The Rustle

“If a surfer gets an offer above the table and we can’t or won’t match it, good luck and no hard feelings,” Rip Curl CEO Brian Singer said in 1992.

It’s that bit of over-friendly rustling you’ve got to watch for. The staple target of the 19th century pirate life has evolved into what is known as headhunting-on the table or under it. And now, as then, branding is the centerpiece. The pro athlete is part of today’s livestock herd, invaluable for a variety of market reasons.

What saga recently hit with extraordinary word-of-mouth pace during the Gold Coast’s Quiksilver Pro in March was headhunting pure and simple. A rustle on the face of it. Great rope work in another rancher’s paddock to ease the prized target out from under the nose of the dozing hands, branding iron in hand, before the shit hits the fan. Just as in the Wild West, and particularly given the ending, it may just have been a wake-up call from one cattle baron to another, a surprise test of strength to shake the earth and spread some awe through the valley; in modern terms a heavyweight homocorporate grapple, a public airing of hostile intent, a fascination to consumer and retailer and thus powerful branding in itself.

Both aggressor and defender can take positives from the incident-indeed, the industry at large. As reckless as Quiksilver’s action appeared to be in crash-tackling Billabong in its Gold Coast front yard, there was something more to its intent. The big-end corporate tactic was a first, a public shake, rattle and roll of the billion-dollar rival, all the while reinforcing the global market leadership of both.

But consider the pawn, Joel Parkinson: sitting number one on the ratings after his victory at the Quiksilver Pro. An enviable position? Certainly a Turning Point. And the huge carrot dangled by the rival company, an offer impossible to dismiss. Regardless of the outcome, a lightning strike not likely to happen twice in a hurry-and right as he was hitting 21. It was a cold stress test for a laid-back guy who’s as keen for a great night out with his mates as the prospect replacing Kelly as Top Stud.

The spark was The Heat. King vs. Prince-Slater, Parko. A ton of symbolism riding on it. Burleigh. They treated the pitching, thumping waves with limitless disdain, like Johnny Paarman putting the question to Simon Anderson in slightly heavier surf at the Bay of Plenty, 1980, and not too far off Occy/Curren at the 1984 Op Pro, the match up that sent word of mouth flying and the industry boiling. The shock was in overall impact. Surfing, not just Parko, appeared the big winner.

Given how amazingly the vanquished King had surfed, there were few kudos to Kelly. Here was a heat that could have proclaimed the power of both young and old on Tour…but didn’t. The loser deserved better in going down first event of the season all guns firing. The signal sent certainly lacked tact. Slater’s form looked on. Studying replays, he looks unnaturally enduring, boundless. Quiksilver’s subsequent pitch to Parko had a certain black-and-white symbolism to it: over the metaphorical fence into the next paddock in a flash, and into brand new territory as a result.