Two commentators walk into a club

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Words by Derek Rielly

So-called controversial round two heat with French wildcard Marc Lacomare, and world champ Joel Parkinson, ends tenure of webcast commentators Jake Paterson and Damien Fahrenfort… 

Who might these loose-lipped, suddenly de-frocked mic jockeys be? Let's zoom in and investigate! Jake Paterson is a one-time Pipe Master who rode the tour circus as both a competitor and tour rep; Damien "Dooma" Fahrenfort didn't get that far, but has leveraged his talent on a surfboard into a career at Quiksilver and, lately, as Stab's US presence. They ain't novices when it comes to surfing. The pair, and particularly Jake, are deeply aware of the machinations of heats and the tour.

Why was this particular heat controversial? It was close, sure, dull, certainly, at least if rad surfing's your kink. If you were a blood relative or of the same nationality as the French wildcard Marc Lacomare, however, you might've called it controversial.

Bottom line, the French kid got better waves (lefts, mostly) but surfed in that wide-stanced, horizontal style peculiar to the heavily coached; the current world champ surfed a burger-y right, but in a superior manner. Hence why Joel's the Champ and Marc is still kicking it in the in-between leagues.

Whatevs, it's a subjective sport and, depending on your view, either surfer could've won. The judges went with Joel.

But as is the case in these superficially democratic times where any couch or office bound fan is gifted a voice, a handful of hysterical online comments on the outcome as well as an email from someone on top describing the pair as "amateurs", appear to've gotten into the head of the ASP's Tour Manager Renato Hickel.

Here's a taste of the online hysteria.

From Ivan, froth dog: "The most interesting in the story Parko/Marco is the silence of the mags/websites. I live in France, and here too none of the mags or website talked about it, even if it is a french man who got robbed!"

And Joel M: "You're right, the surf media has yet to publicly recognized the magnitude of what happened in this heat…This pro season has had its share of inconsistent judging but nothing as outrageous as this one heat. Will it be a deal breaker to an expanding disillusioned fan base? Time will tell."

Now, if you were watching in real time you would've heard a breezy commentary from a couple of likeable former pro's. The situation is this.

Marc has taken a wave and tagged it to the sand; Joel gets his biggest wave of the heat so far and drops three turns. It's close. Marc has clearly increased the wave score Joel needs to win with his last wave, but Joel has just caught a good wave behind him. The heat ends. The winner is to be decided.

And, while the beach, and the online world, waits for the result this exchange takes place between the commentators.

Jake: "I don't know. I'm going to leave it up to the professionals. That's what they get paid for…"

Dooma: "Let's leave t up to the judges. It's going to be a crazy finish."

Jake: "(Bet a) Beer on it?"

Dooma: "I don't know. I have a feeling they'll give it to Joel."

Jake: "World title points?"

(Jake is referring to the theory that a reigning champ tends to get through close heats through a bias that is either outright or subconscious.)

Joel wins.

The message boards inflate with the usual and hardly new hits from self-styled judges. The fix is in! It's about betting! About the American-Australian Surfing-Industrial Complex!

Paranoid, yeah? Noise in the air? Of course. Forgotten in a second? Definitely. Ain't a thing for anyone to cry about.

But the inference of "world title points", of bias, deeply offends Tour Manager Hickel and leads to Quiksilver dropping the pair from the commentary booth.

In an email to Jake's masters at Quiksilver, Hickel writes: "To have Web Announcers betting beers, guessing judges scores in almost every single wave, and  telling thousands of web viewers that Joel would receive World Title bonus points, is completely unacceptable! A stain on a great Webcast."

Jake responds: "I had a look at the heat review of Joel's heat and didn't see anything to bad all. Nothing worth your rude email. I think you need have another look at the heat your self. As for betting beers what a joke. You really think its unacceptable!! That is a strong word. I take offence to you saying that I am making a mockery of pro surfing. I love the sport and don't think I have done anything wrong."

I gotta note here on Hickel's behalf that in earlier heats Damien and Jake were spectacularly wrong in their scoring of waves. Even your ol pal DR, whose surf skills consist of hoisting himself up on one knee in the whitewash and yelling "TUBE!", gets within a half a point most waves. Ain't no wonder the fans at home were confused.

A bit of back and forth followed before Jake concluded with, "Yes can't wait to see how boring the web cast is next year. Good luck with that.…"

And, there, is the problem.

Not the heat, not the judging, not the structure that is modern professional surfing but the gagging of occasional criticism "for the good of the sport" and creating limits on what can be said by commentators. Jake and Dooma aren't the hilarious radicals they might think they are. And Jake's voice has all the tonal range of a deaf child who has suddenly learned to speak.

But there's a point in there that if a commentator feels like a few loose words can cost him his job, well…

…hello vanilla!

And nobody like vanilla…