Last week, during the ISA World Games in Ecuador a historic vote was cast among the ISA committee members that has essentially stripped the USSF of its governing authority over amateur surfing in the United States and reunited it under the Surfing America umbrella. After years of bickering with powerful amateur organizations like the NSSA, ESA, and HASA, many felt this move to strip the USSF of its power was long overdue. American amateurs have been getting soundly pounded in international competition for years now, mostly because the USSF alone selects the team to bring.
After a four-hour debate in committee in which Surfing America, the governing body of the ASP in North America, put their business plan on the table and shed light on the USSF’s failures, the issue was put up for a vote, and the historic change was made.
The vote is being viewed as the first step in re-establishing American surfing back to where it belongs within the international community, and should bolster the significance of the ISA World Games in the process. But many questions still remain, so we caught up with Surfing America President Peter Townend, our new leader, to get some answers on what this all means. -Chris Mauro
SURFERmag.com: With your pro surfing background and experience with the NSSA, you’re obviously familiar with the politics behind all this. We know the bickering between organizations has been America’s biggest struggle for more than a decade now in terms of fielding an international team that’s competitive.
PT: Yeah, and if you go back in history we’ve been in one of these cycles before, which was when Ian [Cairns] and I showed up and Chuck Allan gave us the job of Executive Directors of the NSSA we began the process of Curren winning at Burleigh and the US domination in Huntington Beach for the World Contest in 1984. Then later on when the games came back here in 1996 the games came back here and Taylor Knox won but it’s been down hill ever since because of mismanagement of the national governing body which was controlled by the USSF.
SURFERmag.com: I remember each organization, the NSSA, ESA, WSA, all throwing there best candidates to the trials to compete against each other for slots on the US Team that went on to win at the World Contest in 1984.
PT: Yeah, right, each of those organizations was represented in the USSF at the time, so they got to put X number of team members-I’d have to go back in history to look-then everyone surfed off to fill up the slots on the team.
SURFERmag.com: And as it happened the vast majority of those surfers came from the NSSA that year.
PT: Yeah, the NSSA was pretty dominant back then. I think the only guy that got in from any other organization was Bill Johnson, [current shaper for Rusty}.
SURFERmag.com: He was from the ESA. So the past few years we’ve been sending lambs to the slaughter in these ISA World Games because there’s only been one organization sending people?
PT: Yeah, I think there’s one thing that’s been overlooked. USSF made a tactical error after 1984 in that they told the NSSA to take a hike. So the NSSA went off and committed to simply doing a good job. And they did. They did such a good job that it became more important to surf in the NSSA and surf in the National Championships at Lowers than it did to represent your country in the World Games. That problem just got worse and worse. Eventually, the ESA saw that they weren’t achieving what they wanted to achieve and they began doing the same things with their events on the east coast. So when they left the USSF that opened that really opened the door for us to start demanding this change in the governing body of Amateur Surfing in the U.S.
SURFERmag.com: So the vote in Ecuador stripped the USSF of its governing power and gave that authority to Surfing America, which is pivotal because now we’ll be able to select from the best of the best here in the states for our team.
SURFERmag.com: So the challenge now is, how do you lift the prestige of the ISA World Games to a level where people here in the states actually give a rat’s ass?
PT: Well, it’s going to take some time. You’re right. This vote alone doesn’t solve everything. We’re going to have to rebuild and re-instill the pride of surfing for your country. That’s what makes these events exciting. Let me tell you on the beach right now in Ecuador there are 25,000 screaming fans and there’s a ton of pride among the Australians, Brazilians and the South Africans. But there’s no pride at all from the Americans because the team isn’t competitive. That was really no different to how our teams were back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. It wasn’t until we started fielding teams with Tom Curren and Chris Frohoff that things really got exciting for the U.S.. When we went down to Australia with those guys, all the sudden it started to mean something and people wanted to be on that team. So that process is going to begin again today. The first part of that is we’ll have a credible National Championship in Southern California in December of this year, where the best from all organizations will be invited, and from that we’ll select our National Team for the ISA World Jr. Championships in Tahiti in ’05.
SURFERmag.com: Do you think we’ll be competitive right away?