Waking from the Dream

With three World Tour stops scheduled in big cities, Matt Warshaw wonders what happened to the "Dream" Tour

San Francisco's Ocean Beach can have it's classic moments, but fog banks, unruly winds, and an arduous paddle-out make the venue look less than dreamy more often than not. Photo: Ellis

San Francisco for this year's Rip Curl Search event site? Really? What are we searching for, the last five-dollar Mission burrito? A clean public restroom? It's been confirmed that Rip Curl is bringing their globe-trotting WT contest to America's most urbanized mile of coast, but my first thought is that if we're not heading off to an exotic location then maybe it's time to drop the "Search" bit. Guys have been up here riding waves and bitching about the paddle-out and crying over the northwest wind—bitching and crying more than riding, actually—for 50-something years. Nothing too Search-worthy in San Francisco, is what I'm saying. Hell, the Bud Tour had this place searched out back in the '80s.

And hold on, isn't the whole Search concept supposed to be about really good waves? Long, hollow, world-class reefs and points? Tom Curren at Fishbowls, Andy Irons at Barra. Like that. San Francisco in early November means an 80 percent chance it'll be okay, head-high, rampy and fun, a 20 percent chance it'll be overhead and hollow, and 0 percent chance it'll be Barra. This is a better-than-average beachbreak on its day. But still just a beachbreak.

If the "Search" bit is on shaky ground, other changes on this year's schedule have me wondering if the whole "Dream Tour" concept needs to be retired, too. Quiksilver proved that it can still swing for the fences, promo-wise, by staking a record-breaking million-dollar purse for its debut Quiksilver Pro New York contest this September—but make it ten million, and it doesn't change the fact that Long Island isn't anybody's idea of a dream surf destination. Brazil's WT event, meanwhile, after an eight-year run in the more wave-friendly beaches of Santa Catarina, has moved back to the dream-killing closeouts of Rio.

God help us, the big-top surfing contest is back. I can't be the only grizzled World Tour fan having Nam-like flashbacks to the Op Pro, and all the other sweaty, close-quartered, parking-lot-dependent events of the pre-Slater era. ASP officials—or rather, the Big Four surf companies who run the show—are again courting the Lollapalooza-style beachfront megacrowd, hoping, as always, to nudge pro surfing's marker a space or two forward on the Chutes and Ladders gameboard of mainstream acceptance. You don't go to New York to ride waves. You go to get rich and famous. Quiksilver CEO Bob McKnight isn't even pretending that his new contest is about good surf. The point of the exercise, he says, is to take the sport to the "largest media arena in the world." And the focus won't just be on surfing, but "skate, BMX, fashion, art and music"—meaning a village-sized aggregation of tents, booths, ramps, stages, speakers, video screens, and food concessions—which in turn will bring "incredible global attention to the action sports culture and lifestyle." This is how you talk to the regional buyer for Macy's, not the coffee-reeking guy hunched over his computer at night watching the semifinals at J-Bay. You know what "action sports culture and lifestyle" means to that guy? What it means to me? Chest-high and blown out.

Although there are certainly advantages for a sponser to hold an event in a major city, spectators wont find the same eye-candy waves in San Francisco and New York that they've grown to expect from the Tour's most prestigious stops. Photo: Ellis

The Dream Tour itself was never perfect. The idea behind it was, though. Put the best surfers in the best waves. And for 10 or 15 years things were heading in the right direction. Have a look at the 2006 schedule: Snapper, Bells, Teahupoo, Cloudbreak, Barra, J-Bay, Lowers, Hossegor, Mundaka, Imbituba (Brazil), and Pipe. Not all of the contests fired, but that's not the point. Brazil excepted, you're looking at a pretty damn unimpeachable set of events right there. Best schedule ever, I'd say. Nothing much changed until this year. Cloudbreak dropped out, that's about it.

And it's not like 2011 is a total botch. Supertubes (Portugal) was added to the schedule, and I guess I'd throw that one in there with San Francisco, New York, and Rio as a less-than-ideal location, but the rest of the year is solid.

Still, that's four non-dreamworthy locations out of 11 events total. More than one-third of the schedule. Enough that I'd rush the barricades, laptop raised against the Man, linking arms with the pros to fight the good fight against surf-corpo perversion—just like I did back in the hair-gel years, with Jim Hogan and Robbie Page and all the other righteously dissatisfied Soviet-era ASP competitors.

I trolled around online to find out which pros are most pissed off about the new contests. I'd contact them first, and get things started.

Nothing.

More trolling. Nothing. What the hell?

My friend at Quiksilver laughed when I called. "Pissed off? No way! They love it! Those guys are bored with perfect waves. They're bored with Tahiti. You ever been to Tahiti when it's flat? It's the worst place in the world! Every day feels like a week." I still wasn't quite getting it. "They want to do airs all day," my friend patiently explained. "And they want to be in a place where there's more going on besides surfing."

A moment or two of silence. "By 'they,'" I ventured, "you mean Dane."

Nope. Everybody. Or almost everybody. Kieren Perrow, Taylor Knox, and a few other "old guys," my friend admitted, would rather surf reefs and points in the middle of nowhere. "But 80 percent of the Tour wants to go to San Francisco and New York."

Eighty percent? For real? I lobbed a few emails. Ace Buchan got back to me within the hour. "Yeah, 80 percent, that's about right. Even higher, I'd say." C.J. Hobgood was next. "Sure, everyone's stoked to go to the City." Flipping through the new issue of Stab that night I came across this from editor Derek Rielly: "To say we, me, the surfers involved are thrilled is the understatement of the year. Just don't make anyone piss in a vial afterwards."

Not exactly the kind that you would find in Indonesia, but NYC is a jungle nonetheless, and the chosen location for possibly the biggest surf contest in history come September. Photo: Ellis

I'm unmanned by this news. Not so much by the urban party-lust, but the fact that a lot of pros are actually looking forward to riding the new breaks on Tour. SURFER did an article a year or so back saying that for a lot of pros good waves are more or less obsolete ["Welcome to Gentlemen's Hour," January 2010], and that the new "perfect" is light sideshore wedge-to-closeout beachbreak. I ignored it. Or thought it was the air guys again flogging their spinny-twirly skateboard version of the sport by talking down "real" surfing, which, goddammit, is done in good waves—meaning, hollow, powerful, and offshore, or some variation thereof.

I still feel that way. But I have to acknowledge now that a lot of surfers—everybody under 25, probably, god help us—are in fact attached to the idea that riding waves is by and large skateboarding on water. (With a few giant hacks thrown in for good measure. Thank you, Dane.)

And yeah, sure, I'll tune in and watch the Quick Pro New York, and the San Francisco Search event. I'll go back to whatever magazine or website it was that explained all the air move variations and try to get up to speed, even though the difference a Lien and Indy is about as interesting to me as the difference between rotini and rigatoni pasta. But there's something wrong—unbalanced? narcissistic?—about fetishizing air-ready junk surf. It's all about the rider. The wave falls out of the picture. Literally, most of the time. Have a look at your average Transworld Surf cover shot. In New York and San Francisco, guys are going to post huge scores for single-move waves, which makes for a lesser form of competition. It's like a home run derby instead of a baseball game. It's a damn air show event, for God's sake.

But like I say, if it gets to my computer, I'll watch it. Meanwhile, my fingers are crossed for 12-foot coral-crushing death pits at this year's Teahupoo contest. I hope J-Bay is running from Boneyards to f–kin' Swaziland. Grabs and rotations, culture and lifestyle, skate ramps, crowd shots—give me a few viewing hours at least where I can kick all that stuff to the side. An old man's humble dream.

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