X-It Strategy

It seems like the surf zone at Huntington Beach has always been an extreme place. But on August 9 the Olympics of action sports and the veritable leaseholder on “X-tremeness,” ESPN’s X-Games, will offer a whole new type of radical to the H.B. pier’s line-up. Brad Gerlach’s National Surf League and its unconventional team-surfing contest format, The Game, has been added to the ninth annual X-Games roster.

Gerlach’s Game is divided into four 20-minute quarters played by two teams of eight. For the X-Games debut, the East and West Coasts of America will square off led by coaches Matt Kechele and Mike Parsons respectively. According to Gerlach, Parsons is hoping to recruit Pat O’Connell, Rob Machado, Taylor Knox, Shane Beschen, Tim Curran and Bobby Martinez or Chris Ward for his team. Kechele’s dream roster includes Kelly Slater, Ben Bourgeois, C.J. and Damien Hobgood and Cory and Shea Lopez. To round out the total, four wildcards will be brought in and assigned to teams on a lottery. Initial candidates for that spot are Taj Burrow, Joel Parkinson, Mick Fanning and Shane Dorian.

Unfortunately, 12 of the 16 aforementioned surfers compete on the World Championship Tour, and they need approval from the Association of Surfing Professionals in order to compete, something it seems certain factions at the ASP aren’t too excited about. The X-Games event, based on a completely different format than the ASP’s traditional heat structure, may eclipse the WCT’s audience with previous X-Games television viewership exceeding 100 million homes. Ultimately, the success or failure of The Game, particularly on television, will impact the viability of ASP surfing and will have enormous repercussions with current ASP stakeholders and endemic surf companies like Billabong and Quiksilver.

“In a perfect world there would be some spirit of cooperation between the ASP, ESPN, the surfers and the companies that sponsor them,” said ex-ASP head and current Billabong vice president of marketing Graham Stapelberg. “It’s not rocket science,” he continued, acknowledging the mass marketing benefits of the X-Games. “Both skateboarding and snowboarding have benefited immensely.”

??(Tone of the surfers were available for comment, almost all of them have previously embraced The Game wholeheartedly, as demonstrated in a National Surf League event held at Cardiff Reef in San Diego last winter where teams and spectators poured in.

The X-Games Game will run August 9, 2003, on the south side of Huntington Beach Pier. The contest will run sometime in the early morning and will take three to three-and-a-half hours to complete. Television coverage will be aired in four to eight segments between August 16 and 22 on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC.

Stay tuned here on Surfermag.com and in SURFER Magazine for further developments.