A lot has happened since the much-hyped coverage of the U.S. Nationalteam placing tenth at the World Games. Yep, it was woeful andembarrassing. Nope, in hindsight it shouldn’t have come as any surprise.And nope, most of the best West Coast amateurs could care less.
But what that miserable afternoon in Brazil really did was highlight thelingering tensions between the various U.S. amateur surfingassociations. Now that the finger pointing has quieted down, where dothings stand, and can the new SIMA-led Surfing America initiativefinally bring all the squabbling tribes — especially the USSF — inline?
**** Incorporation Is The Answer ****
“The National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) does a phenomenaljob at running events,” says Billabong Marketing Director and SurfingAmerica Vice President Graham Stapelberg. “The Eastern SurfingAssociation (ESA) also does an exceptionally good job on the East Coast,and HASA (Hawaiian Amateur Surfing Association) does a great job inHawai’i.
“What we need to be addressing is how we can get a governing body thatcan look at those three key associations and incorporate them to ensurethat the best athletes are coming through each of those areas and theninvolved with the World Surfing Games,” continues Stapelberg. “If youget a proper structure together with a clear path for amateur surfers tofollow, we’ll see the attitude of, ‘Hey, I’m the best kid in Americaright now, and I deserve to be going to the World Surfing Games.'”
**** Surfing America Lobbies For NGB Status ****
Sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee, the InternationalSurfing Association (ISA) is the World Governing Body for surfing. Itsprimary goal is to establish surfing as an Olympic event. In eachcountry, the ISA chooses one organization to be the sport’s NationalGoverning Body (NGB) of surfing — and hopefully one day chooses thatcountry’s Olympic surfers. (Hawai’i, because of its importance insurfing’s history, is currently treated like a sovereign country by theISA and is its own NGB.)
In June of this year, The ISA received a proposal from Surfing America(a nonprofit organization trademarked in 1997 by the Surf IndustryManufacturers Association) to try to become the new National Governingbody in the United States.
Of course, there’s a catch. The United States Surfing Federation (USSF)is already the NGB for the United States. But after fielding a team thatplaced tenth at the 2000 World Games and an equally poor sixth place in1998, the USSF has given its critics all the ammo they needed.
“Surfing America’s proposal for NGB status is showing us there’s aproblem here with the status quo — everybody knows it,” said ISAExecutive Director Cadu Villela. “Let’s get together and see if we cansolve it. Our wish is for both the USSF and Surfing America tocompromise. Obviously, anybody the least bit interested in surfing knowsthat the result from this last World Games is not the spot the U.S.should be in. It hurts the credibility of surfing in America, so thereis a red flag showing. Something is wrong with America — they’re notunited. They go the World Games and can’t even put up a fight — it’sshowing the world that something’s wrong here.”
**** Not Involved, But Free To Participate ****
“The World Games are a worthy and important thing,” says NSSA ExecutiveDirector Janice Aragon, “but until the U.S. team gets back on the righttrack, we’re just not going to be involved with it. The kids are free todo the U.S. National team and do the World Games trials — we’recertainly not stopping them from doing it.
“That’s the ironic thing about it,” continues Aragon, “everybody keepspointing to the NSSA like we’re what’s hurting it. But the kids are freeto go. Anyone can participate in the trials, so you would have to askthe kids why they choose not to.”
Of course, by staying on the sidelines, the NSSA isn’t exactly givingthe World Games its endorsement, either.
**** Over It ****
Mike Losness is a recent NSSA graduate. A three-time NSSA champ who’sonly nineteen years old, he was eligible to compete in the World Gamestrials but chose not to. “I’m just kind of over it I guess,” he says. “Ididn’t really know anything about the trials. I have no clue where theyare. They’re USSF contests, and I never did any of those.”
In other words, the NSSA and the Nationals were far more important tohim. “That’s what made my career,” he says.
World Junior Champ Joel Centeio was at the Games, and helped lead theHawai’ians to a very respectable second place to the home team Brazil.
Centeio says part of the reason for the Hawai’ians success boils down toa cooperative effort between the associations: “Hawai’i is tight becausethe NSSA and the USSF work well together there.”
So why does he think the mainland team was in such shambles? “It seems alittle less important in California to some of the guys. They don’tthink that the Worlds mean that much. But in Hawai’i, all of the topguys do the Worlds. It’s going to stay that way because it started outthat way.”
According to Surfing America Chairperson and Body Glove Marketing V.P.Scott Daley, “The sport is so screwed up right now because of all theinside politics among the different organizations — whether it’s on theprofessional or amateur level. There’s no unity and so there’s nodirection.
“Without direction, no one will be interested in the sport,” hecontinues. “As a matter of fact, many people are burned out on oursport. They don’t know who to talk to or what’s going on — they can’tfigure it out and we’re not helping them to.”
**** Can Surfing America Save The Day? ****
“SIMA’s Surfing America program is on the right track as far as being agoverning body in surfing,” says Aragon. “A governing body has tosupport the whole of the sport, not play favorites.”
The plan is that Surfing America will oversee and direct all aspects ofthe sport of surfing in the United States, including interscholastic,amateur, and club surfing, as well as WQS and all the professionallevels. “It will give surfers a clear guide to their competitive-surfingcareer path — from novice to amateur to professional,” says Daley.”What happens right now is that kids don’t really know the flowchartfrom the very beginning to become the world champion or to become a U.S.or national champion. That’s one of our objectives.”
Losness, like every other budding American pro surfer, agrees that thereneeds another stepping stone — one placed after the NSSA, but beforethe ASP WQS events.
“California should have its own tour,” he says. “It shouldn’t even befor the WQS. There’s so much industry here, why can’t we have a contestevery two months? Kind of what the PSTA is — but that’s still not goodenough.
“There should be one California tour that all the sponsors would bestoked if you competed in,” continues Losness. “It would certainly getthe companies more coverage. When you go to Europe for a ‘QS event,you’re not giving your sponsor any exposure unless somehow you get in amag for going there.”
Surfing America Vice President Stapelberg says he’s looking forward toputting the puzzle together: “We’re going to be able to create apositive breeding ground for the next level of surfers — just in thesame way Surfing Australia has helped put together an incredible list oftalented young individuals going onto the WQS. We need to make sure thatis also happening for us in the next five years.
“Where do you send a kid who just finished the NSSA or finished theESA?” ponders Stapelberg. “Do you send them out into the WQS and expectthem to travel the world and spend tens of thousands of dollars to tryto acquire his points? The real issue is whether we should form anAmerican tour that gives those kids the knowledge about where they standas far as their competitive ability.”
Just as Centeio said, the problem is that the organizations today don’twork together. “Before we dream about what can be, we have to get to thepoint where the organizations work together to achieve a common agenda-
– to put together a calendar that makes sense,” says Stapelberg.
The first step for Surfing America is to work with USSF President JohnDahl on Surfing America’s application for the NGB status. “We’re tryingto work on a mutual plan to affect the future where there are no warsbetween Surfing America and the USSF,” says Daley. “At the same time,we’re trying to uphold the integrity of the sport and make sure theright things are being done as far as contest locations and contestcalendars.
“Right now the USSF needs help running the sport. They don’t run afull-time office or keep a full-time staff. So if they don’t recognizeSurfing America, I anticipate that we’ll continue with our plan toobtain NGB status.”
**** Setting The Schedule ****
Part of the Surfing America’s plan for amateur surfing in America is tomake the 2002 World Games in South Africa the most important contest inthe world during its contest window.
“For that to happen, there has to be a calendar set up eight years inadvance so that we’re scheduled out to 2008,” says Daley. “So we’re notonly planning for South Africa Games in 2002, we’re planning for 2004,2006, and 2008 events. Then the ASP should recognize that the ISA WorldGames take precedence over all other surfing events in the world, andthe industry should recognize that fact. Once that happens, the mediawill get more interested — provided that those events are at qualitysurf locations. Then we’ll see the ISA and the World Games recognized asa leader in the sport of surfing.”
According to Dahl, doing all that will be an uphill battle: “You’ll needthe support of the industry teams. You’ll need the support from theindustry. You’ll need the cooperation from other event promoters not tohave the dates conflict. There’s a much bigger picture you have to takeinto account.
“On the other hand, things are changing all the time,” he says. “Youneed to change with the times and read the signs along the way. We’vemade big changes at the USSF to breathe new life in an old organization.We need broader support, and that’s a matter of going out and working toget it. Kids and teams have to be interested in the World Games or youwon’t have a strong national team.”
Dahl feels strongly that the USSF will be able to field a strong team inSouth Africa: “We need to defend our position as the NGB and get kidsinterested. We need to demonstrate the changes taking place within theUSSF — not only to the individuals involved with the organization, butto the industry and entire surfing community. The fact that there’s achallenge to our NGB status is just another little hurdle to get over.That’s how it goes sometimes.
“We’ll have much stronger industry support for the next World Games,”promises Dahl. “My job is to open the doors and look at all thepossibilities and find a solution supported by the industry. I’llcommunicate with Surfing America on all the issues. How that will allunfold I have no idea. We’re focused on 2002, and the clock’s ticking.”
But is the USSF’s time almost up?