Joel Parkinson in the glow of an announced retirement, post winning his Round 1 heat at Jeffreys Bay. Photo: WSL/Cestari

Parko Retires and the Rough Word on WSL’s Facebook Debut: Sean Doherty On J-Bay Round 1


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No matter what metric you chose today – audience or emoji – the tribe has spoken on the WSL’s Facebook partnership.

Today, the first day of J-Bay, also marked the first day of the Facebook era for pro surfing. The WSL have done a deal that means that you are free to watch their events in any way you like, as long as it’s on Facebook. The deal, worth $30 million over two years, would have been considered sweet at the time, something in the receivables column, right up until someone blew the whistle on Cambridge Analytica and people began burning effigies of The Zuck, and Facebook became the poster boy for Big Data subterfuge.

The early signs today weren’t good. For the first time since the WSL managed to get rid of it four years ago, the live viewer count returned as part of the new platform and the numbers were, to be kind, unspectacular. The first heat of the day featuring Jordy Smith topped out around 8.5K and it didn’t move much from there all day. But then the League’s Facebook page has 6.6 million followers. I can’t work it out. That’s a tenth of one per cent of their Facebook followers tuning in to the blue ribbon event of the tour. Given, America was asleep, but the rest of the world was up making hay elsewhere. Facebook however is perfect for massaging some aggregated numbers and I’m sure there’ll be some zeroes added along the line while someone figures out a way to get the counter pulled.

Facebook, as it turns out, is also the perfect platform for disaffected surf fans to get together and vent, and they got busy today. People were signing up to Facebook to complain that they were being forced to sign up to Facebook.

The real metric on show today were the angry emojis in the bottom right hand corner of the screen spewing out like lava flowing from Kilauea. The list of angry viewers could even be itemised. You could actually see who was angry, and my list included world champs, old tour guys, and pretty much everyone I regard as a rusted on hardcore pro surf fan. The old app and browser streams were better by a country mile in terms of functionality, gave you better scores and a heat analyser, which seems to now have disappeared entirely.

And that was even before the stream fritzed out during the second heat. Unfortunately for the league, while the stream went down the live comments next to it remained very live. The guys trying to fix the feed were not the busiest guys on site, it was the poor kid moderating the comments. While the screen told us “You’re watching championship tour surfing”, which we clearly weren’t, the comments actually provided more entertainment than the surfing would have. “Give it to SBS!” said one, in reference to the exclusive World Cup streaming deal here in Australia that failed abysmally and had to be handed over to the public broadcaster instead.

It was farcical, but also potentially brilliant. After two years of this, if there’s anyone left, they’ll happily pay whatever it takes on a pay per view platform to rescue them from the Facebook stream.

In non-platform related issues, Joel Parkinson announced his retirement today. He’s been wrestling with it for the past couple of years; hard to put a finger on where it started. Maybe losing to Medina at Snapper in 2014. That killed the winning. Or maybe copping food poisoning on the Santiago to Auckland flight after a dodgy chicken empanada and doing 13 hours locked in a flying toilet. That killed the travelling. He’s been enjoying competing less and family time more, and the retirement has been on the cards for a while now.

For Joel, J-Bay makes sense. He won here at 19, and looked 19 again during certain stages of his heat. He surfed with a weight off his shoulders anyway. He’d said all week that if Jeffreys was three foot, he’d surf a twinnie in his round one heat, and he would’ve if it weren’t for the 35 knot cross-shore that was blowing farm animals into the sea and making the lighting of joints in the bushes up the point at Doc’s Place impossible. I’d joked with Parko last week that after seeing the long range forecast he needed to consider whether he’d retire on the spot if he were to win J-Bay. With twin 960 and 964 lows sitting below Africa, this event is unlikely to run out of swell, and that works just fine for Parko.

I’d also joked with Joel last week that we should be ready for Kelly to announce at J-Bay that he’s also retiring… which is exactly what he did.

Returning to the beach after finishing third in his heat, less than two hours since Joel’s announcement, Kelly also announced that he’d be walking away… next year. Friends immediately began messaging me with entries for a list of Kelly’s greatest thunder steals. There were dozens. I don’t think anything will ever top the wavepool announcement the day after Adriano won his World Title, but this one was pretty good. To Kelly’s credit he surfed well, despite the broken foot and despite riding a 5’3” Cymatic that I don’t think Dan Thomson designed with four foot windy J-Bay in mind.

Kelly gets Jordy in the next round, which will rob an event already low on star power. John Florence is still out with a bad knee and is watching on from Australia, although I don’t think he’s on Facebook. In his absence it was Phil Toledo who looked best on opening day, racing into a Supers double-up for a nine. There was a time when you wouldn’t have spoken his name out here at three foot, let alone at eight foot, but these are interesting times we live in.

Sean Doherty