Amateur Surfing: What’s Next?

Reaching the summit at Mount Everest, winning the lottery, and getting a set wave at Pipe — all highly unlikely events. But they’re all more likely than what Surfing America announced last week: getting the unified support of the NSSA, ESA, and HASA — the three biggest amateur surfing organizations in the United States — to rally around Surfing America’s bid to wrest control of the U.S. NGB from the USSF.

Although all the organizations will remain independent and virtually unchanged, this uniting of the tribes (who had been sniping at each other for years) is quite possibly the beginning of the biggest tremor in U.S. amateur surfing in the last 30 years. (For background on the story of U.S. amateur surfing, see TransWord SURF Business story on amateur surfing from the January 2004 issue).

Nearly everyone believed the idea of uniting the U.S. amateur programs to be beneficial — but also impossible. So when it was revealed last week that Janice Aragon of the NSSA, Kathy Phillips of the ESA, and Jack Shipley of HASA had all signed a “memorandum of understanding, in which they agreed to join as member organizations in Surfing America, tiny icicles could be seen starting to form in hell.

The trio had been meeting together with representatives from Surfing America in mid-February at a closed-door meeting characterized as “tough at the St. Regis in Monarch Beach, California, but until the contracts were actually inked and official, all parties were keeping the deal under tight wraps.

The full effect this partnership will have on the amateur surfing landscape won’t be felt until the International Surfing Association (ISA) meeting in Ecuador on March 22. There, Surfing America hopes to petition for the national governing body (NGB) status for America. If an attending NGB motions for a vote (and it’s seconded), and if the ISA member organizations then vote to approve the application, Surfing America would become the organization that selects and sends the team that represents the U.S. in the World Games.

With the three big amateur organizations now behind them, does Surfing America think they’ll leave Ecuador with the NGB? “I can’t see why we wouldn’t, says Executive Director Mike Gerard. “Without sounding pompous, we have a very compelling case.

From Surfing America’s viewpoint, it feels it has a lot to offer the U.S. amateur landscape, both nationally and internationally. “If the U.S. produces a legitimate team and it performs as it should, then the industry will get more involved, we get more exposure, more media, more opportunities for everything, says Gerard. “It’s unbelievable the horsepower we can bring to the whole program. We’re excited to participate, we’re excited to help the program, and we have the tools to do it. And with SIMA working with us, and all the legitimate organizations in America agreeing, it’s just momentous.

For more than twenty years the United States Surfing Federation (USSF) has been the NGB in America, but with the three biggest and most important amateur organizations now partnering with Surfing America, the USSF’s reign as NGB looks more tenuous than ever.

Paul West, President of the USSF, didn’t return calls seeking comment.

At the same time the ISA will be having its bi-annual meeting, it will also be holding the ISA World Games. As for the U.S. team that will compete there, the members will be announced March 1 according to the USSF Web site, although as of press time the the list had not been posted. The USSF recently sent out a press release asking for surfers who are interested in joining the team for Ecuador to contact them for consideration.

While the NGB could channge hands in March as a result of this partnership, the Surfing America deal has the three amateur organizations officially starting their relationship in next year’s contest season.

While it’s a big event, little to nothing will change at each organization. Only the process that selects the U.S. team will be affected. This process will now include a U.S. junior team selection contest that draws athletes from each of the three organizations, and presumably any group that join Surfing America in the future.

Feeding into this contest on one side will be the NSSA Nationals, and on the other there will be a separate championship contest in which the ESA, HASA, and other organizations will participate. Top athletes from these two contests will then meet each other at the U.S. Surfing Championships, the outcome of which will help determine the U.S. team, although there will be another final “surf-off to officially select the roster.


TransWorld SURF Business will update this story as it develops. Click here for more information of Surfing America parting ways with Foster’s.