Friday, June 8, 2012

Fijian Steam

Today (Thursday 6/7 in America, Friday 6/8 in Fiji) saw an all-time swell driven by a massive low-pressure system reeling out of the Tasman Sea smack into Cloudbreak during the Volcom Fiji Pro.  After holding only two heats, contest directors and ASP Tour Manager Renato Hickel called off the competition for the day, allowing the world's best big-wave surfers to enjoy what eleven-time world champion Kelly Slater described as, "a day that will go down in surfing's history."  As both an avid surfer and surf fan, it was hard not to stay glued to the webcam broadcast as guys like Ramon Navarro, Reef McIntosh, Mark Healey, Damien Hobgood, and even Pat Gudauskas (who pulled off a miracle drop) got some of the best waves of their lives.  These guys, especially the guys not on tour, live and train for these moments.  I have nothing but the utmost respect for them and it was a privilege to watch what transpired today.

That said, I'm not quite sure what the ASP stands for anymore.  I know it used to be the Association of Surfing Professionals . . . after today though, maybe the Association of Surfing Pussies is a more apt fit.  (This critique is not aimed at anyone on the tour but at the management of the ASP and the poor decision they made to call off the competition today.)  Part and parcel of this supposed "Dream Tour" which allows for an ample waiting period for each event is to ensure that the competition is held in the best possible conditions.  I understand that the contest was slated for man-on-man heats and that many perfect waves would have gone unridden.  I understand that every big name in big wave surfing was on-hand and chomping at the bit to have a go at it.  I understand that even with the contest called off, Volcom's webcast probably had a record number of hits, maxing out their ad revenue (kudos Mr. Woolcott).  What I don't understand is babying professional athletes whose only job it is, is to surf.  From two feet to twenty feet, these guys are supposed to be the best in the world.  Let these guys earn their paychecks and the world's respect at the same time.  

These contests at Teahupoo, Cloudbreak, and the Triple Crown are supposed to be the equalizers for the more mellow yet high performance (rippable) breaks like Snapper Rocks, Trestles, and Rio.  If you're going to keep the tour guys from surfing contestable waves (ie - able to paddle into, which is why you didn't hear me moaning about this last year during the mega swell in Tahiti - check the video below to see the difference in conditions pertaining to what is and is not paddle-able), what's the point of these destination contests when all of the main sponsors have been clamoring for more urban locales to continually reach out with hands-on marketing to capture an ever greater audience and potential consumer base (NYC, Rio, et al.)?  The beauty of the XXL contest is that it is world-wide and runs all year long; therefore, to give the XXL crew priority over the scheduled contest is completely baffling to me.  Was today's session good for the soul of surfing, watching so many hellmen eager to push over the ledge without any jetskis whipping anyone in?  Undoubtedly.  But what is good for the soul of surfing is often contrary to what is good for the sport of surfing - and for those decision-makers who get their paychecks by running a so-called professional organization, they did themselves and the tour a great disservice today.  Professional surfing was founded by die-hards like the legendary "Dead Ahead" Fred Hemmings, who when surfers pleaded with him to call off a Waimea contest during the '70s due to the massive and dangerous surf, he challenged them that if he paddled out and caught a single wave that they would hold the contest.  The threat alone was enough and the contest went on as scheduled.  Judging from today's decision, the contemporary ASP is sorely lacking in this type of leadership.

Kelly was right.  Today was "a day that will go down in surfing's history," but possibly for more ambivalent reasons than he imagined.

Catch the rest of the contest here -

More highlights from the day of days here -

And a perspective most can only imagine in massive Cloudbreak, courtesy of Kalani Chapman and Go-Pro: