Part One of a three-piece article published by SURFER in November, 1969. Fred Hemmings, reigning world champion and soon-to-be founder of the world tour, wrote in support of professional surfing. See also “Pro Surfing is Black!” by John Scott, and “Pro Surfing is Gray!” by Jock Sutherland.
* * *
Surfing needs professionalism! The most important job a professional organization would do is to qualify surfing as a legitimate sport. Amazingly enough, though surfing is a part of life for more than a million people in the United States alone, it is not truly recognized as a sport. Surfing seems to be in a limbo—neither here nor there. Some claim riding waves is an art, others say it is a cult or way of life. Still others say, no, surfing is a hobby or pastime which caters mostly to young people.
Surfing is not even recognized by the Amateur Athletic Union. The general public has yet to get a good explanation of what surfing really is, even though all the TV networks have carried some type of surfing show for the past few years. Whether it be a big contest, special or included in a regular TV series (such as Gidget), surfing has not really been “qualified” as to what it really is.
Professionalism will make surfing legitimate. Once the naive public, through the magic of television, sees a series of pro-contests, it will be easy for them to realize that surfing is a clean, healthy S-P-O-R-T. Athletes winning money for their prowess and ability on all types of waves will clearly define the sport of surfing. Surfing will then be the most exciting and glamorous young sport in the world.
The effect professionalism will have on competitive surfing will be for the betterment of all surfers. There are presently 20 to 30 top individuals who are recognized internationally as the “surfing elite.” They hold this position because of their tremendous wave-riding ability. They have spent many years and much concentrated effort to reach the top. They are, in most cases, financially capitalizing on their positions.
Unfortunately, the surfing world (especially our own surfing associations) has not even recognized these individuals for what they are, “out and out PROS.” These professional surfers now have a 4A rating with gold stars by their names within these associations. It seems an injustice to them (the Pros), as well as the amateurs, to be mixed. Why should these individuals who, through years of work have made it to the top, be required to compete in poor surf against amateurs in small insignificant contests? These contests should not be the means for the Pros to maintain their commercial status. Likewise, why should the amateurs be made to compete with the Pros?
The professional surfing organization would protect both the Pro as well as the amateur. It would advance the Pro surfer into a new realm of competitive surfing.
The Pros would be a clearly defined group. Like Pros in most sports, they would be organized and unified in their efforts within their sport. This would, of course, leave the multitude of surfers in a true amateur status. They, likewise, would be protected as a separate group.
The local surfing associations would then have a clear-cut group to work with. It would rid the associations of petty politics arising out of commercial hang-ups that seem to exist now. It simply means that the Pros, along with their commercial backers, could make their money and be recognized for what they are. The amateur working through surfing associations could obtain a more organized surfing contest circuit that could eventually lead to the Olympics. The better amateurs who work hard and have the talent could then obtain pro contracts if they desired.
There will be no room for dope in the ranks of the Professional Surfing Association. It is an unfortunate truth, but surfing does project a bad image in some regards. Many people, when asked “What is a surfer?” are quick to answer that surfers are “longhaired dope freaks who hallucinate and ride waves all day long.” The reason for this image is an epic story in itself. The unfortunate truth is that dope, starting with that innocent drag of a marijuana cigarette, has taken its dreadful toll on many once-great names in surfing.
A finalist in the heralded Duke Contest of two years ago was unable to compete this year. He was even unable to communicate intelligently because dope had “blown his mind.” Few people realize that there probably would never have been a Duke Contest at all this year if the news media had over-publicized the arrest of another Duke Invitational contestant on a narcotics charge one week before the contest. A fantastic surfer who “skyrocketed” to fame a few years ago, lived part of this last winter like an animal in a tree on the North Shore. Another once great big-wave rider’s brain is like a dried prune because of dope. He now lives an unproductive existence on the slopes of Haleakala. These once talented human beings are “wasted” now. What about all the young surfers that the dope movement is swallowing up before they can even make a rational judgment as an adult?
Although drugs seem to be in vogue with a great number of “in” surfers today, I can assure you that there is no hope in dope.
The Pro surfers will have to be clean and healthy athletes. There will be no room for drugs. In other words, the Professional Surfing Association will help to rid our beautiful sport of the detrimental drug image.
The top surfers in the world, working through professionalism, will advance surfing techniques and board designs in a very organized manner, [as] Pros eliminate the faddish tendencies in certain aspects of the sports development. The Pro in any sport leads the way. Pro ball teams develop new plays; Pro race car drivers develop and test new ideas in car design. Pros in all sports have the time and money to advance the sport.
It is part of their job. This could also be true for surfing. The Pro surfer would be versatile enough to perform in two- to twenty-foot waves all over the world. They will pioneer the way, in an organized manner, of new concepts in wave riding, that will benefit everyone that surfs.
Who is the best surfer in the world? This seems to be a hard question for the surfer in the world to answer. Each principal surfing area, of course, has a different nominee. Some people believe the best surfer is the most publicized one in surfing magazines. Some even say that the winners of certain international and world competitions could qualify.
In short, there is no accurate and established criterion to decide “who truly is the best surfer in the world.”
The Professional Surfing Association could be the means of measurement. Pro contests, seen by millions on television, would be run in all types of surf all over the world. Each contest would have its winners, and at the end of the tour, like golf and grand prix tours, there would be a proclaimed world champion.
Pro surfing will identify our sport, improve all facets of competition, project a clean, healthy image, and vastly improve and regulate the advancement of surfing techniques.
These are a few reasons why I, Fred Hemmings, a surfer, am doing all I can to help the Professional Surfing Association become an established reality. I hope you I will too.