In the interest of grossly oversimplifying things we would say that there are precisely two reactions to the Billabong Pro, Rio. The first one is to be happy that us fans are again treated to the free spectacle of our favourite surfers surfing; to be excited when the waves pump and intrigued by the machinations and strategy of competing when they’re lacklustre. The second is to view the entire contest with disdain, to not wait until the lady-with-a-nice-personality has sung, but to call the ASP, Billabong, the surfers, your Nan, a joke/disgrace/any other dismissive and diminutive insult before the local wildcards have even been eliminated.
While we are not in the business of telling you how to think, we are in the biz of making some pretty strong suggestions in the form of well-researched journalistic articles (or, we can just ask two people on one side of the debate some loaded questions). The main points of contention here are that, a) Rio doesn’t deserve a contest, and b) even if it does it doesn’t deserve to have a contest when Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, does not as Billabong was the sponsor for both events and they dropped J Bay but they still have Rio.
Remember when Rio was this good? Yeah, just last week. Photo: ASP/Kirstin
Rio doesn’t deserve an event!
Yessir it does. Some call it the best city in the world, but they are wrong (no city is), and it certainly sports two of the world’s most recognisable, though by no means pristine, beaches. Behind these beaches there are some 6,323,000 Cariocas needing sporting titillation, which is why the city is scheduled to hold the football (soccer) World Cup next year, and the Olympics two years later. That the city of Rio chose to sponsor the event alongside these global sporting spectacles in this great city validates the competitive sport of surfing (the simple act of going surfing needs no validation, professional sports, on the other hand, do).
WCT Goofy stalwart and surfers’ representative Ace Buchan had this to say about having an event in Rio: “Brazil is booming and surfing is huge in this country. We undoubtedly need at least one event here. And besides, it showcases what the best guys do in everyday waves that most of our fans surf everyday and that’s cool. Yeah it can be very straight and closeout here but it also gets really bloody fun. We are already looking at options for several other back up spots in Rio for next year to make sure we have access to the best waves on offer. This city holds more little gems than most would think and it would be great to show that to the world. The event has grown each year and the first few days already this year have far surpassed the last few in terms of crowds and the atmosphere. I think there’s a lot of room for this to be a real carnival event. We took the favela kids surfing today and it was so cool to see the smiles on their faces. They were buzzing. And besides who doesn’t love Rio!? It’s arguably the greatest city on earth.”
The ASP has promised fans the “World’s best surfers, world’s best waves”, though Blind Freddy’s seeing eye dog could see that the waves in Rio clearly aren’t world class, and then pass that information on to Blind Freddy. Like Ace said, we get to see the world’s best surfing in waves similar to those which us plebs surf most days of the year, in management speak known as ‘relatable conditions’. ASP media ninja Dave Prodan explained their position:
“”The ASP World Championship Tour is designed to put the world’s best surfers in the world’s best waves and strives to provide a balanced platform in determining the world champions and the most comprehensive surfers on the planet – this involves point breaks, reef breaks and beach breaks like we have in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil is a veritable surfing powerhouse in both the surfers they are developing and the waves they have on offer. Our primary site at Barra da Tijuca, on its day, offers powerful barrels as well as turn sections and ramps and we look forward to the swell coming later in the week.”
For my part I reckon we’d be better off calling them the world’s best surfers in the world’s best waves. The world’s best beachbreak waves are in places like Hossegor in France and Supertubos, Portugal. We need a ‘CT in Rio, but not because it is one of the world’s great sand bottomed shred arena.
We miss you J Bay, we really do. Photo: ASP/Cestari
But why not J Bay!? It’s not fair!
There really should be an event at Jeffrey’s Bay. It was the only WCT event in Africa, and every other continent has an event (Keramas = Bali = Indonesia = Asia). Also, it is the world’s best right hand point break. I asked Ace, who is one generation away from being a Saffa himself, what he thought about the tour not stopping in the land of his forefathers and mothers:
“Its a sore point for the surfers because it (J Bay) is probably one of the most respected and revered waves on tour and we all love going there. South Africa has a special kind of vibe and has always been a jewel on the tour so its a big bummer not to see it on the calendar. J Bay and the Mr. Price (Durban) have made up such a cool leg for a long time.
”I guess that line of thinking (Rio being chosen over J Bay) comes from people not being aware that there isn’t some man with a magic wand saying here are the best 12 venues for a surf tour. We are living in a commercial world where money talks and the status quo that we were operating under with the old ASP didn’t help. The companies who run the events also made the decisions on the board, so there was a conflict of interest there. In saying that the companies are owed a lot for getting us to the position we are in today. Unfortunately J Bay was just a financial victim. Of course wave wise we would prefer to be there but that’s just not how the decision gets made.”
The event licensee makes the decision whether they want to spend the bucks on an event or not. Billabong was the J Bay event licensee, until they downgraded the event from a ‘CT event to a six star ‘QS event, following a “broader review” in which they sought to “identify cost savings throughout the business.” The licensee is responsible for all the costs, and this is a mighty burden for any brand to bear. Billabong South Africa’s Chad D’Arcy told us that Billabong remained the sponsor of the J Bay contest as it was downgraded, and will present it this year in its manifestation as the J-Bay Open of Surfing. He said that downgrading the event was an “financial decision”, that the Rio and J-Bay events are “mutually exclusive”, and that they are “doing everything [they] can to get J-Bay back up to a WCT in the future”. Billabong, quite simply, couldn’t afford to be the licensee of the J-Bay Pro at a WCT level.
Rio, on the other hand, is licensed by a guy called Xandi Fontes. Xandi covers the cost of running an event by selling sponsorship rights, to the likes of Billabong, the City of Rio and Colgate. So Billabong gets similar brand exposure (not many of us even knew they weren’t the event’s licensee) for a fraction of the cost. And in a time of economic turmoil this is an intelligent decision. Billabong has remained on as the licensee to the event at Teahupoo, and one could surmise that if there was a decision to be made as to which event to license you’d choose the Pacific soul eater, which has a far greater chance of featuring death and/by dismemberment, which is what us action deprived, bloody thirsty, rabid surf fans deserve.
The event in Rio is on because the waves can be fun, and the city is amazing and the Brazilians deserve an event. The event isn’t on in J Bay because of Billabong’s financial difficulties and the ASP is working to get it back on the World Championship Tour. Nobody ever made a decision to have an event at Rio at the expense of the event at Jeffreys Bay