The surfing world is divided after it was revealed that if the Association of Surfing Professionals did not revamp the world tour, a breakaway series could be created by ESPN and IMG. That's all fine and well but the contentious issue is down to who initiated this movement. It is generally accepted that Kelly Slater's manager has been in talks with ESPN and IMG. Slater, himself, has also admitted to attending a few meetings. But this is where the confirmation ends and as much as I feel Slater has his 'spoilt little shit' moments, I do think he is being blamed unnecessarily for this revolt.
I feel the need to add my own opinion on the ASP and Slater despite the fact that it makes no difference to the outcome of this revolt:
-The ASP has never been progressive but it has been solid. And as a result of this professional surfing is still operating extremely well in the background but it is far from pushing the limits. I'm a huge fan of the heavy dudes throwing huge slow turns but current locations don't allow for that so all the heavy dudes who used to rule have been forced off tour because they aren't performing. (Thanks Lowey, it was epic.) Many of the current contest locations favour aggressive riding yet the judging panel don't really reward arials. (Good luck Jordy.) So I ask you ASP, where do you sit? You look confused.
-Slater has won 9 world titles, and given up on maybe 3 because he's not sure whether it's what he wants to do. His mind is unique- if he wants it, it's his. If he doesn't care, it's his. If he thinks he needs it, he will lose. If the world is coming down on him he will either run away or he will fight to the death and come up trumps. But either way, he is progressive and when he wants something he goes out to get it. Punters can bitch and moan about him being ungrateful toward pro surfing, which has given him everything but he has pushed the limits of surfing as far as it can go. Now he needs to lift the competition itself to a higher stage.
The ASP world tour has been stagnant for many years- through no fault of their own- partly because they are forced to conduct comps in shit waves because that's where the fan base and sponsorship money is. Japan had bad waves but the comp remained for years because the fan base was huge and the money was there. All non-Brazilian surfers hate the Brazil comp because the waves are often rubbish, but the fan base is massive, so the tour stop remains, year after year.
So I, the humble spectator, unofficial crude (off-record) commentator, BBQ Crew selector, and sometime (when I can get out of the UK) surfer have 3 solutions to this problem:
1) Up the internet coverage.
2) Improve the WCT locations.
3) Introduce a tennis style Masters Series. (Yes, that's right and you know it.)
1) Billabong have led the way when it comes to internet coverage of surfing events. With the exception of John Shimooka (who is at Rip Curl) Billabong have the most educated, respected and likeable commentators involved in their coverage. (GT, Ronnie Blakey, Occy, Louie- keep up the good work!) More importantly they manage to maintain the greatest connection during the coverage. Boost Mobile could learn a lot... Rip Curl and Quiksilver do a great job but one of the ideas put forward by Terry Hardy (Slater's manager) was that internet coverage be standardised for each event. I agree and I will settle for nothing less than Billabong showing the others how it's done.
2) I'm certainly no expert on sports advertising. In fact, I'm immune to advertising so I have no place offering ideas right here. But what I hope for is that the advent of better internet coverage would increase sponsor exposure and reduce the need to have a large physical crowd at each event. Lucan, add your comments at the bottom. I'd perform due dilligence for this article by calling you but you're probably asleep and I'm probably lazy. This would allow locations like Japan and Brazil to fade quicker than a hypercolour t-shirt and make room for quality locations. (Did someone just say G-Land?)
3) Yes, you heard right. A Masters Series. Not, as in an over 600 year old category but the best of each year competing for the big coin. Brett and I strongly disagree with the commercial aspects of professional surfing but together we found a nice compromise, which I feel is the best option I've seen so far. The top 8 (my idea) or the top 15 (brett's idea) are selected from the year of regular WCT events and those invited pros compete in a one-off event for seriously large coin. This is the showcase event for the sport, which sells out to IMG and ESPN. They can bastardise it however they like but the ASP should keep running great events as they have for over 30 years (with minor location and judging criteria changes). The aim is that ESPN work their magic and get big ratings/ sponsors and therefore big prize money and give the top 20 something to work towards. The rest of the top 44 are working towards requalifying for next year. This will hopefully up the game for everybody on tour.
We don't need an NRL Super League/ Soccer Premiere League or A Series/ or Kerry Packer's Cricket league. But the Athletics Golden League and Tennis Master's series are great examples of how to lift the stakes and the audience of the sport, without killing the day to day competition. The details will be nutted out over many more beers, but you get the drift. I don't think the WCT is broken, it can just be updated. I also don't think a breakaway league is warranted, we just need a single sell-out option once a year to lift surfing's profile without ruining everything it stands for.