Kelly Slater’s Nuanced Take On The West Oz Shark Issue
“The most vocal against haven’t had a great record at Margs so we can only be left to wonder if that played into the fear of surfing.”
Have you been out surfing lately?
If yes—and we really do hope it’s yes—you’ll have endured entire lineups talking about one thing and one thing only: “Can you believe the WSL cancelled the Margaret River Pro over a few measly sharks?”
A few weeks ago, all lineup chatter pertained to Zeke and John. This week it’s big, hungry fish.
And while it’s great that the surfing masses are in fact interested in the happenings and machinations of the Championship Tour, I can’t help but feel they’ve gotten this situation all wrong.
The WSL made the right call for a number of reasons. Kelly Slater even thinks so.
In a recent interview with ABC Australia, Kelly opined on the intricate shark situation surrounding the Margaret River Pro, and he provided a characteristically nuanced take.
“I’ll go with backing [the WSL’s] decision,” Slater said. “I can only speak for myself if I were there and I would choose to surf. But there were 100 whales washed up 20 minutes south of Margaret’s just a month ago which I’m sure is gonna make surfing around there a bit sharkier in coming months and years. So maybe the two shark instances the other day were just a precursor to the larger issue they might experience in the west in the near future. I hope not but we’ll see.”
Kelly’s referencing the recent mass-beaching at Hamelin Bay, a mere 35 clicks from Margaret’s, and a likely cause of the expansive shark activity in the region.
But Slater didn’t stop there.
He also posited a statistics-based analysis of which surfers called for the competition to end and why they might have done it.
“There are a few theories about who did and didn’t want to surf and the larger effects on the [world] rankings,” he said. “The most vocal against haven’t had a great record at Margs so we can only be left to wonder if that played into the fear of surfing.”
Of course, he’s talking about Gabby*, who in four attempts has never passed the quarters at Margies, and Italo, who (interestingly) has advanced to the semis once in two full events. Both surfers were into Round 3 of the 2018 event before it was called off.
However, Western Australia’s Tourism Minister, Paul Papalia, was not as subdued in his criticisms of the Tour’s more vocal competitors, nor the WSL’s response of terminating the event.
“[The WSL] have effectively decided that some surfers can drive which events they hold or not,” Mr Papalia told ABC. “That would be the equivalent of tennis players saying they’re not going to play the Australian Open because the weather’s too hot or something. I support the WSL … it was their decision to make, but I would just caution surfers, professional surfers, that their business is surfing. If you then put at jeopardy your future business because of a view, a personal view about one particular site, as opposed to any other particular site, then you’re putting at jeopardy your business.”
Papalia’s view comes off as spiteful and patronizing — which is not surprising given his vested interest in this event running as smoothly as possible — especially given the gravity of the current shark situation in WA.
This brings us to noteworthy commentaries from sports’ history.
The first was from CJ Hobgood who, back in 2015, sharply criticized Gabriel Medina’s protests of surfing The Box in the Margaret River event. In a ranting video, CJ explained that professional surfers are simply performers, and that spectators want to see guys hitting the reef and blood being shed. He believed Gabby was out of line for attempting to strip people of that pleasure, saying that it was bad for the sport of surfing.
This criticism is understandable, on account of surfers being able to avoid terrible wipeouts if they so desire. On the flipside, so long as they’re in the lineup, surfers are vulnerable to shark attacks, which is why Papalia’s argument is more difficult to understand.
Papalia’s tone also reminds of a widely contested commentary about an entirely different sport, basketball, which happened just months ago.
After Lebron James expressed a personal opinion on America’s Commander in Chief, Donald Trump, Fox News host Laura Ingraham disagreed with Lebron in a way that was universally disrespectful, telling him to “Keep the political commentary to yourself, or as someone once said ‘Shut up and dribble.’
Her point was that Lebron, a world-renowned basketball player and American citizen, in her humble opinion lacked either the brain power or knowledge to form an intelligible political thought and should therefore never broach the topic on a public forum.
Just as Lebron didn’t appreciate the way that President Trump was governing the United States of America, Gabby and Italo alleged the WSL was endangering surfers’ lives by bringing them to historically (and presently) shark-filled waters.
Yet Papalia, like Ingraham, seems to believe the athletes should keep these feelings to themselves. Cause, ya know, jocks are kinda dumb.
One (ex-Tour) surfer who might agree with Papalia, at least in the sense that the competition should never have been called off, is Western Australia’s prodigal son Taj Burrow.
Speaking with ABC Radio, he called the cancellation “devastating” and “silly”, stating: “I just think the risk is so minimal. Probably the waves they surfed on the first day of the event were a lot riskier than the possibility of a shark attack. It’s obviously safer in the competition area because they’ve got a few options for spotting sharks … it’s very well monitored.”
The debate rages on…
*Gabby was also the only surfer who voted against returning to J-Bay following the Mick Fanning shark encounter.
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