What’s Your ASP Look Like?

Sean Doherty makes a case for his version of pro surfing

| posted on July 14, 2014
Dane Reynolds let loose in a tropical lineup? Sean Doherty's ASP includes that. Photo: Childs

Dane Reynolds let loose in a tropical lineup? Sean Doherty’s ASP includes that. Photo: Childs

If you were given a blank piece of paper and told to go off and design pro surfing, what would you do? What type of glorious Mister Squiggle/Jackson Pollock abstract masterpiece would you sketch?

It’s a favorite exercise of people who claim to have absolutely no interest in pro surfing whatsoever, people who then sit for days and furiously scribble 25,000 words on how they would run the show, usually involving the removal of all sponsors, the wholesale sacking of the entire Top 34, and putting Bruce Irons and Dane Reynolds on a boat full of beer in Indonesia. While this last measure is not without its merits–and we’ll get to them later–it’s technically closer to piracy than pro surfing.

Before we start, let’s just acknowledge that if you gave this exercise to 10,000 surfers, you’d get 10,000 different ideas, so let’s agree you’ll never reach a consensus. If consensus is your goal then the camel of a pro tour you presently see, designed by a committee with competing interests over a number of years, is your surfing Valhalla. Instead, we need to focus on one blindingly brilliant, enlightened, dangerous idea–for instance, err, mine–and run with it.

But while my blue-sky exercise is a fantastic home for ideological thought bubbles and Jamie O’Brien on a unicorn, it does have to operate in a real world, the real world we currently inhabit, and we need to acknowledge a few home truths when pulling this thing together. The first caveat, and it might come as a shock to you, is that pro surfing exists to make money. That a world champion rolls off the conveyor belt at the end of the year is largely a happy accident. Pro surfing will always make sacrifices on the altar of the free market. Pro surfing will eternally be at odds with itself. There’s a business model, there’s a surfing model, and somewhere between the twain lies pro surfing. Good waves cost money, so let’s find a way for good waves to make money.

OK, let’s get dirty. First up, let’s stop losers winning. Having someone lose twice then get handed a trophy defies a million years of human evolution. It’s a hard enough concept for the surfers themselves to grasp, so trying to sell this idea to Johnny Punter is a stretch. The Heat/Broncos/Rafael Nadal just lost the title? No worries, let’s come back next week and give ‘em another go. This is what happened when the surfers themselves designed the Tour a few years back, the lunatics running the asylum. Man-on-man, go to whoa, two men enter, one man leaves. By doing this you’d also immediately fix the other great problem all Tour events face…trying to shoehorn four or five days of surfing into just three days of swell.

The Top 16. Math has never been the strong point of the ASP, but they need to make 16 their magic number, not 48, not 36, not 34. Give the top 34 a haircut at the neck–it’s been a bloviated mess for too long–and let’s get it back to the good ol’ elite Top 16. Think back, those guys used to be gods, if only because there weren’t 50 of them.

Make the trials a real show. Make it a single-day shootout but give it a waiting period of its own the week before the main event. Expand the field: add the top 34 guys you just made unemployed, and throw them out among a Star Wars bar of locals, legends, space monkeys, and Dane Reynolds. Guys with stories. Dangerous, desperate men. Then pit 16 of these lunatics against the Top 16 and you immediately have some badass theater on your hands. You also have a 32-man event that can finish in a day and a half of great surf, instead of the current format that needs three full days and some change. Punters suddenly don’t have to pan through days of slag TV to find moments of gold, and events finish quickly, on one swell, with real momentum.

Loosen this thing right up. From my experience people do not surf–and do not follow pro surfing–because it makes them feel safe, or it reminds them of their favorite mainstream sport. People don’t want mainstream, their lives are already mainstream. They want counterculture, they want anti-establishment, they want all the things surfing used to represent. They don’t want surfers they can trust. They don’t want a cheese coma. Add color. Shock people. Make them laugh. Let Dave Wassell commentate, basically.

Bring back the floating “Search” license. Having attended most of Rip Curl’s Search events, I can personally attest to their cavalier and exotic nature. And most of the time you even got surf! How good was Puerto Rico! Bali! Chile! Don’t even get me started on Barra. Surfing events suffer from fatigue, plodding along year after year, but here’s a chance to splash hot sauce on the Tour every year.

In saying that, can we bring back Mexico and Indonesia. Like, um, now? I don’t care where you put the events–Puerto and G-Land will do just fine–but if you’re going to tap into the romanticism of what surfing used to be you need to get out to the fringes. You need to sell escapism, and American and Australian surfers escape respectively to Mexico and Indonesia.

Finally, going back to the boat trip with Dane and Bruce. I might have shitcanned the idea earlier, but seriously, it would work. Get a sponsor, dream up some wack abstract scoring system, film the whole thing and make it an art project. But most importantly throw an ASP logo on it. It’s hardly a revolutionary idea, but bringing it under the umbrella of “pro surfing” is. While you’re at it, hold a skins event, a prog-rock aerial showdown, and run a big-wave world tour…which the new ASP seems to already have covered. None of these count for a world title of course, but it sure as hell validates the world title among the broad church. If you acknowledge that surfing means different things to different people and you bring them all into the tent, you’ll find it’s far better having them inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.

  • Trogan Fan

    First off, let’s focus on something more pressing – a magazine which hires writers who still can’t figure out an apostrophe. WTF?

    Second, the easiest way to “fix” pro surfing is to admit nobody needs it. Get rid of it and nobody will care other than those who make a living insisting otherwise. Good product will sell whether Slater’s wearing it at a comp or not.

  • Adam

    Pro surfing is at it’s best it can be at the moment. And the set up of the wct is improving each year, respectively

    • Mik

      totally agree. judging problems aside, it’s an awesome show of talent. inspiring. instructional. and it currently respects the hard work of the surfer’s who climbed their way to the top of the competition scene. people who are hating on it here think that these guys were just gifted what they have. not even.

  • freerider

    One comment and a negative one at that. Looks like so called pro surfing could be ready to go over the falls along with its star struck teenie bopper surf star groupies.
    The Asp couldn’t even get a surf sponsor for the j-bay event or the event before it-no quick-biilabog- rip cur- ect. The only thing it seems that is keeping the ASP (zooatsea) afloat right now is Dirk Ziff and his millions helping to back it. If I’m correct- Dirf Ziff is footing the bill for all of these un-sponsored contests and paying Terry Harder, Paul Speaker, Kieran Perrow ect. for their time. The few facts we have seen about viewer numbers is just a drop in the bucket to total number of surfers. Maybe the surfing world has realized that the best waves ever ridden on the planet, by a so called pro or anyone–will always be the waves you catch and ride yourself, whether its 2 feet or twenty. Its always better to ride your own waves. Peace…

  • Yoda

    Bring back the Rip Curl Search events! A floating venue that changes every year would add a little spark to the tour. I’m getting tired of watching the same guys surf the same venues every year. And you’re right about cutting the field down a bit. We don’t need a “top 32”. Way too many people in the field & it takes to frickin’ long to complete an event. A “top 16” with some wild cards, who have to compete for a spot, thrown in at each event. Oh, & can we dump the Rio event all together? And make Bells & Margaret River 6 star prime events, not world tour stops.

  • freerider

    Come on guys, where’s my post? You guys can handle a little critisism, right?

  • Dharma Bum

    Yes, counting only 9 of 11 events… bad idea. The surfer with the most points should win, warts and all. Not counting your two worst finishes at the end of the season is not only confusing for fans, but also lends an ignoble quality to the sport.

    Separating the two ranking systems CT vs QS, was good start!

  • rob gilley

    a doherty riff is always worth reading but the truth of the matter is that the current tour – wait for it – is fucking awesome. for proof, know that thousands of miles from the source, surfers sit transfixed by WCT webcasts like headlight-stunned Skippys in Blood Alley . J-bay, Trestles, Teahupoo, Cloudbreak, Hossegor and Pipe with just two guys in the water? Jesus!

    • Trogan Fan

      Seriously? Did you wake up the last several mornings to watch J-Bay? How many of those days did they even run? The people “transfixed” are few and far between, and aren’t likely shelling out any money for Samsung phones as a result of watching.

      • Troy Humphreys

        Heat review is awesome. Now I can actually watch contests. Its kinda like watching baseball. You aren’t really watching, but when someone gets a hit (in our case a high score) I looked up and click the dot to watch what happened.

  • freerider

    well, one positive comment, I think the lack of comments just shows the lack of interest of most surfers. Maybe they are just to busy catching and riding their own waves. Peace….

  • timboly

    i have to say Mr Doherty, I like a lot of what you say…
    When I was a grom (early ’90’s), the coolest thing about surfing was that it had a (fading) element of the anti-establishment. It is officially no longer anti-establishment in any way. It’s the new corporate. So. Make it: The New Corporate. Institutionalise Anti-Establishment (if such a thing can be done). Add the element of risk. The idea of 16 guys travelling the world to changing or rotating surf breaks with the real possibility they may get taken down in the first round by some rogue local who has the place totally dialled is an absolute winner in my mind. I have to say, on the whole I generally like the new ASP branding, just add an element of risk and randomness and it could be so much more fun!
    (and that’s why we all surf, ’cause it’s fun…)

    • Trogan Fan

      Now seriously, who pays for this and how does it make money? Pro surfing is a snooze fest 99% of the time and there’s no way to capture any significant revenue.

  • timboly

    oh… and just one more thing: It should be 16 Guys & 16 Girls traveling the world…
    The Women’s Tour is the most exciting thing in surfing right now…

    • Stokes

      UH. no. I don’t even click on any link concerning female surfers. Zero, zero interest.

  • Pops McGee

    i love mr doherty’s idea. especially the top 16 each vs top 16 trials at each event and no losers rounds

  • Jamii Hamlin

    Great ideas are often that, but cutting down to an uber elite top 16 would just make the sport less of a career option for most without any guarantee of a ‘pay check’ and without sponsorship assistance to present these contest the formula and results become predictable and sterile in outcome.

    Would Samsung or another non surfing sponsor be on board if former champions Kelly, Joel and Mick were gone? Sure wild cards & local hero’s make contests more interesting, but how do you commercialized spoilers like Sean Holmes beating Andy and Kelly into a sustainable and presentable package that helps makes the WCT possible? Take CJ for instance, would he still be plugging away if relegated to the WQS and not within the current 32 bubble that guarantees him a better pay out?

    Ultimately the economic slow down has had far reaching effect on many aspect of the sport and any surf related brand can get more bang of their buck in JOB styled surf trips videos that entertain us “bored’ surfers but in order to attract the big brands and global TV appeal the ASP needs proper athletes with identifiable personalities to represent their vision!

    Unless it’s broken don’t try to fix it!

  • Mik

    wow. totally out there Sean. and I totally disagree. the Tour is rad. the number of touring pros perfect. the only real glitch is Brazil & EU surf is too fickle given a zillion better options — and then there is the judging, which is the numero uno problem.

    And probably you didn’t zero in on it because the problem is that there is a disproportionate number of Aussies on the judging roster. Add in the fact that the judges’ names and scores are not shown with each Heat, then they can and will skew the scores to push through OZ talent. It sucks. No, actually, it’s fucking wrong. And it needs to be corrected immediately.

  • Mike

    Top 3 waves score. That’s one wave every 10 minutes. Prefer to watch surfing not sitting.

    Higher scores for new school moves. If Parko and Mick are winning championships it tells me the judges are still fantasizing about Tom Curren and Sunny Garcia. Nothing wrong with that, but when a genius like Dane has to drop off… well you wonder what’s happened to progression.

  • Tyler Breuer

    Cut the tour to 16, with a wild card event that leads up to the comp. Have only one non-elimination round. Add 1-2 Big wave events like Pico Alto or Mavericks. Add a three tier points system for the events. Big wave events like Mavericks get 3 times the points of an event like Brazil. If top two surfers at the end of the season are within 1,000 points of each other, add a championship 60 minute heat to the final event, winner take all. Plus, add specialty boxing style man on man heats throughout the year. Create rivalry and allow surfer’s to challenge each other to a 3-5 set heat at a wave they both agree on.

  • Danny

    Sorry, but thats a lot of BS. I like some stuff Sean D. writes, but this is just meh. Sometimes the pretensions arty references are pretty silly. And all this whine about the ASPxRomantic (specially involving beers and Dane) it’ a drag. The ASP has been awesome as much as it can be for a sport that it’s not necessary competitive and it’s pretty new. I guess it’s one of those things that people love to hate.

  • freerider

    If Miki Dora (Da Cat) was still around, he would probably glide by on a wave, drop his trunks- bend over- and moon the ASP, Zoosea- the asp judges and most of the staff at surfer mag. and any on-line viewers- commentators and surf contest fans–like he did at the 1967 Malibu Invitational surf contest. Peace…..

  • freerider

    Seems this blog got pushed to the back pages pretty quick. Maybe to many negative comments..

  • freerider

    Sean’s article gets sent to the back pages and buried in the blog section after 2 days. It had way more comments and interest than most blogs. Seems they should have kept it on the front page for awhile. Whats up at surfer mag? Too many negative comments for you guys?

  • Still Frothy

    Great piece. Here’s some ideas as well: Idea 1: EVERY ASP event not just the Hurley pro needs at least 2 guys voted in by the world. I’m sure every event would then have Dane in it (genius alone right there) and 1 other person who is the flavor of the month. It’s a no brainer no more trials or wildcards. Seriously no disrespect but some of the wild cards have been, how do you put it, BORING or just mediocre at best. Idea 2: Do cool stuff at EACH asp event that shows of the local surf legends or culture. Imagine if at J-Bay the top 4 current guys on rating had to surf a board of Derek Hynds (finless quiver) and the guy winning this heat doesn’t win money but get $10k donated to a charity of his choice. This is win win for all. Do it!!!

  • freerider

    No contests=no pros=no egos=no winners=no losers=equals no star struck teenie bopper surf starlet groupies. — What’s left you ask? — Just you and a wave–the way it was meant to be. — It’s always better to ride your own waves. Peace…

  • Carbon 14

    “American and australian surfers…”, seems like the rest of the world surfing crowd can go to hell in Mr. Doherty’s fantasy tour…

  • 10 from 10

    how about getting rid of the best 8 out of 10 results. throw away scores? its as bad as what you stated earlier about losing twice and still winning the title. if you have a shite event then it should count towards your world title chances. if this was the case last year then mick fanning would have been a clear cut winner and there would have been no conjecture over whether mick wave was worth a 9.5 or a 9.7. by the way that wave was definitely worth the score.

    • james

      Good point. No throwaways — and only one loser’s round. But I’m not sure you should be able to win a title without at least a victory or a combination of top-three finishes or something.The three-man no-loser heats are anticlimaxes. Announcers: yes, we need surfers to be announcers, but they can’t just be wild-ass, anything goes, no-think spewers.They can be surfers and funny and idiosyncratic AND professional and respectful. These things are not mutually exclusive. Please, keep Wassell out of the booth. And don’t have Alex Gray rocking up to his first gig of the day and saying how hung over he is. Be professional. I can’t listen to the broken language, hacked idioms (i.e. Pat: it’s “few and far between,” not “far and few between”), and endless repetition and overstatement of the current crew of announcers, Ronnie B excepted. He’s low key. Rosie is lovely but it gets old hearing her say”That’s right” to start every single interview, and she talks to Medina and other non-native English speakers so quickly in long questions they clearly don’t fully understand. Joe Turpel: not everything is outrageous or awesome, as in, after a report from the desk, “Thanks for that outrageous update.” WHAT? ASP: give these people some training. Do what professionals do. Rather than partying after work, have them look at their on-screen or voice-over performances at the end of the day and coach them, train them, expand their vision and professionalism. Joe repeatedly asks numb-nuts questions to Potts so that the unknowing viewer can maybe get it. I don’t think they really know who they’re aiming at as a viewer.

  • veves

    Dane surfs every event

  • differentplease

    the only real problem with the tour, right now, it’s called Brasil. As a matter of fact, fuck Micky Dora

  • differentplease

    Please, If somebody is about to improve the tour, please send the comentators back to wherever they have come from. It’s ESPN in shorts. Also, Pottz seems to be a good guy, but is boring as hell.

  • Ding

    The glaring omission in the article and all the posts is the scoring. There is NO transparency, which makes it nigh on impossible for purists and everyone else to comprehend. With judges effectively scoring from 0-100 eg. 9.7, 9.8 /10 (then averaging the panel), you’re getting to a hundredth of one point!?! Witness Tahiti, JJF went huge five times, KS three times. It came out a draw and JJF still lost. That contest transcended sport, but the new league needs to break with the old and simplify the scoring in the good through to flawless range. If flow is part of it then one manouvre cannot possibly score the max. If judges were limited to half point increments and all good waves were counted, then there would be accountability – especially for waves in the excellent range, and the anomalies/countbacks etc would be removed.

  • Ding, Newport, NSW

    Like I said, NO transparency. Trestles Rd 4, judges came up with a 9 for De Souza to START the heat!?! Then JJF does his thing and it ends up less than two points between them at the end. Any rational spectator would expect that sublime performance to have resulted in a thrashing of a magnitude of about 50pts to about 20, or 10. How can you cram the whole sport into a 10% range? It’s just not representative of what we actually witnessed.