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2/13/17

Part Two of a three-piece article published by SURFER in November, 1969. Jock Sutherland, that year’s SURFER Poll winner, had some doubts about how professional surfing might affect the nature of the sport, but ultimately decided it was worth pursing. See also “Pro Surfing is White!” by Fred Hemmings, and “Pro Surfing is Black!” by John Scott.

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Organized surfing is about to carve a new turn towards elevating the national and international status of the sport. The newly formed International Professional Surfer’s Association, otherwise known as the IPSA, has tentatively set up a series of cash prize surfing contests that would be held at major surf spots around the Earth, such as Sunset or Waimea in Hawaii, or Pico Alto and Punta Rocas in Peru. These contests would be limited strictly to the members of the IPSA, which would appear to the spectating world as a polished, professional and tight-knit group.

If IPSA Commissioner Ron Sorrell and his associates can convince the big television networks of the commercial value of cash prize surfing competitions, then the IPSA will not only have its much-needed sponsors (who furnish the necessary working capital), but it will also have an excellent means for national exposure and prestige. The reaching of the big audiences that are usual for TV also would open up new vistas of advertising possibilities. Surfing is at least as exciting as baseball or football, and after some familiarizing exposure on some of the big networks, the sport will have loads of exploitable appeal to U.S. audiences.

The IPSA would probably contribute to the good reputation of surfing, as its members would be made to conform to a high standard of conduct; and it would probably contribute to the sport’s progress, as the contest circuit would bring together some creative minds in different environments. Also, once the IPSA’s TV series gets rolling, the surfers in its ranks should be able to acquire all kinds of lucrative advertising and endorsement contracts, which would give them extra money in addition to what they earned in the contests. So considering the goals of the IPSA, as outlined by president Fred Van Dyke, its members would be benefited both practically and idealistically.

But what cost would gaining an IPSA membership entail? What would the shortcomings be? For one, the subjugation of personal freedom to the corporate cause. The proposed disciplinary committee may be deemed necessary for maintaining a high standard of conduct and projecting a wholesome image to the buying public, but mandatory conformation to a ruling body’s decisions doesn’t make for creative surfing, unless one is able to hold a conforming attitude on land and a completely unfettered mind in the water. This holding of opposite attitudes, although semi-schizophrenic in nature, is not a super-hard combination, and it would seem to be a key to winning. Then again, a purely free head might not work in these contests because (ever-present problem) the judges’ heads might not be anywhere near seeing eye-to-eye with yours. That brings up a heavy task confronting the IPSA’s mentors; namely, selecting a satisfactory panel of objectively critical judges who are contemporarily enlightened to the artful intricacies of modern surfing.

Another ramification of IPSA’s coming into being is the definite elimination of its members from possible AAU and Olympic surfing events. Also, from talking with Hawaiian Surfing Association president Kevin Johns (who is also head of the Kui-O-Hawaii Surf Team), I gathered that the pro surfers will be ineligible to compete in the basically amateur contests that the three [American surfing organizations] sponsor. Personally, this would be a hurt if I joined IPSA, as I dig entering these various smaller competitions such as the Ala Moana and the Chun’s Reef meets.

After weighing the pros and cons of professionalism in surfing, it seems to me that the formation and following through of the IPSA would benefit surfing more than detract from it. I’ve concluded this for several reasons: A) the contests would be ideal for the communication of creative thoughts, B) the cash prizes would probably incite all sorts of far-out, daredevil and therefore progressive maneuvers, C) the money earned by the IPSA surfers could be used for further design and attitude researching, D) the pay received during the contest circuit would justify spending all year practicing surfing and calling it work, and E) the widespread exposure TV would give the IPSA contests would stoke many more people into becoming involved with the sport, and hence would bring in many more new ideas.

If the IPSA manages to keep good surfing uppermost in its endeavors and does not subordinate creativity to unnecessary rule enforcing, then the group should have a prosperous and happy future.

  • SteveShearer

    Amazing how little has changed and how those goals of pro surfing almost 50 years ago- mainstream US acceptance and big TV broadcast deals with the accompanying revenue- are still just tantalisingly out of reach. Maybe more out of reach now than ever. After 50 years of putting the product to market and 50 years of lukewarm reception or outright rejection you would think the current custodians of Pro surfing might try something new.

    And Jocks sober analysis is almost completely from the POV of someone who stands to gain from professionalism, ie a hot, sponsored surfer and completely disregards the nett costs which were born by the vast majority of purely recreational surfers. To get that read John Scotts excellent analysis. To this day Pro surfing exists as an alternatingly benign and malevolent parasite on the body of the surfing politic.

    • Matt Warshaw

      I posted those three pieces (Black, White, Gray) thinking that your point, above, would carry the day. Just how little things have changed since ’69. But everybody’s too caught up in defending/destroying Hemmings.

      • SteveShearer

        I actually haven’t read the Hemmings piece yet……