Last gasp for pro surfing?

Pro surfing in all its glory, Huntington Beach. Photo WSL.

By Phil Jarratt

Right now we should be watching the world tour event at Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa, the one that signals that the tour is on the home straight. Right now we should be looking at the rankings after the first five events and working out who’s got a shot at a world title this year and what they have to do to win it.

But of course we are doing no such thing. If you go to the World Surf League website and seek out the calendar in the midst of the lifestyle clickbait clutter, you’ll see that the five events that should have already happened have been “postponed”, while J-Bay, Tahiti, the Surf Ranch, Hossegor, Peniche and Pipeline are still “upcoming”. This is wild-eyed optimism at best, or perhaps a sign that the WSL has simply given up on its core business to concentrate on content creation.

Either way it’s a complete hoax because there is no chance of any WCT event running this year, and the way the Covid numbers are running right now, 2021 might be in jeopardy too. Apart from a handful of qualifiers, the only world tour event of 2020 will be February’s season-opening Noosa Longboard Pro, won by Joel Tudor and Kelis Kaleopaa in rubbish peaks at West Beach. The 44-year-old Californian and the 15-year-old Hawaiian may therefore be surfing’s only world champions of 2020.

It is quite bizarre to think that for the first time since the original world tour of professional surfing was instigated in 1976, the big league, the World Championship Tour, will not happen. Only once in all those years, when America recoiled in horror from 9/11 in 2001, was even part of the tour cancelled. I was running the Quiksilver Pro France at the time, and frankly I couldn’t believe it when Rabbit Bartholomew and Peter Whittaker phoned to tell me that the surfers had voted to cancel the European and Hawaiian legs and stay home, and that CJ Hobgood was therefore world champion.

But even more bizarre than the WSL’s handling of the Covid cancellation is the reaction of the surfing world at large to the disappearance of pro surfing. Posting on Swellnet last week, editor Stu Nettle made the comparison between surf fans and football tragics thus: “Even deep into lockdown and against all medical advice, many football fans argued for the return of their code. Paraphrasing fans across all codes and countries, it was ‘essential for a return to normality’. I’m yet to hear a single surfing fan make the same emphatic appeal. Some surfers may miss the office diversion, or the opportunity to ogle great surfers in great waves, but a necessity? Not on your life.”

Stu was by no means the only surf scribe to note the overwhelming evidence on social media platforms around the world that while surfers are currently buying more surfboards and catching more waves than ever before, they don’t really give a damn about not seeing the top 36 in action every few weeks. As a world tour tragic myself – not every heat but far too many, drawing the line only at the wave pool event – I have to say I was surprised at how little so many surfers cared about their sport’s shop window. Maybe it’s because we haven’t had a true homegrown men’s champ since Mick Fanning (although Steph Gilmore has flown the flag for the girls), but many surfers seem to feel a resentment towards the fat cat commodification of their passion.

If pro surfing falters and fails, as it well might, in this country there will be more cheers than tears. I find that just a little odd.

Meanwhile, if the WSL’s constant repetition of great title races of the past isn’t rocking your boat, you may be more interested in the Nine Network/Surfing Australia collaboration “Rivals”, a 13-part reality series in which a bunch of great Aussie surfers (several of them seriously underrated) compete against each other by surfing their home breaks.

So we have Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson and Dean Morrison surfing Snapper Rocks, air-king Josh Kerr doing D-bah, Bede Durbidge at Straddie, Bottle Thompson at Burleigh, Danny Wills at Broken Head, Kai Otton at a mysto South Coast slab, and so on. They are each judged on a two-hour session, and every surfer except Coffs legend Shaun Cansdell has got their heat in the can as I write.

I don’t want to be a spoiler, but given the conditions we’ve had in SEQ the last couple of months, I’m pretty sure the title is going to a Queenslander. Rivals screens on Nine early in August.

Stop the river hoons

If Noosa really is in danger of being “loved to death”, the evidence is nowhere more compelling than on the river during holiday time.

There are so many “river rat” hoons breaking every rule in the book that there is little safe space for anyone without a motorized toy.

While paddling a SUP in the no wake zones of the Sound and Weyba Creek this past week, I saw too many near misses involving children and oldies on kayaks and canoes, and caused by young hoons in tricked-up tinnies.

Maritime Safety Queensland is alert to the problem and so are the water cops, so let’s hope something can be done. Angus Kemp posted this shot on Facebook of the Water Police in action on the first weekend of the holidays.