While the landscape of media is changing quicker than most of us care to accept, one branch of the Internet has swung low enough for even the shortest among us (myself included) to grasp: the blog. It's the one technological advancement that even the surf industry has encumbered with nails and chain-link swings, happily see-sawing back and forth with a rejuvenated sense of purpose. "I can say something…more, now. I can BLOG." And despite some misunderstanding and misuse of this form of communication, it's true. Blogs are endorsed and employed not only by Dane Reynolds, Lewis Samuels, and SURFER, but also Malcolm Gladwell, Esquire, and The New York Times. In short, they have utility, and they may be the only thing those six entities have in common; in fact, I'd argue that blogs were the single most transformative addition to the surf industry in the past year. They've served to reclaim the identities of over-marketed professional surfers while also keeping the media machine honest.
Take the advent of The Professional Surfer Blog. For the professional surfer (and other employers), blogs have always been mechanisms of self promotion, but they now allow surfers to control their projected image more effectively than ever. And why shouldn't they take advantage of the outlet? In a world of carefully-manicured profiles, blogs introduce a variable of uncertainty that can reveal potentially incongruous scenarios, a la Dane Reynolds. Judging from the high-performance, Diamond Dobby, wave-of-the-future advertisements in which he currently resides, you'd believe Reynolds to be a relatively unthreatening addition to the canon of talented modern surfers. Don't get me wrong, I love Diamond Dobbies as much as the next guy (rash free since winter 2008), but Dane is cultivating a much more dynamic public self-portrait through Marine Layer Productions than some might expect. Each week he features a few abstractions, maybe a piece of art, cryptic introspection, and (of course) some progressive surfing, which gives viewers a broader sense of who he is…or who he wants them to think he is.
That's the thing with blogs. They allow the blog-maker to stage the conversation, reclaiming power from established media outlets and brands by leveling the platform. If your profession requires that you be discussed publicly, it seems reasonable to direct the discussion. As such, a few new character-driven narratives have emerged within the surf world: Sterling Spencer has put his sense of humor at the forefront. Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson have surveilled themselves into a self-inflicted Orwellian nightmare. Paul Fisher has proven that he drinks a lot of alcohol and (probably) has a lot of sex, and Bede Durbidge and Ace Buchan have done their part to shake Spicoli-stereotypes with well-articulated memoirs.
"I credit those kids with recognizing a strong marketing opportunity, running with it, and understanding that a strong personal brand will suit them as professional surfers, but largely what they're doing is copying the work of other people and reflecting current trends," says Lewis Samuels. "I don't believe there is a true-arched person that is being revealed in these blogs. I think to a certain degree it's no different from what I was doing. I think I had a strong personal brand. PostSurf was not about me. It was closer to being a character, and I think that's a bit the way it is with those other guys. Having a consistent vision definitely helps people understand what you're trying to do, but inherently you have to simplify things in order to get that point across."
In many ways, Samuels busted down the electronic door for the surf world, and while his observations and criticisms started with an innocuous post entitled "Another Scheme," which provoked just one comment (that appears to be spam) in January of 2009, in just nine months it snowballed into a small phenomenon. He wasn't the first, but others have picked up where he left off for this reason: readers recognize value in third-party voices. While no one has done it as intelligently or compellingly as The Daily Show or The Colbert Report (nor should they, considering no one is getting funded to do it that well), they serve a similar function: enthusiast blogs are to the surf world what comedic pundits are to headline news. They keep us honest, which makes them important.
Despite regular appearances (both in person and as the subject of derisive skits) on The Daily Show, NBC anchor Brian Williams recently called Jon Stewart and his program "indispensable." And just as Williams once told his staff after broadcasting an absurd story,"You know, maybe we can just give a heads-up to Jon to set aside some time for that tonight,” so too does the office of every surf publication (ours included) brace for blogosphere lashings when we know they're deserved. This isn't exactly a new trend; message boards have long served as a public platform, but the difference with blogs (at least with the ones that gain traction) is you don't have to filter through so much fluff to read thoughtful commentary – which makes them somewhat indispensable. That's not to say some don't succeed by being inflammatory for the sake of being inflammatory, but I think readers can tell the difference – and if not, at least it provides a safe haven for the forever-embittered.
That said, blogs have expanded the means of passionate individuals to express themselves and have granted public figures more autonomy in crafting their own image,which precipitates a more honest representation of the sport we love. Some of these new voices are alarmist; some misinformed, but more importantly, some are true. And isn't that clarity what we're all after?
I guess we'll let the blogs decide.