X Games

Hyperkinetic ESPN-owned action sports tournament modeled on the Olympic Games; surfing was a featured event from 2003-2007, and again in 2013. The X Games began in 1995 as the "Extreme Games," held in Providence, Rhode Island; events included skateboarding and in-line skating, alongside unconventional sports like sky-surfing and street luge. 180,000 spectators were drawn to what USA Today called the "Look Ma, No Hands Olympics." ESPN was convinced that the tournament had hit a cultural nerve, and turned the renamed X Games into an annual event with a separate winter sports component in 1997.

Surfing debuted at X Games IX Los Angeles in 2003, with the competition held at the Huntington Beach Pier on August 9, and broadcast live on ABC. Pro surfer Brad Gerlach's National Surf League was chosen as surfing's event organizer, and its alternative competition format "The Game"—pitting two teams of surfers against each other over four quarters, rather than individuals competing in bracket-style elimination—made its televised debut. World tour stars Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, Dane Reynolds, Bobby Martinez, and Taj Burrow were among the 20 surfers who were divided into East and West teams, and anticipation was high leading up to the event. "This will be the biggest surfing contest ever by a hundredfold” California pro Taylor Knox told Surfing magazine.

But Huntington's summer waves, not surprisingly, were small and weak, and the action was less than thrilling, especially when compared to what land-bound X Gamers were doing on the Mega Ramp and the freestyle motocross track. Slater led the East team to victory, but the contest was a dud. In 2004, the East again won, and the surf, again, was awful. "Our heroes are surfing waist-high Huntington," Evan Slater wrote in Surfing, "and looking silly compared to the other extreme sports daredevils. Which begs the question: does surfing really belong in the X Games?"

In 2005, at Gerlach's insistence, the surfing portion of the X Games shifted south to Puerto Escondido, in hopes of finding better waves. The surf was was indeed excellent, but top-ranked pros shied away from traveling to Mexico in the middle of the championship season for a contest that offered little prize money and no tour points. As the X Games talent pool waned over the next two years, so did sponsorship and viewership. 2007 saw the addition of a women's division, but surfing was scratched from the 2008 X Games.

In 2013, surfing returned to the X Games as a men's-only video competition, with 16 surfers—including Kelly Slater, Gabriel Medina, and Josh Kerr—submitting 90-second clips to be voted on by X Games online fans. Jordy Smith of Durban won the gold. But fans and sponsors didn't pay much attention to surfing, and the sport was again dropped.