CROWD SURFING IS BACK – Australian Open Is On
By Col Bernasconi | 08 June 2011
Home town hero Brett Simpson has claimed two Us Open titles at Huntington in as many years.
At an official press conference this morning 1978 world champion and former ASP president Rabbit Bartholomew described the announcement that an Australian Open Of Surfing will be held at iconic Manly Beach in February 2012, as a “Momentous and historic occasion”.
And old Rabb’s was not exaggerating...
Having world-class surfers return to the birthplace of Australian surfing is huge – the fact the new six star Prime World Qualifying Series event will be presented by
both Hurley and Billabong – equally massive.
Why? Not since Quiksilver sponsored the trials of the Rip Curl Pro at Bells in the late eighties, have two heavy hitters of the surfing industry buddied up under one banner to present an event. This unlikely pairing is even more astonishing when you consider the history between the two.
In short – in 1983 Bob Hurley [pictured left] and his partners licensed the rights to form Billabong USA. Things went swimmingly. Then in 1998 Bob and co passed on a renewal option (rumoured reason being Billabong Australia requested an astronomical amount for them to maintain those rights). In less than a year Bob (and partners) fired up his old Hurley branding (from his surfboard shaping business) in the form of a new clothing entity and just like that, Hurley International was born.
Aussie Taj Burrow has won at Manly before, loves a big crowd and his surfing responds in kind to that atmosphere.
Fast-forward to today, and as Bob himself said in his speech this morning, “looking around and seeing these two logos together is like a freak show to me...”
Me too Bob.
Talking with Bob later, we agreed that this is a watershed moment with the two companies coming together for the collective good of surfing. A first. But how will it be perceived I asked him? “Some people will not like the idea,” He admitted. “What are they up to? Is there something going on? There will be that... to that I’d say lets wait and see. We’re not in business together, simply presenting an event that we hope to benefit the area, the people, the surfers and of course our branding.”
Bob’s a smart guy, and a die hard surfer, if he was all about the money he’d be hiding away pulling the strings and living on his yacht (if he has one), drinking bubbly. But he’s not. He’s at Manly explaining himself. How many CEO types do you know who do that?
I also put it to Bob that right or wrong since the Billabong Pro event in Brazil (and the whole Floater Gate affair) there has been a chorus of negative noise directed at this new (old) direction taken by the ASP (and sponsors) to present events at crowd favourable locations. Something he had no problem answering directly. “ I don’t want to see a trend of events moving away from world class waves, there has to be a balance!”
A young Shane Herring takes down Kelly Slater to win the 1992 Coke Classic at Narrabeen.
As a surf fan who spoke of surfing five times a day at his beloved Huntington pier as a grommet, Bob stressed in his speech at the conference earlier, that what they (Hurley) did to reinvigorate the Open there was to engage with the community. Something Manly council General Manager Henry Wong was also passionate about highlighting. Henry, who won me over by acknowledging the traditional owners of the Manly area [Guringai people], followed his commitment to the council making this a successful event by presenting Bob Hurley with a copy of the Australian surfing documentary, Bombora. Any one that has seen the surfing doco would know that Manly features in this definitive source as the place surfing was first born. From William Gocher’s daring day time dip in 1902 to Snow McAlister’s head standing Aussie title victory in 1928 and of course Midget Farrelly’s epic win in the first ever world championships in 1964 in front of 50,000 people... the place reeks of surfing history.
The need for waves like Grajagan to be a part of the ASP World Tour is as strong as ever.
Not since the Coca Cola Classic ran in 1999 have we seen a big World Tour men’s event at Manly. Having The Australian Surfing Open Event at Manly? There’s logic in that.
Tearing down official sporting bodies is dead easy. And it’s a game all can play. But when compared to the likes of FIFA I think the ASP are doing a good job.
Bringing world-class surfing back to Australia’s unofficial capital city by the beach is a no brainer when you think of the younger generations. For me the experience of sneaking into the surfer’s area of the 1987 Coke Classic at Manly with my friend (and now respected shaper) Luke Short was profoundly influential. We plucked up the courage to say hello to Tom Curren and it was a pivotal moment in my obsession with surfing. Who’s to know, maybe Luke wouldn’t be shaping boards for Julian Wilson today if we’d not had that opportunity. That’s why these big crowds over quality waves events are important. Plus, Manly can get good! The 1977 final between Larry Blair and Wayne Lynch, that 1988 world champion Barton Lynch declared directly responsible for the Manly local becoming a pro surfer is proof of that. “I saw that final, after wagging school,” BL told the conference. “Watching my favourite surfer, Wayne, who had the same last name as me, and Larry get barrelled... after that I felt like not going back to school at all”
Larry Blair receiving his goodies for that 1977 win a Manly. [From a shirtless host no less]
The amazing effect these big crowds can have works both ways, two-time world champion Mick Fanning said, “looking back at 80,000 people at Huntington when I was in the final with Brett Simpson gave me goose bumps... It’s like state of origin or something in the NRL.”
I personally believe there is plenty of room on the Australian calendar for The Australian Open of Surfing, and I can’t wait to be ringside when the aerial specialists like Dane Reynolds and Matt Wilkinson launch into some of those summer ramps at Manly.
STRAIGHT UP FACTS:
Event dates - February 11 to 19, 2012
Total prize purse - $500,000
Incorparated events - ASP six star Prime for men and women.
Season-ending Billabong World Junior Championships for boys and girls.
The Australian Open Music Stage.
Hurley Walk the Walk for young fashion designers
And the Australian Surfing Hall Of Fame Awards
Skateboarding just one of the things to help the Australian Open have a Village Festival type atmosphere.