It’s 1:15 a.m. and Mike Gerard stands outside the Barcelo hotel in Salinas, Ecuador with an ISA baseball cap perched on his head. The cap still has its large tag hanging from the crown, like those of Super Bowl champions or final four victors. And in a way, Gerard is a champion. In a fourteen to seven vote, with one abstention, the ISA has just named Surfing America NGB for the United States, replacing the USSF.
Surfing America is now the world recognized governing body for U.S. surfing and has the sole authority to form the U.S. National Team.
But while there’s a palpable feeling of satisfaction from Gerard, he isn’t giving any high-fives or moonwalking across the lobby. The meeting, which dragged on for a marathon five hours, was just too rancorous, too emotional, and too downright heavy to allow that.
“I feel like I just gave birth, he says, face blotched and eyes tired.
Surfing America was the last agenda item for the meeting, and Dick Baker, Gerard, and Peter “PT Townend didn’t begin their presentation until 11pm. Baker put the issue in surf industry prospective, Gerard enthusiastically outlined the Surfing America plan on PowerPoint, and PT played cleanup speaking about historical context. Then Australia moved that the matter be put to a vote, and South Africa soon seconded the motion. Then the debate began.
USSF President Paul West next gave an impassioned and effective speech on how grave this decision was, and how the USSF had secured a nonendemic apparel sponsor — which he didn’t name — that had promised 70,000 dollars in annual support.
At that point, some members clearly wanted no part in deciding which body to support. Some asked that the U.S. government decide — which is the typical protocol in European and Latin American countries, where the government plays a role in these matters. Such is not the case in America, where Congress passed a law that says the associations decide.
Still others wanted the two organizations to head back to the negotiating table — but it seems Surfing America felt it had exhausted that option.
Then it got increasingly specific, and personal. As a semi-well-informed onlooker, I was able to follow each charge and countercharge — but just barely. For those members with English as a second language — or who spoke no English at all — it must have been well nigh impossible to catch every nuance.
To be sure, ISA Fernando Aguerre was working overtime — translating from English into Spanish, Spanish into English, keeping tempers down, and trying to allow all the voices in the room to be heard. He also did a good job with unscoring how serious this entire matter was.
What apparently tipped the balance, however, were several specific questions. Alan Atkins, ISA vice president, wanted to know the total number of members each organization represented. West was unable to give a specific answer, saying his treasurer kept that information, and put it at a “couple of thousand.” PT responded for Surfing America with an exact number: 7,500.
Atkins then asked West: “This is obviously a very important issue to the ISA. Why didn’t you actually prepare a proper presentation to give to the meeting so that we were more informed?”
West said that he had prepared one, but didn’t think it was in the “best interest of the ISA” to present it at the meeting.
PT then asked West why he had walked away from Surfing America’s offer to gather and fund a U.S. team to the World Games in South Africa.
The reasons West gave clearly did not satisfy Aguerre, who had acted as the arbitrator between the two parties.
Finally, the ISA board moved for a vote. God, it was late, and left unchecked the debate would’ve gone on for hours and would’ve further devolved. The task had fallen on the members of the ISA, and they responded by each, one by one, solemnly walking to the front of the room with their ballet.
Fernando shuffled tthe ballots and then read off each vote. The running total was dead close. Only near the end did Surfing America pull away. After the results were read, there was a smattering of applause, but in all honesty, everyone was too emotionally drained, too tired, too over the whole process. Only after West rose and promised to lend any support he could to Surfing America did the applause for Surfing America begin, more heartily this time.
There was a group photo, and then most drifted off. Baker, PT, and Gerard stood smiling in front of the Barcelo hotel, ISA hats perched on their heads, and with a lot of promises to fulfill. Surfing America has promised to host the ISA Junior Games in 2005 and the next World Games in 2006. There’s a team to select and a surf industry to engage in the process.
In less than four hours, Gerard, PT, and Baker will head to the airport. Tired, but justifiably satisfied.
They’ve reached an important milestone, but now the work really begins.