It’s undeniably true, and I suspect the WSL hates it. It’s why surfing will never be a saleable sport. The figures Paul Speaker bandied about the other week are of course ridiculous and much has been said about that already. Two inches of water can be forgiven as gusto, Kelly’s twenty million dollar plus pay packet was (we’re told) a bit extraordinary, but the twenty nine million Brazilians watching the finals of the Fiji Pro?! Well that was completely delusional. Exaggerate by all means, massage the numbers, make Samsung happy, pique the interest of potential investors for sure but don’t make yourselves look like idiots.
A quick look at the viewing figures for the most popular sports would suggest that not everyone watching partakes in that sport. There are all sorts of numbers regarding how many watched the Mayweather Pacquiao fight and I reckon it’s safe to say ‘plenty of millions’, but I wonder how many of them have ever seen a boxing ring let alone stood in one? Football, sure a fair few kick a ball around, but actually play in clubs? American football, probably less. Speaker did make a concession to the fact that there are no set start or finish times with surfing but that was only in justification of it being streamed digitally.
Golf tournaments make for an interesting comparison. Sure the time and date that a tournament will start is set, but your favourite players usually play a different time each day. A big tournament lasts four days (same as surfing). The difference is golf has the equivalent of 18 breaks and a heat taking place on all of the simultaneously at some points. No dead spots, no periods of inactivity and this is what draws the non-playing audience. They can appreciate the skill involved and want to see it repeated again and again. Would the same be true if the audience only saw one group of 4 play 18 holes? Bear in mind, If a four ball took 4.5 hours to play a round and all went around in par that would be (there or thereabouts) one shot per minute. I asked seven keen recreational golfers this question yesterday; five said they would, if it were famous players. That’s at one shot per minute! Now look at what surfers watch… The Fiji final, two people in the water at one of the best spots in the world caught nine waves in 35mins and not all of them were ridden.
There are those who say “it’s free! Why are you complaining?” But that’s not really the point, the WSL don’t want it to be free but they have no choice. I’d go as far to say that they would have trouble convincing people that their product did what it says on the box (especially if Speaker wrote the contents list). Even with solutions to the inactivity in heats; overlapping them, more surfers, two spots at once (beach breaks) etc, the fact remains, only a surfer will ever know the feeling.