“It’s just more internet wank that seems to pass for journalism these days.”
Could the Internet’s founding forefathers foresee the vitriol that would one day spring forth beneath every clip, op-ed and article uploaded into the webisphere?
Perhaps not, but by golly it can be entertaining, especially when one of pro surfing’s founding forefathers chimes in as Ian Cairns did in response to Seabird Brookes’ heat inducing “Do We Really Want Barton Lynch in the Booth?”
“I see that Tracks continues to be clueless and now has descended into ageism,” Cairns argued.
“Show me someone under 30 that has been a champion, can talk intelligently about the waves, the strategy, the performance et al and maybe you guys would have a decent argument. Otherwise its just more Internet wank that seems to pass for journalism these days.
Cairns and Peter Townend set out from Australia in the late sixties with a firm belief pro surfing should be a thing and moved mountains to make it happen.
He also set out with a pretty handy ability to throw down when needed, a skill set I’m sadly lacking in. But I do know how to email just about better than anyone, and couldn’t resist the urge to find out what the man himself thinks of the state of play.
Tracks: When you set out from Western Australia and Queensland respectively all those years ago to chase a career as a pro surfer, could you, or did you, what did you have in mind for professional surfing?
Ian Cairns: Pro surfing was non-existent when I graduated from High School in 1969 and went on my extended surf trip (45 years and counting). To make a living in surfing you had to work in a board factory, which I did, as a shaper for years, but as I started to do well competitively-and winning the Smirnoff in '73 was pivotal-the idea of making a living from competing was intoxicating and those were my roots towards the idea of Pro Surfing; how can we do this more often and make more money doing it? For most of us, the idea of pro surfing evolved from those humble beginnings and observing what was happening in other sports.
Peter Townend: When I started surfing in the mid-Sixties, you just did because it was the thing to do in Coolangatta, but as a teenager in High School in 1970 I made the Queensland State Surfing Team by placing second behind Andrew McKinnon in front of MP. That got me in the Aussie Titles on my home beach Greenmount Point where I managed to get in a final with the likes of Wayne Lynch, Mark Warren, MP and Ian Cairns and finished a respectable seventh overall, from that point on a realized that I was pretty good at surfing and my mindset became how am I going to make a career out of doing this when there really wasn’t a career.
Nat and Midget had surf columns in the Sydney papers so I figured that was a start in being professional so I got a column in the local Tweed Daily News “In The Tube”, and started hanging around the Joe Larkin shop at Kirra and started to learn how to shape and by the time I was graduating High School with a scholarship for architecture at Newcastle Tech, I had an alternative to the school route and capped that off by making the ’72 Aussie Team to California for the last of the “Old School” World Surfing Championships.
At that time the only real way to make living from surfing was to be in surfboard building industry and I moved onto apprenticing for Dick Van Straalen’s “Spirit of the Sea” and though my developing friendship with fledgling film-maker Steve Core I began a relationship with Gordon & Smith in Cronulla as a shaper/designer and ambassador for their string of surf retail shops on the southside which lasted through most of the Seventies.
After that ’72 World Contest, there was a crew of us, particularly from Australia and South Africa that saw the idea of professional surfing like tennis, we had read this book "World Class" a novel about the birth of Pro Tennis that inspired us and Grand Prix motor racing at the time and we felt we could stimulate idea in surfing, that by following what we called the “Gypsy Tour”, the established events around the world particularly in Hawaii, South Africa, Brazil and of course at home in Australia. There wasn’t much money to be made but with consistently getting in the finals and shaping surfboards here and there you could manage to get by.
Tracks: How does the current state of pro surfing, both in terms of performance levels and international exposure, stack up for you? Are you a fan of where it's at and how it's run and how so?
Ian Cairns: The surfing is mind-blowingly good, not just the obvious above the lip moves and aerials, but the quality of the turns, the commitment to hitting sections, the deep barrel skills and the ability to so comfortably challenge radical waves like Teahupo’o, Pipe etc. The international expansion of surfing in the ASP/WSL era has been amazing and now the coverage, not just the webcasts but also social media is exceptional, so that you could be anywhere in the world and be a fan. My wife, Alisa Schwarzstein Cairns (10 years on the ASP Tour) and I are huge fans and watch all the events. She does Fantasy Surfer but I just love to watch the surfing. It's inspirational.
Peter Townend: I'm a huge fan, our dream/vision of surfing being a global professional sport has come true with the best guys and girls making millions of dollars, that was our dream in the Seventies.
I think the WSL has done a great job in broadening and expanding the audience and fan base, I just hope that they can sustain the financial commitment whilst attempting to monetize the expansion of the WSL Tour.
It’ll be a sad situation if it doesn’t work and goes away, because this time the surf brands won’t bail it out like they did decades ago.
It’s great to go into my local bar in Huntington Beach G’s Boathouse and watch what we call “Happy Hour Heats” on the big screen TV’s just like other sports from the WSL web-cast feed.
The internet has changed everything for being to be able watch the tour all around the world like you’re there, way different to our days when you heard by word of mouth, telephone calls, faxes and a few months later a magazine story on what went down as we gypsy toured around the world.
Tracks: Where would you like to see some changes (if any); most criticisms tend to be directed toward the judging?
Ian Cairns: The judging pre-ASP was woeful and one of the first things I did when I formed the ASP was implement the International Traveling Judging Panel, where we sent four trained judges to every event, with three on every judging panel. In that way we were able to standardize judging all over the world and ultimately judges from all regions learnt to judge the ASP way and we now have judges from all over the world.
I sometimes wonder at some scores, but overall, I think the judging is way better than ever before. Besides, it's the surfer's job to interpret what the judges are scoring on and adapts his surfing to that. It's not rocket science, but I would like more analysis of the “Why” from the announcers. They're experts after all.
Peter Townend: I think today’s tour is pretty spot on, not sure about the three man heats and loser’s rounds as Shaun Tomson says “Losers heats are for losers” and it exposes the events to longer waiting periods and chances of shitty waves. The overall event schedules could be tightened up a bit.
Regards judging, it’s about as good as it can get with the computer scoring and video review, as a result they get more right than they get wrong, remember it’s a subjective scoring system and can never be perfect.
Tracks: Kelly...should he stay or should he go and why so either way?
Ian Cairns: Kelly not only has probably an insurmountable stranglehold on #1 in World Titles, but he’s been in the forefront of pioneering skills in stupid waves. His surfing at Pipe, Teahupoo, Cloudbreak can only be matched by Andy and John John and this is a huge positive legacy to surfing.
Clearly, in 2016, something is going on that's baffling Kelly; tired of it all, competing business interests, boards, etc, who knows, but he is now beatable and in a subjective sport, that is blood in the water, for his competitors, the judges, the announcers, the media. It is not fun in the inevitable slide out of the top, but it happens to everyone. It is clearly a breakthrough period for the young guns, that is the mood on the 2016 CT and it subtly influences the judging.
Peter Townend: At some point Kelly will have to walk away, he’s having his worst start to the season in his 20 plus years on tour, but his surfing is clearly at a top ten level.
Just in the last days here in the US we’ve had the end of the 20 year career of basketball icon the Lakers Kobe Bryant in which he did a final season retirement tour that was celebrated by everybody, his last game last night was amazing scoring 60 points and leading the Lakers to a win, imagine if Slater did that and finished his career at the Pipe Masters.
Tracks: If the sport is truly to grow, do we need three stops on the Australian leg, which would you drop and where would you like to see it replaced by?
Ian Cairns: I cannot see any reason to drop any of these events. Australia has been a leading supporter of pro surfing since it's inception and a central player in the development of the global industry. Why would anyone change what ain't broken? Each of the waves, Snapper, Bells and Margaret River are incredible and contribute so much to the general fabric of surfing and to the world tour. As a fan, I'd like to see the CT add more stops. What about Indonesia, those lefts in Namibia, back to the right points in Mexico, it's a big world out there with some great waves that we can all enjoy vicariously.
Peter Townend: I think maintaining the legacy events is important. Like Bells, it’s our Wimbledon, I still think the Vans US Open of Surfing in HB should be a tour event, you need a balance of both dream locations and locations where the fans can feel and touch the tour.
I don’t think we need more events, it’s been hovering around eleven to twelve since we got started forty years ago when I was the first champion.
But I do think Sunset should be a World Championship Tour event too, an open ocean event, a bit like Margaret River and the Hawaii events will always be important because of history.
I think the three event Australian season is a great start to every tour season, why change it, we’ve had at least three rated Aussie events since we got started in ’76.