Barton Lynch and I met in early 1984. We were both staying at Mark Foo’s Home for Incurables, across from Waimea Bay. Barton, as I recall, was chaperoning a prepubescent Nicky Wood, who was already charging and shredding and acting mysterious, but went face-first into the reef at some point and flew home with his head wrapped up in 50 yards of gauze. Anyway, Barton had just made the Top 16 but was still doing it rough, and because we hit it off in Hawaii, he ended up on my couch that summer while in SoCal for the Op Pro. He was funny and opinionated and 30 IQ points smarter than the average world tour pro. Big barking laugh. Listened as well as he talked. We stayed in touch over the years, and I was there on the beach at the end of 1988 clapping and grinning and rejoicing as he won the world title in dramatic come-from-behind fashion at huge Pipeline.
Barton was by and large a steady, predictable man, but he could also surprise, and such was the case just a few short weeks later, at 1989’s opening event (the world schedule was brutal, endless), when the now-defending world champ gave me a fairly sharp-worded lesson in perspective, which included him saying that surfers in general are “more self-righteous and judgmental than any group of young people you’ll find anywhere in the world.”
In one of the many social media threads I’ve been following the last couple of days regarding WSL announcers, I’ve mentioned that Barton would be the #1 pick for my commentating Dream Team. He’s handled the mic before at world tour comps, and while it’s been a couple years (at least), I recall him doing a bang-up job. A few other Facebook voices agreed, and Barton himself, on a recent night, was good enough to drop a comment. [I’ve edited this a bit, for clarity.]
I never get involved in these type of discussions but can’t help myself here. My feeling is that the product needs definition. Is it a sport, or a free surfing exhibition? The fact is that it is a sport, as it’s designed and defined by its rules etc, but the commentary makes it seem as if we’re just watching free surfing, not a contest. I have never watched a heat and felt as if it’s been properly explained how and why someone lost or won. Occasionally a surfer will come in and tell you that he lost the heat because he misused priority here, or did something else wrong there, and you get some insight into what actually went down. Kelly is great at this. Most commentators don’t like the fact that every heat is actually won by wave selection, the use of priority, and the management of time—by strategy, basically. Commentators almost deny the existence of strategy, and try and make us believe heats are won by just surfing. My experience is that heats are less often won by surfing, and more often won by strategy, and this is what actually makes it interesting. We already know about surfing. It’s the rest of it that needs to be illuminated in order to keep an audience interested and engaged.
Two things to add here. First, by putting more emphasis on tactics and strategy—by engaging the gamesmanship from the booth, really understanding it, having fun with it—the pressure is off, just a bit anyway, in terms of wave quality. To rephrase what Lynch is saying. A WSL event isn’t surfing as experienced during your pre-work session, or on a surf trip. It’s sport. A much much better sport when the waves are good, yes, but interesting enough in lesser surf if all the feints and ploys and hustles and stratagems are highlighted.
And second: can somebody please get a petition going, or a crowdfund campaign, or Papal decree, or whatever, to get Barton in the damn booth?