Brodie Carr's Only Interview
Story by Derek Rielly
Portraits by Richie Freeman
Brodie Carr, the soon-to-be-former CEO of the Association of Surfing Professionals, inhales a cocktail of Cuban rum and French randy, stands up and grips both sides of a nearby table populated by two plucked and painted middle-aged Australian women. With a flourish he says:
"Ladies, I need a job."
It's two weeks since Brodie took the hit for Kelly's world title miscalculation, he'll wrap his CEO gig in January after six years, and, well, he ain'ts too sure what's up there on the shelf for him. All he knows is he wants to taste Cuba before Fidel's bro switches from commo to cappo (and ruins the joint, according to Brodie). His French gal Julie, mother of his infant daughter Angelina, organises events for Swiss watch maker Swatch, including the women's surfing event in China, so he's got a bit of a hand in that.
On this sun-swept late Bali afternoon, late enough in the year to be cooled by the onshore trades but not so late to be soaked in monsoonal rain, these women light up like Christmas trees.
Brodie Carr, all six-two of him, might've just clicked into the middle years himself, but with Hollywood teeth (whitened in Florianapolis at the suggestion of tour manager Renato Hickel), wrinkle-free skin and dressed in the uniform of the upmarket recreational surfer (black tee, black shorts, black Nike Frees, black trucker) he looks 30, max.
"What can you do?" they say.
"He's the former head of professional surfing," I say.
"Yes," says one, impatiently. "But, what can he do?"
It's a very good question.
He might've thrown himself in front of a bus for it, but Kelly's world title miscalculation comes down to an Excel spreadsheet and a third-party ratings system provided by Canadian group MemberPro that weren't modified when the ASP made a rule change in the middle of the year. In previous years, if there was a tie at the end of the season, the higher-ranked surfer from the previous year was awarded the title. Therefore, applying this rule, Kelly Slater, who'd won the 2010 world tile, would win the 2011 title even if he’d tied with Owen Wright. Howevs, the rule was changed in the middle of the year to a sudden-death surf off in the event of a tie.
But, no one changed the software.
And, so, when Kelly slid past Dan Ross, who was having the heat of his life, World Tour Manager Renato Hickel, Brazil checked his ratings, double-checked 'em with ASP International Tour Manger Al Hunt, Australia, and both agreed: Kelly had won.
But, he hadn't.
And, the response, by content hungry media and paranoid online vultures, was as predictable as it was overblown. The bottom line was, for Kelly to win for reals, all he had to do was win one more heat in San Francisco or simply paddle out at Pipe. The chance of a tie was virtually zero.
And, the talk about previous world titles being announced too early 'cause of the defect? Ain't true. It was the mid-year rule change that caused the hiccup.
In other words, big deal.
Still, Brodie Carr, the CEO who'd been hired by the ASP in 2006 for his expertise in running the Sydney Olympics, a man who's serious about business and for whom integrity is everything, felt that someone had to fall on a sword to redeem the organisation’s credibility.
Renato Hickel offered to resign.
Brodie, being Brodie, took what he believed to be the only honourable option. Without a job in the wings, and with a baby born right as the shit hit the fan, literally, his kid was spat out just as his phone lit up about the mix-up, he handed back the keys to the ASP.
Goodbye 200k a year job. Hello job market as the world slides into recession.
"Let's get the damn punch," says Brodie, as we sit, faces into the sun at Potato Head, a beachfront bar in Seminyak, Bali.
Brodie wanted to do one post-ASP interview only to get his story out. He chose Stab, with me or Charlie Smith writin' the words. Brodie might be serious about his work, but he has a bit of the devil inside hence his unusual choice.
I get the first Jetstar flight with cheapish biz class seats to Bali and arrive late in the evening on the presumption that we'll get a lil boozy, crash out, surf and interview the following day. Turns out he's in hospital puking his guts up (and other explosions), sick as hell with gastro, and can't meet until the morning.
When he does appear, on a small black Honda motorcycle, head protected by an open-face helmet decorated with a Mod sticker, I'm surprised at how fresh he appears. The human body is excellent at self-repair and the mechanism of vomiting is its prime weapon.
And so, we surf Canggu, eat squid and fish tacos at a hipster joint called Sea Life, then set-up shop at Potato Head for the sundowner interview that follows.
Stab: Why did you quit the ASP?
I guess off-the-record first, for laughs, and an on the record version for the poor bastards I'm going to feed your propaganda to. Off-the-record, well, it was…it was… a big screw-up. There needed to be some sort of significant action taken because of it, a way of saying to the world that this wasn't a joke. That it was damaging.
Damaging to whom? To the brand and to the ASP's image. Because you want your sport to be taken legitimately. You want your sport to be seen as the best in the world. And, to get the single most important thing wrong (the world title) is a massive screw-up. So, there had to be some action. Renato wanted to resign over it and he tended his resignation to me. I didn’t want him to resign because he’s a great asset to the tour and so when we discussed it, I offered mine. I also felt that Renato was more…more… ah… I don’t know how to say this…
That he had more invested, personally, in the tour? Yeah, that he had more invested in the tour and he’s more… for christ's sake… (suddenly distracted by a parade of Italian gals in plunging one-piece swimsuits)… and I just think it’s good for the CEO to change, to rotate, every so often, to bring new enthusiasm, to constantly evolve the tour and the ASP.
Hadn't the job started to shit you anyway and that it wasn't that big a deal to walk away? Yeah, look, I was getting towards the end of my tenure. It's a glamourous job in the eyes of most people but you wake up every day, the hard hat's on and you're off to the construction site. It's a tougher job than you'd imagine.
What's the first thing you'd tell the new CEO? That no one's your friend. Dear new CEO, you have the support of no one. From today, you need to gather support otherwise you're doomed.
Talk to me about the importance of having Kelly on the tour and about how you personally intervened to make sure he didn't quit in 2010, almost losing your job in the process… The simple truth is, I didn't want to be the ASP CEO who lost Kelly Slater from the tour. Coming into his 10th world title he was close to leaving and I made sure I was instrumental in making him stay there. Kelly and his management were adamant about making changes to his contract with the ASP (each surfer has a contract with the ASP agreeing, essentially, that they won't surf in non-ASP sanctioned events). The rebel tour was around so we were very cautious about making some changes to his contract. And, sure, there was a risk in changing his contract, but it was more risky for us to lose him.
So what did y'do? I took the decision on my own head to agree on a contract just for him. That was different to everyone else's. I headed to the board meeting and said, "Well, the good news is we've got Kelly on tour and… ahhhh… the bad news is he has a different contract to everyone else."
And what was the immediate response? The board immediately said, you don't have the authority to do that by yourself. And, I said, well it's done and told 'em I didn’t want to lose him off the tour while I was CEO. The board was willing to sack me over that. And, I was willing to go over it.
That was quite a game of brinkmanship. Was it a big decision or was it a no brainer? It was a no-brainer. My gut feeling was Kelly wanted to win a world title by beating the best in the world. Kelly wanted to win an undisputed world title and a rebel tour wouldn't have provided that. He wants that. He strives for that. He wants to beat Joel and Mick and Jordy. Maybe if he didn't win the first event or didn't do well in the first three or four events, maybe he would've retired, but that's always been his kinda line. And then he came out and won 10! And, I was proud of him!
Was the rebel tour real or a theoretical? The rebel tour was real, f'sure. One hundred per cent real. And, I wanted it to stay to allow us to fuel some changes that ASP needed to make. It was a great catalyst for that. But, specfically, was it real, yes it was real. Was it going to happen? It was going to struggle because the main reason I could see was access to venues. Like, we had all the venues, we have a lot of the best waves on tour signed up. Y'know, competition's a great thing. And, the great drawback of the ASP is it's a monopoly so it's a challenge to constantly push the business to be the best it can be because you're not competing with anyone. And so, when the rebel tour came along as a potential competitor, it made us look internally at ourselves, made us ask ourselves, what are we providing? Is this tour the most exciting tour? Are we structured the best way we can be? Are we doing the best we can? And, the answers we got to a lot of those questions was… no. The tour was stale. Going to the same locations every year can be stale. The idea was reducing the field to have the best talent in the world, making it more exclusive, increasing the prizemoney. This year (2011) alone, two-and-a-half mill alone for the Prime series. It's massive!
How about the mid-tour cutoff? (Note: this interview was taped before the ASP did a switcharoo and cancelled the wildly successful cut-off. The tour, y'see, is run by the surfers. It don't exist as a benevolent keeper of surf fan entertainment and, therefore, with careers at risk and no one at the helm, the cutoff was trashed.) It works. Before, we’d have to wait a year to see guys like Dane or Jordy or Gabriel on tour even though they'd qualified within six months. I mean, we want the best guys… NOW. It's incredible the excitement it brings to the Prime events. We don't have 12 world tour events, we have 24. There’s something exciting every day of the week. And to see Gabriel Medina, the kid is just… blowing up.
Describe to me the feeling of vindication when Gabriel won in France? When Gabriel came to France, Julian too, those two were at the forefront and you could tell Kelly and Taj were thinking, can we hold on here? I remember I walked into Renato's office after Gabriel won and we both looked at each other and said: there you have it. There's the proof the system works. And then he won again. Does anyone need any further proof? The system works. And when you ask the punters – I love to ask people, especially when they don't know who I am – who do you want to watch and they'll tell you, we want to watch Kolohe, we want to watch Gabriel. The other great thing is these guys perform in waves that most people surf in every day.
Y'think think the tour structure is nailed? If you want surfing to progress, the surfers and events need to get out of their old ways. A hybrid system will never work. You either commit to a two-tier or a true one ranking. A true one ranking is the most exciting and dynamic kind of system for professional surfing. It allows everyone to compete against everyone with the cream rising to the top.
Has the arrival of Gabs and Kolohe diminished the importance of having Reynolds on the tour at any cost? In the past, I was worried that we needed Dane and then I went to the US Open and I saw Kolohe, John John, Miguel, Gabriel, and I was, like, oh dear Dane, we don't need you on tour. You need to stay on tour. You fall off the tour and, mate, they're not just going to step into your shoes, they're going to put them on and run with them. These kids, they want to win, and they're there for that sole reason. Pro surfing has killed freesurfing. The best surfing is happening on tour. All the media attention is on pro surfing.
Describe the condition you found the tour in when you arrived? When I arrived in 2005, the ASP was insolvent.
How did the bills get paid? They didn't. There was no repayment of debt. We were on the verge of extinction. We were relying on getting our fees up front from the brands and using that money to survive through the year, hoping to make it. We were borrowing money from events or brands. It was surviving, but only just.
It sure was an undignified state for the ASP to be in. No one really knew. It was a very poor, very, very poor financial situation. So, over the next five or six years, we worked really hard. But at the same time as repaying debt, moving from a negative balance sheet to a positive balance sheet, you have the other side of the table, the surfers, wanting more money and more services. In six years, we’re there. Last year, we were positive. It's great to see the business in a healthy financial position. It could be better. My vision was to have two million dollars sitting in the bank, a rainy day account in case an event is cancelled or to invest in new technology that will blow people's minds. But, that's for the next guy.
What's bin' the CEO of the ASP involve? You're constantly, constantly, selling the tour. Constantly chasing new events and selling how good the tour is to the sponsors you've already got. It's a constant sell to reinvest and to grow. But, this year, the men's tour has sold out (of event licenses), Primes are sold out, we've got a Masters event, events in China, New York, Italy. For me, this is the best damn year the ASP has ever had. Incredible. One hundred and eighty five events. We have a massive event every day of the week. I just hope that continues when I’m gone.
How about Bob Martinez? What's your relationship like with that feisty devil? Do you think he's okay? He seems to've fallen on the CAPS LOCK button on his computer…Bobby has some good points but he chose the wrong way to express them. I met with him at the US Open. I went and found him and I said, "Hey Bobby, can I have a talk to you?" He said, "Why, y'wanna fine me again?" I said, "Hang on, calm down, we just wanna know… are you alright?" And he goes, "Why wouldn't I be alright?" I just said, it's possibly better to tell me your thoughts and I'll take 'em to the board rather than you venting publicly. It started out really frosty. I think he has to carry that shield of he's Bobby and he's a minority, but then, underneath that shield, he's actually genuine and has a good heart. Once we got into it, he gave me his views and told me what he didn't like about the new system and we talked about that, we talked about the WPS (World Professional Surfers, a quasi-union of pro surfers) and he told me he disliked them and told me he didn't think they were doing a great job and even though I agree with him on that front for a number of reasons I went, okay, great, I'll take all that back, but please mate, try not to just come out in the public and shit-can the ASP. Then he went to New York and he'd already had three fines, man, they totalled 25-grand US in total for the year, and he won the heat, he had no reason to, it was premeditated. The disciplinary committee took action. I thought it was appropriate and it was unfortunate for Bobby but, you know, any other sport would’ve possibly had a harsher penalty.
Harsh? Harsher would've been to shoot him. Ha! I mean a bigger fine, longer off tour.
How about Reynolds not turning up to contests? Does he pay his fines? They all pay their fines. It comes out of their prizemoney.
How much has Reynolds had to cough up? He's been fined significantly, greater than $25,000 in total. We adjusted the rules during the year and now it's quite heavy – it can be up to 50k for missing an event. And, if you miss three events without being injured you're automatically suspended for the next three. If Dane didn't turn up to San Fran he was going to be out for the next three.
I can't see Dane weeping about a three-bit suspension. Anyway, let's wrap this thing and get in the pool with the Italianos. Tell me, what's the biggest myth about the ASP? That the ASP is profiteering and making millions and millions of dollars. It's really resource poor. And, for what we produce and the resources we have, I think it's amazing. The salaries are really low but people are passionate about achieving wonderful things despite pushing against some pretty big hurdles and often with both hands tied behind their back: minimal (if any) budget, surfers wanting one thing (with a surfers' union constantly undermining the ASP at every turn), events wanting another, a challenged board structure and they do it all for very little money. Everyone at the ASP is there because they are fans and they want to see good surfing. It really is as simple as that.