I read a rumour that Zosea was looking to charge pay per view for surf competitions. Given the internet’s propensity to then insist on pirating anything like that for free, I was pretty sure that would actually increase audience numbers while simultaneously duping those that don’t know any better to pay for “The World’s Best on the World’s Best Waves.” Any publicity is good publicity, right? Stir up controversy to spark up an otherwise disinterested audience, and then never actually do it.
My experience of watching professional surfing has been to turn off the commentary and hope to make sense of the mess myself. I am not the only audience member to decide this but this weekend I braved the event with the commentary on to see what I’d been missing. It was then that I figured out what I thought was wrong with surfing commentary and why I don’t believe in paying for it.
It doesn’t matter WHO is in the commentary team. It’s like there’s a list of things people have to mention in order to emphasise surfing’s validity as a sport and it reads like a bingo card. I know, because I made a bingo card about it.
I should stop there but I won’t. There’s this hierarchical structure when I listen to commentary at surf comps, where you’re the best surfer, a pro surfer, someone who knows pro surfers, someone who goes to parties with pro surfers, and then the fans.
Any sports event that I watch has fans. The world cup cricket is on and my country was trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory yesterday. I watched for ages but wasn’t anywhere near as annoyed with their commentary- even though cricket is arguably less exciting, theoretically, than surfing. (Let’s blame the lack of sharks. Even with that comment you can’t tell if I’m dissing cricket or surfing, though.)
The cricket commentary is so much less amateur than the WSL because they don’t feel the NEED to validate cricket. It’s a sport. People know there are fans. They don’t mention the fans as if cricket was a popularity contest.
Yesterday the WSL commentators talked about getting arthritis because of signatures. They discussed how the world’s top surfer was popular with the ladies. The only thing they seem to know about him for certain is that he’s Brazilian, and there are a lot of Brazilians supporting him. The fans. And the ladies. Brazil has an extremely interesting mix of cultures which can be intense, but surfing is just all about the girls on the beach.
Every time I’ve watched a surf competition the commentators always mention “THE FANS” and then have to validate their status as commentators above the audience. They have to put themselves in the story and they have to mention the popularity and therefore their own significance, as if the audience should care. You know what they say. If you have to point it out..
What does it mean for the audience to be listening to a commentary team that doesn’t respect the audience itself? You’re not cool if you’re a fan. You’re cool if you’re a pro surfer. Period.
If the commentary team are given guidelines I’d hope they had a copy of Matt Warshaw’s works alongside and were hooked up to the Encyclopedia of Surfing. Give us some context that gives the sport some depth. Mind you I doubt we’ll ever have reference to apartheid or Suharto but that is exactly what surfing’s history is- and why I consider it remotely relevant. The sport has blood on its hands and people underestimate it.
Surfing is about people. It’s not just about the competition run by ZOSEA, but say for a minute that it was. ZOSEA is competing with an audience used to viewing sport and listening to commentary. If someone like me can predict, analyse and dismiss their commentary as superficial and insecure, what does it mean for the rest of the world?
Right now it’s like listening to a college fraternity reunion. Mind you I’m not the target audience. I’m betting on ZOSEA betting on an audience too young to see through it.