It’s A Brave New World For The WSL Webcast
“It’s never ‘okay we did it,’ it’s always ‘next time let’s try this.” – Joey Turpel.
It’s easy to long for the intoxicated, 360px era of the ASP webcast. Back when Andy Irons would lose heats and subsequently smash all his belongings in the locker room, when Sunny Garcia fired stones at the judge’s tower and shook the scaffolding while the ASP men’s tour manager Renato Hickel, held on for dear life. The days when Johnny Boy Gomes would paddle back out at Pipe and shout death threats to his competitors if they dared to turn on a good one and beat him. It was a different, hardy, heady time. Unless of course, you were Rob Machado, then you just high-five’d Kelly Slater in the semis of the ’95 Pipe Masters and watched the King win his third title while being one heat and a missed hand slap away from your first.
From dawn ’till dusk. That’s a whole lot of chatter, lulls, and different ways to talk about the tube monster.
In the past few years, the guard’s changed. Which happened around the time Bobby Martinez – who’d still be dropping nines and tens on the CT – famously said, “I don’t want to be part of this dumb fucking wannabe tennis tour,” with the loveliest shit eating grin that’s ever blessed a live webcast. Or when our beloved, and dashingly handsome Dooms Fahrenfort and Jake “Snake” Patterson were fired from the commentator booth for betting beers on a Joel Parko vs Marc Lacomare heat. Because according to Snake, the Judges would reward Joel “world title points,” hinting that whoever had the title in their grasp got the upper hand…sound familiar?
Yeah, Joey T gets out there and moves some water.
Today, thanks to the WSL, Samsung, Mick Fanning, a shark, and Kelly Slater, surfing is mainstream; it’s the fertiliser to the industry’s dusty soil. Bring on Dior, Alexander Wang, Mr Porter, Van Heusen, Courrèges and the Olympics. Fuck it, more eyes and more money are a life raft for the industry. At this point, nothing about competitive surfing’s counterculture. And, no matter how you miss the LSD-riddled days of Morning of the Earth, old …Lost films, Wave Warriors and Ward Stories, the fact of the matter is, this is our watered down reality, and for competitive surfing to survive, it’s necessary. Still, no one’s stopping you from camping, eating psychedelics, crushing beer cans on your forehead and surfing. And, as a bonus, free surfing’s bigger than ever!
Rondog ain’t just a pretty face with a voice made of silk.
“The hardest part about commentating surfing is the length of the contest,” the most recognisable voice in surfing, and one of nicest gents to hit a commentary booth since Vin Scully; Mr Joey Turpel tells Stab. “Some days you’re up at dark, watching the sunrise and closing the show at sunset. Most events on tour we run the men and the women combined. Compared to other sports, like basketball or football, where the games finish in a few hours, in surfing, a few hours pass and you’re only through half of round one. And it takes a couple of weeks to decide a winner. That’s why you’re left with more than what a two-hour game can give you. The ocean’s unpredictable; it keeps the whole production team on their toes. You have to find the right balance between letting the ocean and surfers lead, storytelling in-between and being in sync with the producers’ agenda and commercial breaks. The challenge is compelling because it’s all live.”
Dear Rosy, probably rips harder than you.
After the now notorious heat of Gabriel Medina vs Tanner Gudang at Lowers some back, seeing Ross Williams and Barton Lynch disagree with the judges’ decision was refreshing. In a webcast that’s traditionally gingerbread, this year the team has found the balance between fact and opinion. And if facts are gingerbread then opinions are the gumdrop buttons. “Having an opinion has always been there,” says Joe. “The way you share it is the important part. Opinion has helped our sport evolve for 40 years. You just have to own your statements and explain why you feel that way. The judges have no mics and surfing is subjective, so we need to be able to balance it with point of view.”
“Having guys like Ross, Pete (Mel) and Pottz break down scores is great. Ross is good at connecting people to each turn, describing how they work with each section of the wave and translating it to the numbers. Pete’s always honest, he’s not afraid to be wrong, which is cool. He spends a lot of time in the judge’s tower and gets familiar with the scale. And, Pottz as a world champ spent his career talking to the judges with world titles on the line. He brings an insight on what losing by .5 means to the surfers.”
Strider hails from the meagre surf of Los Angeles, but the gent can handle his own in Chope’s cylinders.
The energy of the commentary team is laser-sharp. You can feel it while you stream in hi-res from the comfort of your couch. “The commentary booth feels a lot bigger than the past,” says Joe on keeping active during downtime. “We can do a lap around the whole area with the team. We send the convo from the booth with myself and Pottz, to the water with Pete, to the athlete area with Strider (Wasilewski), to the desk with Rosy and Kaipo (Guerrero) and back to the booth again. So during a day with long lulls, our directors do a great job to link everyone in on the conversation. A long lull is now an opportunity to check out surfboards in the locker room, catch up with coaches and tell the different stories around the event.”
Come on Pottz, bring back the gloves!
We believe respect is due where respect’s deserved. The webcast is breathing new life into surfing, and competition’s never been so compelling (considering that this year, concerning wave quality’s been a sad affair). From the yellow jersey to the hideous, yet lucrative Slater 11, Medina 10, Gilmore 88, and John John 12 singlets that pollute the shores of any CT event, to the new This is SportsCenter-esq ads, the corporate sponsorship, brilliant use of tech and global appeal we’re inclined to clasp our hands and say bravo.
Still, there’s room to grow. And today, we’re witnessing a tight-knit webcast unlike surfing’s ever seen. The evolution is right where it belongs. “The stats on heat performance will get better,” says Mr Turpel. “You’ll be getting more facts, like if a surfer gets an eight or better, how likely it is they’ll go on to win the heat. As the tour grows so does our staff. It’s amazing to look back and see how far it’s come.” And, Joe’s been in the commentating booth since ’07, starting with the select events for the gals. This is his seventh season working full-time. “There is never a feeling of ‘ok we did it’ and that’s it. It’s always like ‘next time let’s try this.’ And I think with that kind of head space it’ll continue to get better.”
The Waz and the Ross on a mid-day, post surf stroll. How candid! How lovely!
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