, although Stephanie Gilmore was conflicted by the result, even as it gave her the record for most female world surf titles.

“I’d only ever won titles in the other fashion where you accumulate points through the season and the winner at the end is who has the most points,” Stephanie Gilmore said. “In this fashion you just try and make the top five and on the very final day the world’s best battle it out and that moment crowns a world champion. You could have a bad day and Carissa just wasn’t on that day. A big part of me still thinks the world champion should be crowned over all the different conditions, surfing is about being able to compete in all different kinds of waves and being successful all through the year.”


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Always nice to keep the door ajar, like, gonna come back in 2025 all fresh and hot and ooowee, but y’think Gilmore gonna return in her thirty-eighth year? Or she done for good?