The Huffington Post has an interesting write up on the direction of competitive surfing along with the switch to the WSL (World Surf League) name in the new year. It covers a lot of old ground like the split between free surfing and the tour, pivoting off Noa Deane’s honest opinion at the Surfers Poll Awards which he was subsequently forced to walk back… Probably by a sponsor. As well as all the benefits that come with the direction that CEO Paul Speaker is taking the tour, now that the organisation was forced to act under threat of a rebel tour starting up.
Speaker’s idea for creating a broader audience for surfing is to focus attention on the athletes bios and get people invested in their story, then personalise the viewing experience for the fan based on that following. For instance, a fan of Mick Fanning will get alerts for when he’s surfing so they can tune in and catch his heats. But, as proven by the Noa Deane incident and about a half dozen others in recent memory, some of the elements of a surfers personality that make them worth following are at odds with the public perception that the tour wants to give. The biggest example is Bobby Martinez – he became vocal about issues with the tour and was kicked off for it. That’s not cool – I loved to watch Bobby for that unpredictability and I don’t have the tour because he does, but I respect him for voicing his opinion. The more the tour shuts down that personality, the more bland the bios and the people become, and the whole thing works against this big strategy Speaker has.
The key will be for the WSL to have a thick skin… Get in the fight and voice their contradictory opinion to the riders where required, be bold and make that part of the reason why people should follow not just the tour, but all the happenings “off the field”.