T-Street may be more crowded, but Kolohe will never be an Olympian
The general consensus in today’s surf culture is that surfing is more popular than ever. Spots around the world are becoming more densely packed, and you can always find a novice from California in the world’s most remote locations.
There are some who embrace one aspect of this current surf saturation – respect for the “sport.” There exists a segment of the surf population that clamors to elevate surfing to the ranks and popularity of bowling, tennis and NASCAR. They want professional surfing to be “legitimized,“ and hope that some day surfing will be an Olympic sport.
From what I see, in my region, summer line-ups are just as crowded as they were in 1987. The change I have witnessed is the number of those who surf in the winter, due to increased wetsuit technology, which allows the once summer hobbyists to feel more comfortable in cold conditions. , and obviously more tolerable.
But for those who desire for professional surfing to become mainstream, sorry, but your ship has already sailed. That opportunity came and went.
Surfing gave it a shot back in the mid-to-late 1980’s. Tom Curren was the new American upstart, and he became the biggest North American threat the professional surf world had ever seen. Despite Mr. Curren’s reclusive nature, he unwillingly became the media and industry messiah of American surfing. Things were going to change. The ASP moved to the states, and damn it, those so inclined were going to show America what they were missing.
Whether Tom Curren or The Association of Surfing Professionals had any direct or indirect influence, something happened in the 1980’s not seen since Gidget, Moondoogie and The Beach Boys. A fad erupted, and suddenly surf wear was all the rage, from obvious locations such as, Honolulu, all the way to the landlocked cities of the American plains. All of a sudden, it was cool to dress like a surfer. Surf magazines became as thick as Vogue and Cosmopolitan; ESPN aired surf contests, including all the stops on the burgeoning American Pro Tour (PSAA/Bud Tour) and a TV version of Surfer Magazine. Quiksilver even made enough money, during this era, to eventually sign Kelly Slater.
Never before and never again, will surfing be so highly available and promoted to America’s heartland. Yes, with today’s Internet more content is available, but you have to purposely find yourself there. Back in 1988, Bobby Joe, from Texarkana, searching for a college football game, would stumble upon ESPN airing Cheyne Horan shimmering down huge faces at Sunset Beach. That is much less likely to happen today.
Yes, Bobby Joe, and the rest of them, may have dug surf fashion for a moment or two, but . Your average Omaha, Nebraska resident will still choose to watch bowling opposed to a surf contest at Huntington Beach, unless it happens to be a riot year at The U.S Pro of Surfing. Even today, with better tour locations, they do not care. They don’t realize how much better Cloudbreak is compared to Manly Beach.
Throughout the years, ASP bigwigs and industry types hoped a charismatic world champ would better promote professional surfing especially in the untapped United States. For some odd reason, they thought they had such a person with the emergence of Tom Curren – a smooth stylish surfer, technically from the heart of American surfing, Southern California. Why they believed Tom was to be surfing’s pied piper is beyond comprehension. Curren was never a self-promoter, and he gave no inclination that he desired the spotlight or the responsibility to promote surfing to new markets. Part of Curren’s magic – besides his stylish surfing ability – was his aloof, shy, mysterious persona. Tom Curren was never a poster boy for anything, except for those who preferred the underground status of surfing’s eccentric characters. Tommy had the knack for appearing and disappearing, and always kept his handlers, the media and worldwide surf fans guessing. That is not the behavior becoming of a billboard, marketed, media hero.
Then Kelly appeared, just as Tom Curren’s dominance and prominence began to wane. Arguably better looking than Tom – in the standard Hollywood mold – Kelly burst on the scene, and was one of the few who actually lived-up to his amateur hype. He was the real deal, in a “sport” that hypes upstarts, while sadistically hoping for the inevitable tragic fall.
Fresh-faced, furry-headed, and full of youthful exuberance, Kelly arose from an upcoming, untapped area the surf industry was just beginning to drill. Cocoa Beach-bred, Kelly elevated the east coast’s reputation, and helped sell board shorts to legions of east coast dreamers. Unlike Tom Curren, Kelly wasn’t shy in front of the cameras. During his career, Mr. Slater, would manage to befriend at least one person from every known talent genre – from Eddy Vedder to Don Cheadle. Kelly even scored a role in the monumental network television show, Baywatch, and made tabloid fodder based on his female conquests. It’s hard to imagine a more desirable world champion, one who set records, and dominated the sport for the better part of two decades.
And after all of that – Tom Curren, a worldwide surf fashion craze, and the rise of surfing’s greatest star, Kelly Slater – it still wasn’t enough.
Cal, from Wyoming, still doesn’t give a shit about surfing or the almighty ASP. He doesn’t care about any Dream Tours, and if asked what he thought about Kelly Slater, Cal would most likely reply, “Who is she?”
Yes, over the last decade, surfing’s demographics have changed. There now exists more soccer moms and dads than there are Jeff Spicoli’s and Miki Dora’s, but surfing will never become a mainstream professional sport. Its coverage in the heartland will always be relegated to a few periodic media hypes of big wave events and shark attacks.