Is surfing changing the path of sportsmanship?
Opinion By Jake Warner
Over the last 40 years sports have evolved in ways their originators, all stars and students never imagined. From MJ showing what athletic dominance is, to Tom Brady proving that age has no affect on ability or performance.
We have been fortunate enough as a generation to witness and experience athleticism in it’s rawest form. But measuring a sport’s progression is becoming less about the level of performance and more about what being an athlete within a sport means.
Surfing has not changed much as a sport since the late 70’s when the modern idea of professional contests began. To this day not much is different on both the recreational and competitive level. As surfers we still frequent the same spots, chase the same swells and even ride similar boards to those that were surfed in the 80’s (the now default three fin “thruster” surfboard design was introduced by Simon Anderson in 1980). Of course the level of performance has gone through the roof with new maneuvers being introduced almost daily thanks to social media, but it’s the progress surfing has made from a cultural standpoint that has begun a whole new world for professional athletics.
As long as sports have been around one thing has been certain, there will always be a winner and a loser.
With competition soaring to new levels, competitive nature often follows suit with emotions and actions often showing through professional demeanor. What has occurred over the last 5 years of surfing though is something special. Opponents have become training partners, rivals have become friends and post loss anger has turned into support. All in all losers in the sport of surfing are transforming into non-winners.
Why is this important? Surfing is one of the hardest sports to become a champion in. The grueling travel schedules, variable competitive conditions and international playing field is a breeding ground for potential anger from surfer to surfer. Over the years the sport has seen rivalries turn into aggressive and negative situations with some surfers exiting the world tour all together as a result. The progression of camaraderie within the sport has been parallel with the progression of talent and exposure. In doing so it seems as a rightful example other sports can follow.
Equal Pay / Opportunity
The past decade has seen advancements in women’s athletics on incredible levels. From brand sponsorships, exposure deals, and most importantly in level of play.
With these pushes for female sport comes the grandest advancement of them all. Where does financial compensation equate to that of their male counterparts?
For professional women’s surfing, the answer is clear. The World Surf League, the professional surfing league, has made the prize purses of the women’s tour match that if the men’s. With this leap forward, the sport of women’s surfing has also grown immensely. Spotlights are being put on these amazing athletes in ways that were non existent just 5 years ago. Young girls are treating their surfing dreams the same as they would soccer, volleyball or basketball. And for the first time, professional surfing is gaining the attention of brands and experts from other sports that can help put surfing where it belongs, on the same stage as all other professional sports.
The WSL Championship Tour is now one of the only U.S. based sports requiring equal pay for both men and women.
With surfing being a tremendously international sport, there is still a mass barrier of inclusion within most communities. Aside from race, religion and ethnicity, surfers are often opposed to having outsiders of any kind paddling out at their local lineup. The “localism” mentality has caused immense turmoil at beaches worldwide and even extreme violence in some scenarios ( look up Luanda Bay Boys & the Bra Boys). But movements at some select beaches have brought a wave of new surfers who want nothing more than to enjoy the same feeling that got us all hooked on surfing in the first place.
Although most sports in this day and age are inclusive of all people, the fact that surfing, a predominantly white sport is branching out into demographics far from the norm is a thing of beauty.
The current state of the surfing industry is a unique and specialized situation. We have the rare opportunity to see a sport once synonymous with counter culture, extreme individuality and inferior career paths become a solidified sport amongst those we are raider to partake in. School surf teams, Olympic dreams and fame and fortune are all part of the program, but it’s the powerful progression that will ultimately make surfing a household concept.