Last week, Aussie surfer Joel Parkinson won his second straight WCT event at Bells Beach, starting the 2009-10 season with back-to-back victories over the’07 World Champ Mick Fanning, and more notably, last year’s winner Kelly Slater. But the question is: does anybody really care?
In the world of professional surfing, Parko’s win is big news. He’s two for two thus far, and miles ahead in the point ratings, leading Mick Fanning and Fred Patachia by a long shot. Parko is yet to win a world title, though the regular footer’s unbelievably smooth style and likable personality have made him a fan favorite on the Gold Coast for years. But what about in the Bay Area? Does he have any fans here?
It’s tough to relate to the Australians in terms of caring about pro-surfing; after all, Australia is home base to the multi-billion dollar (really, it is) surf industry, and surfing as a sport ranks second in national popularity behind rugby. Look on a map and you’ll see that every major city on the continent is near the coast, geographically engraining a beach lifestyle, and ultimately surfing, into the Australian way of life.
American’s, and specifically Bay Area surfers, aren’t totally uninterested in pro surfing. Take Kelly Slater. True, the 9-time world champion is probably better known to the collective public for his role in Baywatch and for dating Pam Anderson, but that doesn’t take away the fact that he’s the 9-time world champion. The Champ, as he’s known in some circles, is unarguably the greatest surfer of all time, competitively and otherwise, still capable of mutilating any size wave at any spot in the world- at age 37 no less. The greatest surfer of all time happens to be from Florida. Not exactly the Bay Area, but still, he’s an American, and for that, we can be proud of all that he’s accomplished.
On a slightly more localized scale, the state of California is home to some of the greatest professional surfers of the past and present. Tom Curren, Slater’s direct predecessor, is from Santa Barbara, and there are a handful of California guys on tour now, including the most exciting young surfer on the planet, Dane Reynolds. Reynolds grew up in Ventura, though yearly trips to Santa Cruz prove that he’s not afraid of cold water, and the kid is as innovative a surfer as the sport has ever seen. Bay Area surf fans should, and do root for Reynolds as he dukes it out with the big guns on a monthly basis.
Aside from the hype, or lack thereof, surrounding the Association of Professional Surfing (ASP) here in the Bay Area, we do represent an interesting niche geographically. Only a short drive south lies one of California’s surfing hotbeds, Santa Cruz. Surf City North (as opposed to Huntington Beach) boasts some of the best waves, and surfers, on the west coast. The pro-minded influence certainly seeps into the lineups of Ocean Beach, and of course Mavericks. Though it’s rare to see a Santa Cruz pro out at Ocean Beach even on a perfect day, all Bay Area surfers inevitably make the drive to Santa Cruz’s point breaks on a semi-regular basis.
The Cold Water Classic at Steamer Lane is one of the more prestigious WQS events, and pros from all over the world fly into San Jose to take a crack at the perfect rights created by the famed break. But still, there’s something distinctly different once you drive and hour north. The surf is colder, bigger, and windier, and the surfers are fewer. Not many guys have stickers on their boards, and not many guys boost huge airs. All in all, the geographical features of this stretch of coast produce an atmosphere that is less concerned with pro surfing than with ice-cream headaches, blown-out surf, and the ominous presence of the man in the grey suit. But that doesn’t mean we can’t root for Dane when he’s battling a couple of Aussies halfway across the world.