The War on Athlete Ownership

By Jack Houghton

Mick Fanning - Leading last year's Kirra team

Mick Fanning – Leading last year’s Kirra team


The ASP has dealt the first blow to boardriding clubs as the war for surfer ownership heats up.

DO YOU remember the first time you saw your sporting heroes in action? Perhaps they tore through a seemingly impenetrable defense to claim a winning try. Or maybe you fell in love with cricket the day after Shane Warne texted a woman “the back door is open” only to discover his wife had been the recipient. Regardless, this year thousands of young aspiring surfers will miss out on the chance to compete against their childhood heroes. The Association of Surfing Professionals has officially banned pro-surfers from representing their local clubs in competitions.

For the first time in 29 years, surfers like Joel Parkinson, Mick Fanning and Owen Wright will not be allowed to compete at the Kirra Teams challenge.

I spoke to the organisers today. They told me last year a 15-year-old boy was thrown into a heat with Joel and Owen. The kid had the surf of his life and half-way through the heat, he was actually winning. He ended up losing but came out of the water perpetually stoked that he had stood toe to toe with some of the world’s greatest athletes. That is the kind of experience any athlete would relish for the rest of their lives. Nowadays, stories like this will only be told from the lips of a Hollywood actor remaking another shitty Blue Crush film.

While it does annoy me that the ASP is taking a giant shit on the country’s surfing culture and history, I can’t even comprehend why a niche sport would purposely strangle itself. All competitive surfers come from small board riding clubs in the first place.

World champion Joel Parkinson told the Gold Coast Bulletin that the decision was disappointing and would hurt the same clubs that are likely to foster the next Kelly Slater.

“It’s a bummer I think. When you’re a kid you start in your club and they feed you everything,” Joel said.

“They make the steps along the way a lot easier. They pay entry fees for the kids but then you can’t give back. That’s the one thing I get a bit bummed about.

“I’d love nothing more than to be able to surf for my club but in saying that, there is a lot of politics in it and it’s not worth getting involved.

“Once I retire, my goal is to surf in nothing but for my club.”

Organisers of any non-ASP surfing event can send an application to have a professional surfer compete. However, they have to fork out a $5000 fee for every bloke they want on board. Some of these comps run off ridiculously tight budgets with prize pools scarcely reaching a couple of grand.

Inside sources tell me the ASP is concerned the Quicksilver Pro will be over-shadowed by the rise in events like the Kirra Teams Challenge.

As far as I’m concerned, the ASP should be promoting the sport in all levels of competition. It will end up serving them down the track when they have more competitors and fans jumping on the bandwagon, spending money on things like shitty Quicksilver shirts just to impress the ladies.

As Joel said to me earlier, the greats want to give back to the clubs that helped raised them. The fans want it and the competitors crave it.

The decision to ban professional surfers from representing their local clubs will hurt everyone. But at the end of the day, the ASP will be the ones who truly suffer



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