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PROFESSIONAL SURFING: Putting On the Figurative Green Jacket Op/Ed

| posted on July 22, 2010

It’s time for professional surfing to take some cues from another individual professional sport, one that is very successful: golf. The PGA Tour and the ASP Tour already share commonalities. Both pit their athletes in their respective sports’ greatest arenas. Both have qualifying tours for their aspiring pros. And on both tours, winning an event solidifies that athlete’s place in history.

“The PGA tour and its members recognize and reward the greatness inherent in becoming a Masters Champion. The ASP should do the same.” – CLICK HERE TO WEIGH IN.

But one area where the ASP may harvest some added fan connection is the PGA’s concept of ‘Major’ championships. Golf has four “Majors.” Professional surfing should look into this concept to help accentuate its rich history and guarantee its future.

I propose that the Bells, Teahupoo, J-Bay and Pipeline events be given “Major” status on the ASP’s WCT. Bells, J-Bay and Pipe have gobs of history, legend and lore: both competitively and sub-culturally. Teahupoo, although not long in tooth, is too compelling of a spectacle. It is “Major”. To help accentuate the power of a “Major”, the points accrued from those “Major” events must be included in the individual surfers season end total. You can’t throw away a “Major” result. Food for thought. The decision makers at the ASP have bandied this idea about for years. I’ve casually discussed it with Rabbit and Brodie Carr on separate occasions. Perhaps its time has come. I hope the ASP board considers and excavates the suggestion during their end of year wrap up. Obviously we’ve just scratched the surface here.

ANOTHER CUE FROM THE PGA TOUR

Golf of course, has its Masters Tournament. We have ours as well– the Pipeline Masters. Golf’s Masters is played at Augusta National Golf Club, the most revered, demanding and historically significant courses in the world. Sound familiar? Augusta has a vicious inside section. Greg Norman lost 10-strokes and the lead at this Biblical stretch of holes in 1996. “Amen Corner”, as it is called, can break a man. Sound familiar? And conversely, to win at Augusta, to be golf’s Masters Champion, well, it is a career defining moment. Sound familiar? Of course it does. The congruencies with Golf’s Masters Championship and surfing’s Pipeline Masters are evident.

Here’s what doesn’t sound so familiar. If you win golf’s Masters, you are automatically seeded into the field – for life. No need to qualify. You’ve proven yourself. You came. You conquered. You’re in, dude!

The PGA tour and its members recognize and reward the greatness inherent in becoming a Masters Champion. The ASP should do the same.

“I am of the opinion that the Pipeline Masters should offer a lifetime exemption,” explained 1975 Pipeline Master Champion Shaun Tomson. “If someone has won the most important event in the world and still has the goods to paddle out there and have a dig, he should be given that opportunity.”

Perhaps a lifetime exemption is too long. For the Pipeline Masters champion I’m suggesting a 10-year exemption. Imagine this year’s event if the exemption was in place: Johnny Boy Gomes, Jake Paterson, Rob Machado and Jamie O’Brien would be automatic seeds. Sounds like a final! Derek Ho, who rode the most memorable Pipeline Masters tube ever, would have been guaranteed a spot up through 2003.

And what about Kelly Slater? What if he retires this year? A Pipeline Masters without Slater would be blasphemous (under the exemption Slater would be eligible through 2009). And what if Bruce Irons fails to qualify for the WCT this year? Under the 10-year exemption Bruce would be good till 2011. Such an exemption would guarantees us, the fans (yoo-hoo…remember us) years of intrigue, upsets, added historical significance and bestows upon the Pipeline Masters Champion a true honor. A figurative Green Jacket if you will.

The exemption concept has been rumbling within me for a while now. It percolated to the surface after I found out Rob Machado will not be competing in the 2007 Billabong Pipeline Masters. Surfing fans around the world (yoo-hoo…remember us) lose because of it. Machado is undeniably one of the greatest and most beloved surfers ever. He is also a man who is at the prime of surfing prowess, and is an incredible world surfing ambassador. But never mind his saintliness. Let’s just look at his past performances.

The year, 1995. Rob Machado’s 2nd place finish to Kelly Slater is one of the most memorable Pipeline Masters finals ever. Fast forward five years. Machado wins the 2000 Pipeline Masters in epic, clean 8′ surf becoming the first Californian to win the event since Joey Buran’s victory in 1984. Six years later, in 2006, Machado wins the Monster Energy Pipeline Pro championships, which qualifies him for the 2006 Pipeline Masters. Machado then goes on to become the only wildcard in 2006 to make it to the finals of the Pipeline Masters. In the process he passes by the already legendary Pipeline Masters Champions Jamie O’Brien and Bruce Irons.

By the way, Machado is fun to watch. If Gerry Lopez’s is Mr. Pipeline then Rob Machado is Dr. Smooth. The only surfer to surf Pipeline with a more casual style than Machado is Lopez. Everything Machado does is stylish. I’ve seen Machado stub his toe and P. Diddy take notes.

Kelly Slater summed it up like this, “I think it (a champion’s exemption) is long overdue, and I think it’s a crime that Machado’s not automatically in the event. Surfing should herald its winners and honor them with some sort of traditional long-term exemption for certain events.”- CLICK HERE TO WEIGH IN.

Look, the ASP has done a fabulous job. I’m not trying to bash, I’m just trying to help. I’m the voice of the fan. I know the ASP wants to continue cultivating a fan base (yoo-hoo…remember us). Well I’m here to tell them: we want past champions, we want legacy, we want heritage. It seems like it’s good for everyone, except for the three or four Hawaiian seeds that will get bumped so that we, pro surfing fans (yoo-hoo…remember us) can see our surfing heroes.

I’m not alone.

Rory Russell (1976, ’77 Pipe Master), Shane Dorian (the Steve McQueen of surfing), and Tom Carroll (1987, ’90,’91 Pipe Master) endorsed the concept as has every person I consulted. Nobody said it was a bad idea. And five-time Pipeline Masters Champion Kelly Slater summed it up like this, “I think it (a champions exemption) is long overdue, and I think it’s a crime that Machado’s not automatically in the event. Surfing should herald its winners and honor them with some sort of traditional long-term exemption for certain events.”

Like, say… pro surfing’s four new ‘major’ championships?

What if Bruce Irons fails to re-qualify for the WCT in 2008. Should Bruce Irons have to re-qualify for the Pipeline Masters? Of course not. What if Kalani Chapman wins the event this year. You don’t think he deserves to be automatically given a berth into the main event? Should Chapman be made to scrap it out with his fellow Hawaiian brethren every year? Of course not. What if Mikey Bruneau or Randall Paulson or Aamion Goodwin or Jesse Merle-Jones wins the Pipeline Masters? What a story! Let’s honor them!

Look, I know that sixteen or so Hawaiians get seeded directly. I think they should. I checked with Rob’s accountant. Dude pays brutal quantities of property tax to the state of Hawaii. If it’s about paying dues, Machado has receipts. The only thing he and other Pipeline Masters champions don’t have is surfing’s figurative Green Jacket.