Corporate vibes and killer rides
It was 20 years ago when I walked into a high-powered marketing meeting with a very successful, heavily-caffeinated marketing team who were busy setting up a big wave contest.
This team didn’t know surfing for shit, and were trying to rope in people who knew more than them.
These good-looking marketing guys and girls were adventurous, however, and back in 2000, they had choppers lined up, multi-angled set-ups, books, endorsements, magazine features, branded clothing and everything in the mix.
When the story came to photographers and to videographers who were going to be employed, and others who were going to be filming, this hot-shot marketing team, so high on sugar, were decisively clear on one thing: there was to be a full lock-down of coverage, and every person shooting still or video had to sign over all rights to visual output.
At this point it should be added that I had just returned, the day before, after a decade of wandering the desert, so to speak. I had been traveling independently, riding waves, exploring other cultures, living the dream, a million miles or more from the corporate world that I did not know even existed in such form.
“Why a lockdown on visuals, and why such control of the photographers and videographers? I asked. I had been brought in as a consultant and as a content creator. Why lock down visuals? Surely we must show them to the world?
“Well, because if someone dies, the footage is worth an absolute fortune,” said the one exec, matter-of-factly.
“We will know exactly what to do with it,” said the marketing director. “We will know how to manage the footage correctly.”
It was clear as day that this marketing team was totally ready and prepared for the moment, if a surfer were to die during their event.
Real penny-drop moments are rare in life. You’ll only have a couple of genuine such moments in a life-time, and they are absolutely incredible, to be relished.
In a semi-shocked moment, I realised two things that I suppose are actually quite obvious, but from my sheltered perspective at the time, were revolutionary.
Firstly, these surfers who were going to surf in this big wave contest, were just the dancing bears performing in front of a ringmaster, just actors, being told what to do by their director, who in this case was the marketing team.
If one of the surfers were to die, it would simply be a selling point in their marketing narrative. The marketing team knew it, the competing surfers knew it, and the only people who didn’t know it was the fans and spectators outside of the circle, looking in at the heroics of the big wave surfers.
The big wave surfers who spoke glassy-eyed about things like the overcoming of fear, of the summoning of courage, of paying the ultimate price, were all just part of the carnival, performing for a fee.
The second thing I learned that day is the one thing that held true through the last twenty years of my involvement with the sport and lifestyle of surfing since that very day, and the one thing that governs how I view the sport.
As we watch these kooks, these hodads, these dorks and these barneys who bang and barge their way into our sport over and over again, we have to acknowledge the fact that non-surfers just don’t get it, and they never will get it.