Surfing has a long way to go before it reaches the diversity of career paths offered by skating and snowboarding. But there are signs that the potential to take an alternative route to pro surf stardom is opening up. Take the continued popularity of “personality pros” like Oscar Wright, Dave Rastovich and Nathan Fletcher, for example — all despite showing no aptitude with the biggest tool of the modern freesurfer. website attracts nearly two million hits a month) but is yet to reveal whether he will opt for this path or return to competition following recent knee surgery.
“With a freesurfer, it’s just a big, blank gray area. You can tread your own path. You don’t have to do things people have done in the past. If you can come up with different ways to do it, the companies are more open to that, but they are still so contest-driven.” —Dion Agius
“In the ’90s the Net wasn’t so big and videoing wasn’t so easy. You had to be the man to get videoed. Now everyone is doing it DIY and putting it on the Net themselves. It’s so much easier and everyone can see it. You don’t have to go watch a contest to see your favorite surfer surf,” says Australian tech-gen surfer Thom Pringle of the new trend.
Player managers say that the contest route is still your best bet to make a career out of surfing, but industry insiders also say companies are warming to the idea of alternative marketing strategies for their surfers.
If surfing even vaguely heads in the direction of skating and snowboarding — where competing is almost redundant compared to the photo- and footage-gathering game — this will have considerable ramifications for the culture. A generation of surfers forced to bring more to the table than supreme talent will guide the sport in the direction of creativity and experimentation for which it was once renowned. Dane’s decision will significantly impact the severity of this cultural tremor. —Jed Smith