If you watch "Ballers," HBO's pretty good show about the business of pro football, starring The Rock as a sports agent (but mostly as a canvas to have colorful and expensive suits painted on his massive body), you probably know the opening credits:
Lil Wayne's "Right Above It" plays over an inspiring montage of young football players training, people flipping over tractor tires, ladies doing rope climbs, generally gym rat athlete-type stuff. Very much not surfing.
Then season four debuts this week, and mixed right there in the opening there's a danged video of Tony Hawk handplanting in a skate pool. More football practice-y stuff follows, and then Kelly Slater lofting a 360 air at, I wanna say, J-Bay. Perplexed, I watched on, wondering at this intrusion of surf and skate into a show based on a whole different world.
And ten minutes in, I had my answer, as the Rock's character, for the life of me I do not remember his name—wait, Spencer, I think—visits the HQ of some kind of action sports marketing company fronted by, I shit you not, Russell Brand.
Brand shows the Rock around an office filled with colorful pastel surfboards, then one of his athletes shows up, a young girl who promptly greets the Rock and co. with, please god no, "What's up, dudes!"
Next, Brand breathlessly lists the all-star talent on his cutting edge extreme sports company's roster. There's Kelly Slater (46), of course, Laird Hamilton (ageless) and Tony Hawk (50)! Moto legend Travis Pastrana (35) too. A real Who's Who list of early '00s talent. It's like a 40-year-old writer went to the home they grew up in and dug through their stash of old video games for a memory refresh of what the kids are into. Or were.
But, despite the awful pastel surfboards and the very painful dialogue, the show manages to capture the zeitgeist of surfing's current and forever existential crisis — is this a marketable sport?
Spencer bristles at the cost of the Robbie Madison motocross bike at Pipe video spectacle, and wonders what the ROI could possibly be on expensive marketing shoots. The World Surf League is briefly mentioned as a kind of marketing powerhouse (hmm), an African American surfer with the potential to be the "Jackie Robinson of surfing" is touted as a potential groundbreaking star, and Brand's company even has its own surf channel, albeit buried in the 1000s on the dial. Spencer is doubtful about dipping his toes into waters he doesn't understand, nor is he convinced there's a mainstream audience waiting for it.
He cannonballs into that pool anyway and all of a sudden, this is also a show about the business of action sports.
Huh. Pro football execs experts getting into pro surfing. Handwringing over whether the public will accept surfing as a sport. Is "Ballers," the show mostly about the business of football, about to be television's most realistic surf show?
No idea. It's an interesting turn though.