Surfing should consider a separate big-wave tour, says 11-time world champion Kelly Slater. Slater was responding to questions from The Australian Newspaper regarding the decision to halt the Volcom Fiji Pro in what turned out to be enormous, perfect waves at Cloudbreak.
When that event was called off, it allowed up to 30 big-wave specialists, who had flown in especially for the occasion, to put on their own show. The session was broadcast live on Volcom’s webcast and its TV affiliates.
Asked if the decision not to run the event had diminished the sport’s marketability, Slater said: “It actually brings up a more interesting question about the Association of Surfing Professionals backing a big-wave world tour or events in a specialty way as they happen.
“These (big-wave) guys and these swells need a good platform that supports what they’re already doing and someone to really document the whole lifestyle and help these guys out more.”
As reported in The Australian last week, the decision to abandon the contest came down to a split vote, with head judge Richie Porta voting for the event to proceed and contest director Matt Wilson and a representative of the surfers calling for a postponement.
There has been some speculation in online forums about exactly who was the surfer who voted with Wilson to stop the contest. However, Taj Burrow, who would have been in the first heat if the event had continued, said the surfers’ vote had been the result of a kind of consensus.
Burrow said he was consulted, as were a handful of other surfers in the ensuing heats. “I was scared,” Burrow said with a wry laugh.
“I’m pretty sure the surfers felt like we just didn’t have big enough boards. It was just this really weird, unorganised moment. In the meantime, the big-wave guys were out there going nuts and a lot of us felt we’d just watch them.”
The incident also raises the issue of the role of the contest director, and whose interests he represents. In an email to The Australian, Wilson, who normally works for the ASP as a regional director, said he was still being employed by the ASP at the time of the announcement to call off the contest.
But ASP tour manager Renato Hickel said: “For that event, Matt was the contest director through Volcom. Once the event accepts, he’s working for the event.”
The distinction is important. Volcom was in a win-win situation at the time. Call the event on, and the world’s most famous surfers will throw themselves at huge waves, live on Volcom’s broadcast. Call the event off, and it still gets to broadcast the unsanctioned big-wave session anyway, regardless of the opportunity lost for the ASP.
Slater said the ASP should have one contest director for the entire season, whose allegiance is to the ASP.
“We should have a single contest director for all events hired by ASP who works closely with the people who know each spot best,” he said. “We have seen cases where contest directors can run based on conditions that suit their friends/sponsored riders best. It’s human nature. We need someone at arm’s length.”
Slater added, however, he wasn’t criticising Wilson. “I don’t think he did a bad job.”