Debate: Is Competitive Surfing Good Or Bad For Our Broader Culture?
A no-holds-barred discourse between Stab’s most opinionated scribes.
[Editor’s note: The following is an email thread debate between Stab writers Michael Ciaramella and Rory Parker. Rory believes that competition is one of surfing’s ugliest commodities and that it should be permanently disbanded. Michael believes competition is a pivotal aspect of the sport and culture of surfing that should be widely appreciated, even by its cynics.]
Surfing occupies a strange niche in the realm of competitive sports in that it’s one of the few in which “fans” actually participate. Barring those poor fuckers landlocked by happenstance there are no competitive surf fans who refrain from sliding waves. The WSL ain’t the NFL, or NBA, or MLB- team sport group-mind hug fests meant to generate income by selling a false sense of camaraderie. In its barest form surfing is a hobby, not a sport. It’s something you do, not something you watch.
Which is why competitive professional surfing is, by and large, bullshit. It’s a means to market product, a way for media to find an easy story, an avenue pushed since the late 70s in order to deliver income to those most suited to surfing between the lines.
It was tolerable in the days before the webcast, when print mags delivered news of victory and defeat months after the hooter blew. When events were a side show and surfers feasted on long form editorial and lusted after the newest surf flick. When we dropped thirty bucks on a VHS and hit rewind until it blew out the tape. When we knew more about what happened on a boat trip to Indo than at a tour stop in Brazil.
Competitive surfing enforces manufactured rules, stifles innovation by punishing failure, and breeds a type of surfer more intent on winning trophies than riding waves. It’s birthed an entire generation of home schooled future-failures living Daddy’s own failed dream.
It’s boring more often than not and it takes far more than it gives. We’d be better off without it.
Ha-ha! You buffoon! You absolute dunce. Competitive surfing is the life-force of this sport and you, my geriatric peer, are but a leech so fortunate to siphon copper from its veins.
Allow me to dissolve your assertion point-by-point, conveniently neglecting the few that refuse to be spun in my direction.
You said that competitive surfing is: “a means to market product, a way for media to find an easy story, an avenue pushed since the late 70s in order to deliver income to those most suited to surfing between the lines.” This is not true. Competitive surfing is a means to discern the best surfer in the town, country, and ultimately the world.
If you’d ever actually read Warshaw’s Encyclopedia of Surfing, you’d know that surf competitions have existed since the mid-1500s, with Duke, Eddie (Aikau) and Eddie (Rothman) trading off victories until the late 1970s, when they got bored and decided to bring surfing to the mainland.
The Hawaiians never earned a cent for these victories. Tons of pussy and conch-shell trophies, but no cash. They competed for the love of beating one another into rage-filled bouts of depression – an ageless human pastime – and, again, the copious sex it allowed them.
It was the damn whiteys who turned it into a cash game, which has its pluses and minuses. But the desire to see others suffer is still at competitive surfing’s core. Also, endless intercourse.
I will concede that competition stifles innovation, in the sense that John John could spend his time perfecting new beekeeping techniques, sailing routes, and the occasional surfing maneuver if he wasn’t so focused on fitting the WSL’s strict criteria (and avoiding injuries in the process). But let’s think about this from another angle: If John John wasn’t tied to competing, how many times would we see him surf a year?
A feature length film, or at least one the likes of View From a Blue Moon, takes more than a year to create. Even John’s most recent cinematic hor d’oeuvre, Space (below), which lasted longer than your latest tryst at just over six minutes, included year-old clips.
In other words, because the world’s best are stunting their theoretical evolution to a very small degree in order to compete, we’re guaranteed* to see them surf at least 11 hours per year (11 total events, 30 mins per heat, can’t lose in Round 1), and up to 25+ hours for the successful ones, rather than in one 15-minute flick with “freesurfers”.
Also, the truest competitors in surfing, namely Filipe, Gabriel, and Italo, perform significantly better in a jersey rather than out. The lycra is their supersuit, watch them soar!
And lastly, I feel you’ve missed the most ironic point of this entire debate, being that both of our pampered, equatorial lives are the direct result of “daddy’s own failed dream”.
You and me – both students (and utter failures) of the competitive surfing system and both living our absolute best lives in Hawaii and Costa Rica.
* barring injury
I can’t say I’m surprised you decided to lead with insults. You’re a man with the size and temperament of a chihuahua- “yap, yap, yap, yap.”
The issue at hand is not the notion of competition in general. There will always be try-hards who seek validation through arbitrary standards of victory. Bearded Italian boys with suspiciously hairless bodies who found success in collegiate NSSA comps and chugged the kool-aid because it confirms said success reflects ability. Above average, still far below anything that could sniff at the ‘CT. The type who loves trophies and podiums and the utterly pointless sense of accomplishment they offer.
Those types can do what they want. They can work as sales reps or media dorks and win local events well into their forties. Who cares?
We’re talking about “modern” professional competitive surfing, the cream of the crop. The roots of which lie with whichever Bronzed Aussie first thought, “Oi! I deserve to make a good living doing this, ya’ cunt.” Or whatever.
The best competitive surfer in the world is not necessarily the best surfer. A successful ‘CT (or ‘QS) campaign requires an athlete to be capable of performing consistently, under pressure, within a time limit, while battling for position, and being able to withstand a never ending slog around the globe to forced venues which only occasionally offer surf which can be considered world class. It’s fighting jet lag and accepting the insane conflict of interest that rewarded an injury wildcard to a past-his-prime GOAT who owns a piece of the pie. It’s playing politics with a pseudo-governing body that wants to be a media outlet and plays favorites to a degree which should shock and appall. It’s watching rules be bent, after-the-fact PED exemptions being handed to some and not others, and blatant favoritism play out across promotional material during every single event.
That shit isn’t surfing. It’s a fucking job like any other. Watching an event slide down the screen like a hobo’s phlegm down a liquor store window doesn’t make me want to surf. It makes me want to drink.
Surfers like Chippa and Deane and Mason make me want to paddle out. They make surfing look fun. Like it’s something worth doing because it’ll inject some joy into my day.
The WSL makes it look like work, because it is. If I were interested in that shit I’d take a time machine back to the late 90’s pursue a career as a dentist. Or accountant. Or any other damn thing that involves waking up each day to an existence that mirrors what came before until all blends together into a boring gray simulacrum that passes for living.
Man, you must have lost so many NSSAs. All this pent up anger reeks of a closet full of fourth place plaques. Trophies, of course, being reserved for the top three.
But this isn’t about your competitive incompetence. As you said, this debate centers around the cream of surfing’s crop. So let’s talk about those talented fuckers.
John John Florence won the World Title in 2016, then again in 2017. Gabriel Medina took it home in 2018.
Were these not the best surfers in the world in their respective years? Did they not perform the best combination of airs, barrels, and turns both in and out of a jersey?
You mentioned Chippa, Noa, and Mason.
I will submit that on top of being world class talents, they also, as you said,“They make surfing look fun.”
And that’s important.
But do you know what else Chippa, Noa, and Mason have in common? They all finaled at the inaugural Stab High event in Waco, Texas! In fact, Noa won the damn thing by going full comp-mode on his varial attempts.
This was also a competition that, if I recall correctly, you bought a roundtrip ticket from Hawaii just to attend. You weren’t even there for work. You booked a fare with your own money and even brought some friends along. That’s how badly you wanted to fly to the middle of America to watch competitive surfing.
Then at the end of the competition, you approached me and declared, “That was genuinely awesome, I had such a great time.”
The fact is Rory, you don’t hate competition. No. You hate the WSL. You hate the rigid criteria. You hate the politics. You hate the favoritism and it’s become crystal clear throughout this debate that you hate Australians, especially the tan ones.
But you must also recognize that the WSL is a necessary evil.
In order to appreciate surfing’s yang (the creativity and fun of freesurfing) one must also embrace its yin (Bede Durbidge). Don’t you see that the WSL provides a foil for your favorite sliders to reflect themselves against?
Now it’s time for the readers to have their say.
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