When I was in high school there were always people trying to get us to join them at their church youth groups. They would meet on Tuesday night and camouflage the underlying church message beneath the prospect of a healthy amount of cute girls and “rock music” on a school night. I would sometimes go (there really were cute girls) and it was always clear what the main objective was: have us realize church can be “cool,” get us to like it and then bring our friends. Fall in line. Be like them. Hit the offering tray, while they skip the tax.
The other day while discussing the current state of surfing with deep surf thinker Tanner Gudauskas, he earnestly asked what I thought about the WSL. I responded that the technology and the viewing experience is incredible. NFL, NBA level. It’s crazy. But the issue I have is that they’ve sucked all the soul out of the individuals and it feels increasingly similar to a Christian youth group. A diluted, censored down version of “cool.” When I’m on the WSL website I feel like I’m being tricked into joining the church for the Tuesday night rock band and brownies. Over the course of this transition, they’ve managed to make Matt Wilkinson boring and predictable. Conner Coffin plays lead guitar in the church band. Peter King is the youth pastor making videos of the kids. And the post heat interviews are as sober as the pastor on Sunday morning. When I watch the WSL I see overexcited announcers and over-simplified analysis, and it’s now reached the “athletes.” The viewer is handled with kids gloves and we’ve officially managed to turn something as rad and interesting as surfing into homogenized surf soup that feels increasingly like a well policed Youth Group.
I do find it amazing that they can live stream a clear image of Strider Wasilewski from the water at any surf location (still most famous for looking up that girl’s skirt in Lost’s On the Road with Spike and his crazy Pipeline surfing). And beam 14 angles of John John’s turns live from remote Australia to my phone wherever I am. That is a feat worth applause, but being on the WSL as a surfer now equates to taking a safe corporate job and punching the clock 9 to 5 for the rest of your days. You know your schedule. You know what tomorrow holds. The money comes in and then one day retire or you’re Kelly. That is now the life on World Surf League Tour. Rock out with Jesus. “Look how much fun we’re having!” —Travis