Ever planned a wedding? If you have then you know it's terrible and that the most terrible part of all is the guest list. You have these circles of people in your life — family in the tightest circle, with besties, regular friends, coworkers, etc, all having their respective circles moving away from the nucleus. And when you draw the line and say, "No one else outside this circle," the people in the next circle are like, "Pssssh. Guess my invite got lost in the mail." No matter what, someone's getting their feelings hurt.
I bring this up because I feel bad for Big Wave Tour commissioner Peter Mel. Along with his team, he has to plan seven wedding's a year in the form of Big Wave Tour events. But unlike your old college buddy who you follow on Instagram but don't really talk to anymore, big-wave surfers get loud when they don't receive an invite. Take Danilo Couto, for example. Danilo helped pioneer paddle-in surfing at Jaws. He won Ride Of The Year for a wave there in 2011. Then the WSL even promoted their Peahi big-wave event with a photo of Danilo surfing the left, even though he wasn't invited. Ruh-roh.
Danilo reposted the WSL's image on his Instagram with the caption, "HOW CAN @wsl use my image to promote their #BIGWAVETOUR #PEAHICHALLENGE and not INVITE me ?????????????????????"Danilo Couto. Photo: Jimmicane
This was a totally fair question, as someone with Danilo's resume would be an ideal invitee, and the WSL using his image was clearly poor form (they've since removed the post). It became a heated topic, with everyone from Kelly Slater to Shane Dorian to Ben Wilkinson to Skindog Collins to a bunch of Brazilians leaving comments. And, in the spirit of the Internet, the plot was soon lost as Skindog and Kelly exchanged heated words and invitee Shaun Walsh wanted to know why the Skullbase crew wasn't called to do water safety and also why his brother, DK, wasn't invited.
What's sad is that this is a just a snapshot of the cattiness that occurs almost daily in professional big-wave surfing. Regardless the topic — contest location, contest organizer, contest invitees, prize money, XXL Awards, BWT, anything that ever had to do with the Maverick's contest, Peter Mel, sponsorship (or lack thereof) — you'll find a group of big-wave surfers that feels marginalized, used and underpaid.
Why does this area of our sport leans toward the drama like drunk teenage girls? Here are a few ingredients that fuel the fire:
The sport is in its infancy, at least professionally, so there's a lot of trial and error happening. And whoever is making the decisions around the trial and error (in the case of the BWT, Peter Mel), is going to catch a lot of heat from armchair quarterbacks talking about what should be done differently.
Big waves are fickle. So if you don't run and it ends up being good, you blew it and the conspiracy theories flood in. If you run and it's small you blew it, because you're hurting the integrity of the sport. (It's for this reason that I think the BWT is a flawed format, anyway. Big-wave competitions should lean more toward the XXL award format than the small-wave contest model. But that's for another post…)
Egos. Anyone that tackles 50-foot waves is going to have one, and because big waves are fickle, those egos will find their way onto the Internet during downtime.
They're risking their lives and they want to be fairly compensated for it. I get this. But if the money doesn't yet exist (through sponsorships and such), how are people supposed to get paid?
In most cases, it comes down to a lack of perspective. The surfers that feel victimized speak from a place that accounts only for their best interests, failing to take recognize the bigger picture. For example, they want more prize money, but to attract more sponsorship the BWT needs to invite guys like Kelly Slater into the event above lesser-known chargers, and great big-wave surfers like Danilo get the short end of the stick.
Yes it's politics. No it's not fair. But you can either keep it core or you can grow the sport for future generations. You can't have it both ways.
Shane Dorian stated it best on Danilo's thread, saying, "…Running a tour would suck and it would be easy to make mistakes. But whining doesn't help. You're either part of the problem or part of the solution."
And that, my friends, is a man that's planned a wedding. —Taylor Paul