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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

Thu, 3 May 2018

The Founders Cup of Surfing at the Surf Ranch this weekend and the Margaret River shark drama couldn't be a more serendipitous sign of where pro surfing is headed, writes Spike.

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A FEW FOUNDERS: Some of the ballies who started it all, back in the day. Photo WSL / Morris

There is a lot to be bewildered about, with the first public artificial wave pool event sanctioned by the WSL coming up this weekend in the rural backwater of Lemoore, California.

But commercially, if ever that was your motivation in life to be a surfer, it bodes well. It is a bit intriguing, maybe even a little bit exciting but always a novelty waiting to wear off (for surfers more than others perhaps).

As a South African, I find it hard to stomach how a former power house in surfing is now resigned to two members of a world team, not even an African team, while the other four teams are Australia, Brazil, USA and Europe (see the teams).

It's quite cool to have a South African as the captain, granted. And I guess they chose the team before Mikey February made the world tour, and there's not exactly an army of Saffas on tour, unlike the Brazilian Storm. There is no Saffa Sosatie. It's also quite cool that two women are captains out of the five teams surfing this weekend, Stephanie Gilmor (Australia), and Johanne Defay (Europe).


YAY, NO SHARKS! This is a team that will be very hard to beat at the Surf Ranch in Cali.

But some will baulk at the notion that Europe gets its own region, while vast swathes of the planet - namely Asia, Africa and South America (bar Brazil) - get squished into a team called "Rest of the World".

The 'rest' of the world is almost the 'whole' world: 6 billion (plus) out of 7,6. Yes, I know its based on proportionate representation on the Tour. African surfers (not Saffas) are rare as hen's teeth, although the efforts of WSL Africa, the City Surf Series and the formation of the African Surfing Confederation will change that in time. But it's interesting to unpack nonetheless.

Many surfers will find it hard to stomach why surfing is embracing this chlorinated metronym that punches out moments of perfect monotony. Of course we can understand the attraction. The cancellation of the Margaret River Pro was a large, grey, toothy hint. You generally don't want sharks biting people, even as far as six kilometres from the contest site.

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DEFAY DEFERRED: The French team will be captained by Johanne Defay. Photo WSL / Roland

Well, now you have some world history in the making - the first WSL event that guarantees the biggest thing that will bite you will be a mosquito ... or the price for a one-day ticket to the Founders Cup (R1,200). "Come experience the magic in person," it says on the website.

Also, for the first time in history, pretty much, the WSL can guarantee, down to the last second, the exact times that the televised broadcast will come on air. Even before I had finished writing this, the WSL announced their television partnership with CBS Sports, and a partnership with Turner Sports’ Bleacher Report Live.

These two things signal a massive shift in the fortunes of surfing's commercial future. Broadcast negotiations will be much smoother sailing now. Ironically of course, the "Founders" that the event's name refers to are seven pioneers of the early days who also went through birth pangs to a new professional era. These were the guys who started it all: Wayne "Rabbit" Bartholomew, Ian Cairns, Fred Hemmings, Randy Rarick, Mark Richards, Shaun Tomson, and Peter Townend.

"We Stand on the Shoulders of Giants" says the Founders Cup of Surfing website, before listing the aforementioned gentlemen.

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OLD AND ... ALSO OLD: Shaun Tomson gets the rundown from Kelly Slater. Photo WSL / Morris

training-for-founders-cupLets ruminate on the repercussions of Margie River and the Founders Cup. There was significant fan fallout after the Margaret River decision, with many throwing up their hands in disgust at the perceived fail. The gist of the hate against the WSL was that "We surf in their domain. Of course its a risk. That's kinda part of the whole point".WSL CEO Sophie Goldscmidt got beat up for being a helicopter mom, like an over-cautious mammy molly-coddling her brood of cute little critters.

Most surfers know the issue to be more complex. The decision was made by the match commissioner, local authorities and the surfers. Many supported the move. Goldschmidt merely announced it.

Of course, sharks biting athletes is not good for business. Cynics might point to how the WSL stats shot through the roof when Mick Fanning was buzzed by a shark at Jeffreys Bay in 2015. But when I last looked, we're not looking to a corporately-created future that brings you the gratuitious violence of say a Rollerball, or the post-holocaust shenanigans of Mad Max.

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LAYING IT DOWN: Jordy Smith will captain the "Rest of the World". Photo WSL / Rowland


But we are getting the corporate part. Oh yes. In a big way. That's why we (meaning the broader surfing collective who make up the fan base of the WSL) bought the Surf Ranch. There are rumours that uber-wealthy WSL under-writer Dirk Ziff was about to bail when the wave pool option popped up. Now the revenue outlook looks rosy again. Like it or lump it, this is the business plan of surfing.

The Margaret River Pro did not have a title sponsor, and with a year left on its contract and now rotten luck with the sharks, it looks like a gonner. The Founders Cup of Surfing and the Margaret River Pro happening so close together couldn't be a more serendipitous indication of where professional surfing is headed.

Most pro sports don’t face the same extent of force majeure (acts of God or fate) that surfing does. Let alone the sharks, the jellies, other stingy things, and lame interviews on the beach. If the waves are too small, or too big, or two stormy, or the wind is bad, the event is called off. You get lay days before you get good days.

For the ATP, its a no-brainer. Federer will play Nadal at 7pm on Wednesday on centre court. Now surfing can do that too. With the Founders Cup (which is the warmup to the Surf Ranch Pro later this year), it's happy days for prime time TV, and I would be willing to bet that sponsors will be queuing up, and Dirk Ziff will no longer be feeling ... er ... miff.

Even billionaires don't like losing chunks of money.


Barry Wolins
0 #1 ????Barry Wolins 2018-05-03 20:28
Howzit Steve , interesting to say the least .
I’m trying to find out , is there prize money or appearance money for this event ?
Cheers Bru
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