International Professional Surfers (IPS)


The world professional surfing tour's original governing body, created in 1976 by Fred Hemmings and Randy Rarick, both of Hawaii. An informal circuit of pro contests in Hawaii, Australia, and South Africa—sometimes called the "gypsy tour"—had taken shape by 1975; because the events weren't linked together, however, there was no year-end champion and not much uniformity from contest to contest. In 1969, big-wave pioneer Fred Van Dyke, along with Honolulu financier Ron Sorrell, had tried to organize surfers into what he called the International Professional Surfers Association, but little progress was made. Hemmings then tried to launch what he called the Professional Surfing Association, but again the idea went nowhere. Hemmings, world champion in 1968, turned instead to organizing individual competitions on Oahu's North Shore (founding the Pipeline Masters event in 1971, and taking control of the annual Duke Kahanamoku Classic and Smirnoff Pro contests), then returned in 1976 to the idea of a world tour and an integrated yearly ratings system.

Hemmings' first idea was to simply rate surfers by their aggregate prize-money totals for the season, and at the end of 1975 he went as far as to produce a top 15 list of surfers. (South Africa's Shaun Tomson came out on top, with $10,875; Hawaii's Eddie Aikau, in 15th, earned $25.) But 25-year-old journeyman pro surfer Randy Rarick, along with Australian pros Peter Townend and Ian Cairns, convinced Hemmings to switch to a points-per-placing system. International Professional Surfers (IPS) was signed into existence on Rarick's kitchen counter in October 1976, with Hemmings named as executive director. Nine previously unrelated contests from earlier in the year were retroactively tabulated into a midseason IPS ratings sheet, with five events still to come; in January of the following year, Peter Townend was announced as the 1976 IPS world champion.

A handful of professional women's events were also held in 1976, but the IPS didn't officially add a women's division until the following year. Hawaii's Margo Oberg—amateur world champion in 1968—won the first title. Patti Paniccia, another tour competitor, was named the IPS Women's Division Director. In 1977, the IPS' first full year, there were five rated women's events, and 14 men's events. Hawaii, by a wide margin, hosted the most IPS contests, followed by Australia and South Africa. Events were also held in California, Brazil, New Zealand, and Florida. Mens and women's events were occasionally held jointly; for the most part they were separate.

While the IPS produced a number of popular world champions over the next five years, including Shaun Tomson, Wayne Bartholomew, Lynne Boyer, and Mark Richards, the organization evolved in fits and starts. The two most important developments were the introduction of the spectator-friendly man-on-man format in 1977 (as a replacement for heats consisting of anywhere from four to eight competitors), and the long-anticipated inclusion of California in the men's world tour schedule in 1981. The number of IPS men's division world tour events ranged from 10 to 13, and total yearly prize money went from $77,650 in 1976 to $338,100 in 1982. The women surfed in just four or five contests each season, and total prize money went from $19,500 to $42,000.

By 1982, pro surfers and much of the surf media felt that the IPS wasn't growing fast enough—"terminal stagnation" was the expression used by Surfer magazine— and at the end of the year Ian Cairns led a revolt in which the IPS was replaced by the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP), with Cairns named as executive director. The deposed Hemmings was left to operate his Hawaiian pro events, which, after some rugged political grappling, were integrated into the ASP schedule. Hemmings later reflected on the IPS's early years. "We didn't have a payroll, we worked out of our homes, Randy and I covered expenses ourselves; I never made any money on the IPS—I lost money. But I've always thought surfers could be pro athletes like any other pro athletes, plus I wanted to sell surfing to the general public. With the IPS we got things started in that direction."