On August 13, while Nathan Florence was in the maw at Teahupoo, at the Lemoore wave pool pro surfers played spin the bottle for TV. You can decide who best wears the title, The Ultimate Surfer. Photo Ben Thouard

DEREK HYND: THE MURDER WALL

“I would never satirise the obvious” – Lenny Bruce, Playboy TV, 1959.

“Look at that shark, Pots.
How could you have set the challenge?”
– Ralph Malph, Happy Days, 1977.

 

Amateur Surfing

1962
A year after a successful first Australian championships at Avalon. Surfers rise in status in the cold war against surf club militarism – but devil is in the detail. Organiser and young Avalon clubby Bob Head has set precedent. He’s ceded authority to surf club and council. It locks in a 60-year track. Freewheeling boardriders, regimented by urban registration stickers down Bondi way, don’t feel the big pinch. Junior Midget Farrelly is set to win the ‘Makaha World Surf Title,’ as it’s known. Surfing booms and authority reacts. Clubbies confiscate boards, surf boats mow down Avalon surfers, same at Palmy, Newport, Mona Vale, Dee Why. Fists, brawls, uproar. Surf administrators can do little against civic power, slipping into conservative long haul.

2021
Tuesday 27th July. Olympics surfing is over. ISA proclaims itself ‘World Governing Authority of Surfing.’ Said ‘Authority’ has presented the debut sport as comparatively low-end gymnastics in dark foamy seas, little different to the July gales of Lake Balkhash coming off the Great Kazakh Steppe. The ABC headline ‘Brawling Waves Bubbling With Foam’ ties it neatly. Options for pristine outer Tokyo island surf or machined inner Tokyo Surf Ranch fare, long gone, have left quality of viewing for billions at predictable end. Jack McCoy’s catchcry booms – “No second chance for a good first impression!” Come Paris 2024/Tahiti, Teahupoo at five-to-12’ beckons – but after 60 years of administrative status quo, change beckons for the ISA. It has to change.

Soul Surfing

1962
Peter Troy and Vic Tantau run up an Australia Day surf rally at Bells to celebrate Joe Sweeney’s bulldozer work. It becomes the annual larrikin call to get the hell out of the rat race. In the US, 14-year-old Bob ‘Nat’ Young arrives at Malibu, chaperoned for summer, and figures the art of the hustle in the post-Gidget mayhem. Twenty-five-year-old Bob Cooper in a reverse play has enough of the surf boom and books a one-way ticket to Australia. He’s been already once but now it’s for good. Bird noise and surf discovery. Thirty-three-year-old Matt Kivlin bails out too but calls surfing quits. The original post-war Malibu Kid goes stage left after the summer for catamarans and architecture. Back in Torquay, Troy thinks about hitchhiking the world south to north.

2021
Tuesday 3rd August. Torren Martyn’s Lost Track Atlantic Episode 3 is online a week after Olympics surfing and before WSL’s Ultimate Surfer teaser. It is the greatest juxtaposition of any point in time in surfing. In the face of multiple millions invested where success is gauged by the subtle wording of IOC thanks, or the ratings figures for WSL silver bullet, Torren and filmmaking friend Ishka Folkwell deliver a masterpiece at the same moment for $3800. The surfing, conditions, filming, the present crossing the past; point blank humility, perfect. The cave scene of the subsistence fisherman surfer open to high tide storm can’t be touched. It’s a 5000BC setting where we all could be. Episode 3, 25 years after Litmus and 50 after MOTE, is sheer poetry. 

Death Surfing

1962
Fred Van Dyke surfs weekends and late afternoons through the epic North Shore/West Side season of ‘62-’63. It’s the last hurrah for pioneers. Mass Hollywood footage shot for a summer film guarantees a revolution. What Gidget did to the mainland, Ride The Wild Surf will do to Oahu. A Punahoe College teacher, many of Fred’s sessions start mid-afternoon and end in near darkness. Coupled with spartan experience ten years before in big winter surf at Santa Cruz, he’s developed acute natural mind expansion, Alpha Level. Still in an era with few on hand, he repeatedly goes deep at dusk in big surf, focally reading the future before the horizon registers. Fred Van Dyke makes the Life Magazine cover. The title, ‘Are Surfers Sick?’.

2021
Friday 13th August. Nathan Florence sets up pre-dawn for a long day at very big Teahupoo. It glimpses a 2024 Olympics, new moon in similar waiting period. For Olympic Athlete, for Surfing, redemption. Slay killer Teahupoo, Be Usain Bolt, be the 21st Century sport. But for it to happen – an ISA lateral shift – mandatory. A selection revolution – mandatory. Casuarina training – obsolete. Nathan’s Friday 13th edit lands a week post-Olympics and pre-WSL’s Ultimate Surfer teaser. Juxtaposition – same as Lost Track, insanely timed. Two sessions, a.m. sitting in Andy and Bruce’s spot aka late late show; p.m. towing, deep, deeper, successful. He’s shown the template for future Bolt. He’s shown the template for the ISA. What chance change? 

Pro Surfing

1977
Monday 17 January. In velour jumpsuits, Bronzed Aussies do a lap at the 385-yard ES Marks Field international meet before John Walker’s 1000m run.

2021
Monday 23rd August. Ultimate Surfer premieres on ABC NYC prime time chasing the rare ‘silver bullet’. At risk; a credibility abyss for surf/surfer history and culture. Joe Turpel, Kelly Slater, WSL athletes, owners, agents and administrators should know this. It’s the price of precedent for declaring ownership beyond sport. ‘The Global Home of Surfing’ quite arrogantly implicates every surfer of every ilk. Me. You. There’s irony in the Mick Shark, the sport’s great mainstream moment. How to go further? Jumping The Shark is the risk. It’s called, in fact, The Murder Wall of the Eiger Mountain; 65 dead climbers since 1936 off the sheer 5900-foot North Face, townsfolk on macabre death watch far below for situations taking a moment, hour, day, longer. 

Ultimate Surfer and Murder Wall bisect. Combining The Ultimate Fighter with Bachelor/Love Island/Big Brother/Ridgemont High to win WCT status in 2022 is not sport. Surf culture hits Murder Wall as Spin The Bottle seems silver bullet. Who may we blame for viewer bait with creepy straight/LGBTQ undertone? It is the historic low. TUF did use bad taste – fighters skolling each other’s piss – but the UFC by then was set. Having seen all The Ultimate Fighter series since 2005, and some twice, the UFC’s silver bullet was a desperate trap from house to cage, a brutal manhunt for The American Dream. The WSL’s bullet offers nothing of the sort. Lightning won’t strike twice unless it’s Jake Paul they chase. Either way, Ultimate Surfer puts culture at risk.

 

“The important thing is, a certain alarm
needs to be rung. Music is being murdered
by the worship of fame, Pop Idol, X-Factor, all this stuff deciding what records should sound like or who gets to be famous or who doesn’t.”
– Sinead O’Connor,
The Late Late Show, 2013.

SW