By Lewis Samuels
Fade in from black. The darkness gives way to a bright Hawaiian sun, the water streams down from the spigot and mingles with the kingly tears of Robert Kelly Slater. The year is 2003. Slater bows his head and weeps meditatively as a still-breathing Andy Irons is carried on the shoulders of his followers. Slater holds the sting of defeat close – it confirms all his worst suspicions; he cradles the insecure heart of a marginalised, spindly, nut-brown, Florida child. He is back where he began – too small and full of self-doubt to measure up to the born arrogants of the world, men like Andy Irons. Slater’s accomplishments are suddenly nullified – he has not yet done enough to earn the respect of his older brother, not yet done enough to save his parents’ marriage, not yet done enough to earn his father’s love. He begins again the monumental Sisyphean task of earning it. This singular defeat has just pre-determined 10 world titles.
High on the crowd, Andy runs down a checklist of his own motivations and insecurities: did his brother Bruce see what he just did? Did his cousins see, did those mokes from elementary school see? Did his parents notice? Are they there, below him in the crowd, brought together again by his victory? Why is there still that emptiness inside, below the elation of victory?
The Real Winners
Fade to black. The silence is breached by a slow swell of sound; the ringing din of cash registers. Fade in on the purchased items, the logos. The wave and the mountain. Signature boardshorts. ASP press releases, digital images of contest singlets, familiar bald scalps, signature frontside hacks, all accompanied by familiar logos. Perhaps cue a culturally relevant, era-appropriate song. Something driving yet melancholy – the first track off Arcade Fire’s debut album? The surf industry hums along as Kelly and Andy hoist trophies. The money piles up. Stocks rise, proud before their falls. Somewhere in the montage, before the music crescendos, the audience realises that the real victors are the corporations. They’ve been dealt an unreasonably good hand. By pure chance, the two best surfers in the world are supremely competitive beings, driven by personal demons.
The ASP is merely a marketing tool for the brands. Always has been. And for the ASP credibility only comes when the best surfer in the world happens to win a world title. So much of the charade that is pro surfing is predicated by the assumption that competitive surfing has the objective ability to confirm what the surfing public subjectively feels in their gut – that one man is in fact the best surfer in the world. But what happens when the best surfer in the world doesn’t care about the world title? Who really loses, then?
Cut to the present. 2011. The world has changed. Surfing has changed. The brands and their beaten pet dog, the ASP, hold their heads high, oblivious to the growing storm on the horizon. Competitive surfing teeters on the brink. If the wrong man wins the world title, the sport of surfing may cease to be a sport altogether.
Dane Reynolds is by far the most dangerous man in surfing. His competitive apathy threatens to destroy the ASP. Because Dane is the best surfer in the world, the public desperately wants him to win a world title. Given the current system, there is zero chance of this happening, which means the ASP is fucked. In 2010, the ASP managed to turn Dane into a quasi-contender by changing the judging criteria in order to heavily favour Dane’s brilliant, erratic approach. But it was not enough to win Dane one event, let alone a title. He’s currently more focused on drawing scribbled faces on t-shirts and selling them online. Don’t underestimate the cold calculation of this act. Dane’s “aw shucks” hipster meanderings hold the roadmap to surfing’s potential future.
Dane could usher in a new era by shunning the ASP and the brands and going the Radiohead route. Imagine if the surf industry followed the path suggested by the music industry: independent artists like Dane Reynolds self-release videos and sell t-shirts on their websites. Imagine the implications if the people’s prophet turns his back on the whole game of selling surfing to the masses… imagine the brands as dinosaurs, chewing their primordial cud as the comet that is Dane Reynolds streams towards them, extinction imminent.