(5 February, 2006) – – On a recent trip to California, ASP CEO, Brodie Carr, and myself got to spend some very productive time with the staff of our new ASP North America branch. Following the same theme as the ASP International Office, the California office shares a beachside building with Surfline, overlooking the legendary Huntington Beach pier, scene of so many classic ASP events since 1982. If one were to visualize where ASP should be domiciled, this is it, right on the beach in Surf City. By the way, the exact same scenario is unfolding as I write in Shonan Beach, the hub surf center that houses our new ASP Japan Branch office, but that's another story.
In Cal we have a small dedicated team including longtime ASP loyalist Meg Bernardo, the effervescent Rachel Harris and the media/marketing team of Nic Foster and Chad Hoctor. Long brainstorming sessions have resulted in the formulation of a group of strategies that will reshape the look of the WQS in America. The office has only been open for two months but there is already movement in the station in the US and neighbouring countries. New foundations have been laid, including the acquisition of a dedicated WQS Tour Manager in Mike Martin. Mike and I go way back, he was a WCT judge in the early days of ASP and has organized and staged many events, so his background is impeccable for this important role. The US surfers will receive great service from Mike through his formidable knowledge of everything ASP and events will also be serviced with a new level of professionalism.
Another progressive appointment is that of Regional Head Judge Jeff Klugel. A touring pro in the 70's, Jeff has been one of the mainstay of the international panel for many years, and ASP Head Judge Perry Hatchett was prudent in his selection of Jeff Klugel, the guy has the respect of the surfers, is approachable, and possesses a huge reservoir of knowledge to pass on to his regional panels around the mainland.
These are no simple appointments, they are quite literally pro surfing's version of Supreme Court nominations. Martin and Klugel will make a huge difference, as Floridians they work closely together and hey, Floridians have just about taken over the world of pro surfing, they may as well manage it as well.
In compartmentalizing the roles, each of the above mentioned staff members will be integral to the success of the North America Branch. The immediate mission is to establish new events, strategically placed to benefit career path opportunities for American surfers. There are several irons in the fire in this area, including expanding the WQS Tour to the Caribbean and Central America. The first half of the year has been targeted for new events, creating a raft of 2-4 Star events initially, in order to give unseeded regional surfers an opportunity to break into the restricted field events in the second half of the year. Another focus will be the servicing of existing events, providing additional services through things such as digital photography, webcasting, and daily media releases. These are not in place yet but we recognize that to lift the profile of both the athletes and events is the best incentive for existing events to upgrade and a great marketing tool to attract prospective sponsors.
Brodie and I were invited down to San Clemente to lay out our vision to the Board of SIMA, and that proved a great opportunity to talk the talk with our friends in the industry. The collective minds in SIMA will no doubt contribute astute guidance for the team in America, in fact our presentation resulted in the activation of SIMA's “pro surfing council,” first formed a couple years ago and now actively assisting the efforts of the ASP North America Branch as an independent advisory committee with the much respected Bob Mignona and Peter Townend liasing with ASP. So there is some real synergy happening in Cal, Mike Gerard and his Surfing America team focusing on the ISA career path development and SIMA helping to orchestrate a seamless path into the ASP ranks, with Meg, Nic and the ASP team responsible for establishing new events and giving a lot of love to existing ones.
Collectively this represents a fresh start in America. There are already some great events on the calendar and by establishing a couple more 5-6 Star events in prime venues, developing a couple strong 2-4 Star legs in the winter and spring, it will give the team a great base to go to market for some complimentary tour sponsors. This in turn will provide a base to deliver a consistent layer of media services to events, linking each event by way of a quality media template, which will allow ASP to tell the story of the US Tour and build profiles of the rising stars on their pathway to pro surfing.
While in the USA Brodie and I took a drive up the 405 and into Los Angeles to visit Cedar Sinai Hospital, where our very own Richie Lovett was recovering from his second bout of surgery, this one major, within the space of a week. It reminded me of the time I visited Titus Kinimaka after his near death experience at Waimea Bay, where he snapped his leg under a thick lip. It is just really strange seeing a warrior lying in a hospital bed. The last time I'd seen Richie he was getting ready to take on Pipe, now he was laid out, propped up in a bed in probably the best hospital in the world. Even so it was a bloody lonely sight, fortunately Rich had his darling wife Amanda by his side.
The guy was in a lot of pain, I mean he just had a surgeon hammering a steel prosthetic into his hip and femur, youch! Try and imagine the thoughts one would have when, one, you follow up on a recommendation to come over to Cal and have this uncomfortable hip pain checked out, you have a hip op, are then informed there is a malignant tumor inside the hip that will not respond to chemo or radiation and that there are fractures from which the tumor may seep out and for sure kill you. And oh yeah, this is such a rare condition that to treat it there are on average one specialist per every five million people and you have to decide on the spot whether you go for this super radical operation, which itself is not without risk, because the 5,000,000/1 doctor has been found in the city of angels.
A few weeks earlier you had been competing in the Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters trying to maintain a Top 20 world ranking. Your worried about your hip and how that will affect your '06 campaign, then the horror begins, you find out there are major complications, it might be life threatening, inaction will result in certain death, you confer with your wife then go under the knife, and the hammer. You wake up sore all over, where the surgeon had to use your body as a scaffolding from which to renovate your anatomy. Richie, clutching Lance Armstrong's autobiography, was staring at a metal walker.
“I'm going to get up and hobble up the corridor this afternoon, that's my Waimea Bay”, exclaimed the former Boost Mobile Pro Champion. “I've already got up and sat in that chair, wow, it was painful, but Dr. Brien told me I have to get going ASAP”. It's been less then 48 hours since the operation, he is administering squirts of morphine by button every 20 minutes, his entire midsection has been rebuilt, the muscles and tendons have been re-attached, we are all now staring at the walker, it's looking more like Jaws now.
Dr. Brien walks in, this placid, friendly man. I'm trying to picture him with one knee on Richie's chest hammering a steel prosthetic into the hipbone, and cannot. Dr. Brien informs us all that the operation went perfectly, that he is very pleased with Richie post-op, that he is confident everything will be fine. He is so gentle and caring in nature, soothing Rich and Amanda, yet so convincing in his commitment for Richie to get up and take on the walker, then get on some crutches and walk himself out of Cedar Sinai in a couple days. Wow, what a great coach, it was inspirational, he filled us all with confidence.
Speaking of inspirational, or rather, guardian angels, the other hero here is a guy called Warren Kramer. A brilliant orthopedic surgeon, Warren is a freaky rare bird. The guy has so much compassion; he takes our surfers into his house before and after the operation. Usually, as in the cases of Trent Munro, Nathan Webster, Toby Martin and any foreign surfers, he does the entire procedure, there is no need for him to track down his 5,000,000/1 doctor friend, and he opens his house up. For others like Damien Hobgood and Sunny Garcia, who he successfully got back in the water in great shape, he is just there for them on call. Warren is a busy guy, in great demand, but he manages to dedicate so much of his time and resources to the ASP surfers. Richie and Amanda will live with the Kramers until Richie has rehabbed enough to come home, hopefully by the ASP Banquet on Feb 25, but more importantly when Dr Kramer says he is ready.
The outpouring of kind gestures and pro-active fundraising has been wonderful, I think this is when the tribe is at its best. Gary Ward and Graham Stapelburg got the ball rolling at the Florida Trade Show, Gary doing a run around the CEO's and 'G' bringing Richie's plight to the attention of SIMA, who in turn activated their Humanitarian Fund. Dick Baker, President of SIMA, has organized a Richie fundraiser at the Mozambique Restaurant in Laguna Beach on Feb 28 and Richie's sponsors, Aloha, Electric, Watercooled and Surf Hardware International are also actively raising funds to help cover a medical bill that will be in excess of US100k. No doubt Richie's peers in the WPS will weigh in and ASP are planning some fundraising around the Banquet.
This is not the first time a pro surfer has had a serious health challenge, and past fundraisers have been very generous, however it is wonderful to see the surfing family rally around one of its own. Thanks to all those who are organizing stuff and god bless Warren Kramer and Dr. Brien.