X-amination: Surfing and the X-Games

Surfing’s sophomore appearance in the X-Games was no small event. It drew a reported
crowd of 30,000 fans to the Huntington Beach pier, and was the first live television broadcast of
competitive surfing to air in the United States. It is no secret, mainstream marketing and
entertainment entities look to surfing for inspiration (and money), and our sport has once again
come under the full glare of the pubic eye. Last year the X-Games announced the inclusion of a
surf contest to be held at the Huntington pier as an addition to the event. Let’s take a step back
and analyze some of the issues surrounding surfing’s inclusion in the X-Games.

Since its inception, the excitement and drama that unfolds during the X-Games has been
tempered by behind the scenes controversy. The widespread exposure provided by sports-news
network ESPN has, for the past ten years, created a stir amongst many that feel this type of non-
core representation runs counter to the interests of some of the activities showcased. Concerns of
athlete exploitation and the misrepresentation of the core image has particularly vexed members
of the skate community–both media and enthusiasts–for years. An abundance of press has
circulated throughout the skate world since the games were first held, and often it has sought to
bash them by writing them off as a corporate ploy created to cash in on the growing public
interest of non-traditional sports.

Instead of creating an uproar, the announcement of surfing’s inclusion in the 2003 X-
Games was generally well received by the surf media and the surf world at large. ESPN is able to
convey competitive surfing accurately. Also, the opportunities presented by association with the
X-Games are beneficial to the surf industry.

According to X-Games General Manager Chris Stiepock, industry members and athletes
have already begun to capitalize on the positives created by X opportunity. “The surfers actually
understand and use ESPN’s exposure to further their sport, their sponsor’s exposure, and their
own exposure,” he says. “In general, the surfers take a much more mature approach to their
participation in the X-Games because their sport is more mature, the athletes are much more
comfortable with big televised affairs, and each surfer’s sponsors are more receptive to ESPN as
an exposure vehicle.”

Case in point: Dane Reynolds. Dane, who is widely regarded as one of the most exciting
surfers in the world, has used his involvement in the X-Games to showcase his competitive
talents. In front of 30,000 people at the pier, and with millions watching on TV, Dane launched
his way into the highest score of the day in a very public and exciting display of his competitive
potential. Dane’s participation provided him with a well covered competitive event in which to
display his skills, and without the X-Games, he may have had to wait years for such a moment to
come along. Also, because he was able to participate in a contest which included an amazing
cross section of talent from the past decade, and because his performance stood out as
exceptional, his appearance lent a good amount of credibility to his legitimacy as a rising star.
Brad Gerlach states bluntly, “Dane could blow doors on a lot of the 44 guys right now, and he
proved that (at the X Games X).”

The live broadcast of the X-Games has revitalized competitive surfing by both providing
surfers with a live, nationally televised event, and also by adopting Brad Gerlach’s innovative,
team oriented, “Game” contest format. The Game, which shortens event time from days, to just
hours, was created by Gerlach precisely for these purposes, and he is quick to explain the
positives it provides viewers. “We come down and the fans get to see the surfers for the full
three hours of the contest. They’re out there the whole time, in front of the crowd, whether
they’re in the water or not. And because it all happens right there, and because we have the best
guys participating, fans can check it out, and decide for themselves where the cutting edge of the
sport is.”