Yesterday's action at the Hurley Pro at Lower Trestles was a demonstration of why surfing can but never will join the likes of professional football, basketball and baseball. The progression and innovation in surfing creates a constantly evolving (for the better) bit of entertainment, but in the end, who wins and how they do so is still entirely subjective, and at the mercy of the judges.
There's Julian Wilson, using a four-foot Lowers wave face as a launch ramp into an aerial another four-feet above the lip, adding a grab for impact, and then on a later wave he pulls a “sex-change varial,” shifting the board around under his feet while in the air. The next generation of surfing.
There's Owen Wright, the No. 2 surfer in the world and another new generation surfer, performing three consecutive snaps at the top of the wave–“three to the beach,” an almost old-school approach, regardless of the power and precision–somehow resulting in one of the highest scores of the contest, a 9.7.
Surfing isn't suffering, by any means. The prize purses are only getting bigger ($1 million in New York just weeks ago, the largest ever). The popularity is ever-growing, largely through the utilization of the web and social media. New sponsors are entering the fold, including Nike and Target, and there's rumors that Walmart may even be getting involved.
Surfing, as much as the “core” may want to dismiss it, is entirely mainstream.
But the judging….
In the defense of surf judges, they have a hard job. But sometimes, it seems the scores end up, conveniently, a little too high or a little too low–and, occasionally, it seems situational. But that's part of the subjectivity. One man's massive air is equal to another man's massive hack.
Ultimately, the guys who have earned their way through to Round 5 and the quarterfinals are still in contention. And the sun's coming out today, and the wave will stay good, and long and ideal for the progression to continue. But where does surfing go from here?