After all my years of attending sporting events, I finally made it to my first WCT surfing event. Let me explain the scene for you… The beach at Lowers is crowded, the weather is great, the waves are fun, and the world's best surfers are just ripping Trestles to pieces. Hell, a couple dudes even managed to sneak in some tube time. This was, at least for an event in the continental US, about as good as it can get, right? Wrong. During this event I noticed a glaring weakness about surf contests held in the US. Well, to tell the truth (which I don’t stray from often you’ll come to find), I actually noticed this weakness with surf contests a long time ago: they’re boring.
Not every single surf contest, just a great majority of them. Now you are free to disagree, but don’t lie to yourself. Sitting around watching 30-minute heats when the waves are horribly inconsistent, or just plain bad, is not the ideal way for most of us to spend our days. Sure, every once in a blue moon Teahupoo is just on fire for the finals, or Restaurants in Fiji is off its skull. Even sometimes you’ll find the banks at Snapper to be just right or Mundaka to have contestable conditions. Every stop on tour has its moments and that’s why the tour comes by once a year, but if you think mother nature regularly delivers, you're just kidding yourself.
I just spent three days straight watching one set come in every 15 minutes where priority tactics even caused some to go by completely unridden, and you can believe I had plenty of time to study the crowd on the beach. Every day a nice-sized crowd showed up and every day I watched as they found ways to keep themselves occupied. Some chose to emulate bocci ball games by tossing pebbles at a certain odd rock several yards away. Others laid out and treated it as any regular day at the beach while paying no attention to what was happening in the water. Some just drank a mass load of Red Bulls to stay awake, and a few hardcore surf fans actually kept their eyes glued to the horizon waiting for something to finally happen. When someone ripped a wave to the beach, or went for a big maneuver, they sparked a mellow applause and cheer. That applause got louder as it got closer to the final as you would expect, but was never what I would describe as overly enthusiastic.
What is the missing ingredient that would spice this place up, I thought to myself? Didn’t take long for me to come to a conclusion and no it ain’t Brad Gerlach’s The Game format (although I am a fan of that)… it's ALCOHOL! Bingo. Think what you will but no person in his right mind could tell me with a straight face serving beer wouldn’t intensify the emotion and energy on the beach at a surf contest. I know because I’ve seen it first hand. Take the Corona Extra Surf Series they hold in Puerto Rico for instance. Mediocre surfers in knee-high waves can’t keep those events from popping off. The people there don’t really worry about some bullshit surf forecast, or who’s in the ratings lead, or how many points so-and-so needs to re-qualify. No matter what, there will be beer and there will be surfing. That's all the crowd cares about. If people get that excited watching those events, imagine what it would do to a beach like Lowers if you added alcohol into the mix during the WCT event. The number of spectators would probably double and you’d really get to see some interesting folks roll down to watch these guys ride waves. People would start wearing gear to represent their heroes, painting their faces, making signs, cheering louder, and everyone would have a hell of a better time.
Come to think of it, surfing is the perfect spectator sport built for drinking beer. You don’t have to come early to tailgate and get ready for it to start like you would to watch an NFL, MLB, NHL, MLS game, or even NASCAR race for that matter. Instead you have all the time you want to sit back and enjoy an ice-cold beverage while you spend the day on the beach.
Think about the money it would drive into the sport and the extension of sponsors that would be interested. At NFL games they charge $8 per beer. I took a random poll on the beach and about 85% of the people I questioned agreed they’d dish out up to $10 per drink if they could purchase a beer right there and then. Can’t say there isn’t a demand for it.
To make this column well rounded I, of course, have to address the negatives associated with selling beer at surf events. The extra trash factor could be a problem easily addressed by having a sufficient amount of garbage cans and recycling bins and also by hiring people to pick up any excess rubbish left by careless surf fans. People who get out of hand and too wasted could easily be escorted out by additional police officers put on the beach for security purposes. If they can do it in every other sport, there is no reason they can’t do it at a surf contest.
This is Pro Surfing at its highest level and I just want people to be able to go to these events and have the best experience possible. I think I’d be hard-pressed to find a sponsor who disagrees with that statement. I know it isn't the sponsors fault there isn't alcohol either. They do what they can to serve alcohol to those super cool bros that lucked out with a pass into the VIP area. That's crap though. Everyone deserves to be able to enjoy a beer. Not just the cool-guy club. It's probably has something to do with California law, but how hard could it possibly be to get a permit that allows drinking for just a few select events? Restricting the sale of alcohol to all the spectators who come out to support these surfers is not only bad for the growth of the sport, it’s just plain lame.
I have to tell you people… “That’s bullshit!” firstname.lastname@example.org –Jimmicane