If surfing is so beautiful why is contest surfing so ugly? That's the question I ask virtually every time I watch an ASP event online.
Have you ever watched an ASP event online for more than 30 minutes at a time? If you have and don't work directly for or in the surf industry, I'm surprised you haven't killed yourself yet. It's basically state-sponsored torture. Where the hell do you think the term waterboarding came from? Don't believe me? A quick Google search for "ASP waterboarding" returned 2,860,000 results. You can't argue with evidence like that.
As the Association of Surfing Professionals transitions from a sanctioning body essentially owned by the brands and sponsors to a more "independent" tour promised by new owners ZoSea, massive changes need to be made if they want to attract new fans and keep the ones they currently have.
Attracting New Fans
That's the goal, right? That's how ZoSea seemingly convinced the ASP stakeholders to hand them carte blanche ownership with no business plan in place. Surfing is a unique sport in the fact it's virtually impossible to attract viewers who don't surf. Some have argued that most of the people who watch the NFL, the NBA or Major League Baseball probably don't play the aforementioned sports they're watching. But surfing is more insular in nature and frankly it hasn't been broadcasted in a way to make die-hard surfers watch regularly, much less people who have no vested interest in surfing. Have you ever tried watching a surf contest, or even a surf video, with someone who doesn't surf? Might as well give them a handful of valiums and a two-liter bottle of that purple shit 'Lil Wayne drinks. Because they will doze off faster than you can say Bede Durbidge.
When it comes to watching ASP events, the mute button may be the greatest invention ever bestowed on mankind. More often than not the announcers spew an outlandish blend of hyperbole and good old-fashioned ass kissing. Every event is better than the last. Everything is "historic." Every surfer more than 25 years old is a "legend." Hell, if the announcers were to describe this piece of writing on air like they do and average third round World Tour heat, I'd probably be nominated for a Pulitzer and be compared to Shakespeare and George Carlin.
How do they fix this? They can start by hiring announcers who have the right amount of surfing knowledge and broadcasting professionalism to know when to speak, and more importantly, when to stay silent. Train them. Put them in a room and have them watch Vin Scully or Chick Hearn tapes for chrissakes. Do something. Force their eyelids open with toothpicks like that scene in "A Clockwork Orange" if you have to. Think outside the surf industry bubble for a change. Because the current structure of pointing a few cameras at the ocean and having barely-literate, mono-syllabic team managers and former pros calling play-by-play just isn't working. The sad reality of all this is the best announcer, by far, is Kelly Slater. And his bald head can only sport so many hats at once.
The three-man heat is a lot like a menage a trois. They usually sound like a better idea than they actually are, and the results can be disastrous. What's the point of a three-man heat? There are no real winners or losers. The only people losing as far as I can tell are the people watching. This isn't AYSO Soccer or Little League Baseball. Pro surfing shouldn't give so many second chances. We want winners AND Losers. We want struggle and triumph. We want blood in the water. We want drama. Actually, a decent argument can be made to keep the current first-round set up intact, but the no loser round after round three needs to be abolished. Yesterday. It's a waste of time, money, and it kills the momentum of the event.
Presentation is Everything
The cost to run an average World Tour event is about 3 million dollars. And the webcast is a healthy chunk of that cost. They need to spend that money more wisely. Why not open things up? Why not let the directors of the surf videos we love so much take the reins? Let Kai Neville direct it. Or Taylor Steele. Heck, bet you'd have massive success if you gave the keys to Dane Reynolds and his filmer Mini Blanchard for an entire event.
The best surfing in the world deserves great production from the ASP webcast team. The best surfers deserve producers and cameramen who realize that live surfing is always better than the post heat interview. How about recording the post-heat interview and airing it when no one is up and riding a wave? There is probably less than two minutes of wave riding in an average 30-minute heat. Is it too much to ask to get all those waves live?
Every kid on my block has a GoPro camera attached to his board but the ASP hasn't been able to do this in a contest yet? Utilize microphones and sound technology too. If Adriano de Souza is claiming a ride loudly or berating the judges for this last score I want to hear it. Mic the surfers up. Let's hear the roars of the ocean and the sly, passive aggressive comments Mr. Slater says to psych out his opponents.
Maybe we're getting ahead of ourselves here. The most pressing issue is the live stream. More specifically, how often it goes down. How do you get the masses to hop on board when they can't consistently and reliably watch an event in the first place? For every second the feed is down you lose viewers and more importantly your credibility.