Graphic by Amanda Schultz

OPINION: The World Surf League is just a glorified hobby

Will professional surfing be here to stay after the fifth attempt?
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Will professional surfing be here to stay after the fifth attempt?

Surfing can be defined as a cutthroat sport to the Australians and Brazilians, and as a hobby by pretentious hipsters who are all about the vibe and the feeling they get from the waves. The fact that anyone can find enjoyment in surfing is what makes it great, so forget about the money or professional aspect and ask yourself, is surfing a sport?

From 1964 to 1982 there were three attempts to make surfing a sport, none of which stuck until now. The WSL formed in 2015 and is the current platform for professional surfing. Before, there was a 31-year failed effort to represent surfing from the Association of Surfing Professionals. During the ASP professional surfing was not considered a sport because of the notion that burnouts, potheads, druggies and alcoholics were the ones competing. During the ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s surfers didn’t command much respect from the general public, leaving them without any corporate sponsors or backing. Without money the ASP was forced to hold competitions at low-level spots that were accessible to all.

Humboldt State senior Liam Salcuni questions the playing field.

“It’s hard to consider surfing a sport when they have to rely on the ocean to just give them the opportunity to compete,” Salcuni said.

After a spark in young talent, the WSL adopted the ASP format and began work to give surfing an excellent professional representation. One of the WSL’s first actions was to provide men and women equal pay. The equal pay when broken down for the 32 men and 22 women averages between $250,000-$400,000 a season considering where they place in the ten events.

This average doesn’t account for the cost of equipment, entrance fees and the hefty amount of travel expenses when competing in remote destinations ten times a year. There’s only so much money that can be made during these ten events to fund a world sport. This brings into question how many people pay attention to the WSL and how much money are they making?

Local surfer Mike Krakauer had little to say about the WSL.

“I don’t pay attention to professional surfing until the season,” Krakauer said. “Even during it, I never watch any of the events live.”

The surfing industry generates around $13 billion a year even though surfers don’t care about watching professional surfing live on a screen, they want to be surfing. The WSL is owned by Floridian billionaire Dirk Edward Ziff, who has invested a good chunk of his own money in making sure the WSL survives. With a billionaire’s bank roll, wave pools on the horizon and an invite to the Olympics, professional surfing seems to be on track, right?

Hurley sales representative Mark Simpson shared facts about WSL viewership.

“They average just over 1,000 viewers per event worldwide,” Simpson said.

Even with all the positive steps professional surfing has taken the WSL still can’t seem to get the viewership to validate their success. It’s hard to consider surfing a sport because of a lack of viewership. They’re the World Surf League, where some of the most athletic surfers compete, but if only 1,000 people in the world are watching can you consider it a sport?

Some facts show both sides, one being that Australia’s national sport is surfing, and two, surfing is the state sport of California. On the other hand, thousands of people surf and hundreds of people can surf better than the WSL competitors, but hey, they have day jobs. If you ask me, surfing isn’t a sport, it’s entertainment that a billionaire is trying to profit off of.

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