Back in the 1960s when structured competitions were first introduced to the sport of surfing, the guys and gals all did it for love and ego. There was no sponsorship, certainly no surfing industry – just a bunch of teenagers who gathered intermittently and pitted their respective skills against one another.
This was truly the amateur era. It is hard to think of greats such as Midget Farrelly, Joey Cabell, Mike Doyle and Bob McTavish as amateurs, but the truth of it is that after winning their respective National Championships and various international meets, there wasn’t much else for them.
While the camaraderie and spirit were rich, there was very little in the way of monetary compensation from endorsements, and certainly no prize money. The rewards were personal achievement, and in line with all amateur sport of the era, time at the top was limited.
As we went from the swinging, counter culture ’60s into the ’70s, isolated pockets of structured competition surfing began to emerge. Hawaii was already well along the road to professionalism, with events such as the Smirnoff Pro, The Duke Kahanamoku Classic, and the Pipeline Masters offering around $10,000 in prize money.
The new superstars of the sport were Jeff Hakman, Reno Abellera and Gerry Lopez. These surfers, along with established stars Nat Young and David Nuuhiwa, were supplementing their prize money with endorsement contracts.
While the surfing industry was in its formative stages in Australia, Hawaii and Japan, and not even on the distant horizon in Europe and South America, it was well established in California. Riding on the coattails of Gidget, the beach boys and the surf craze of the ’60s, labels had established themselves and were turning to the heroes of the day to draw the public to their branding.
By the mid-70s, events had popped up from Sydney to Rio, from Florida to Durban. This loose knit belt of tournaments was strung together in 1976 in what would prove to be the embryonic stage of ASP. The very first pro surfing governing body (IPS) crowned Peter Townend (AUS) the very first pro surfing world champion and he was followed by Shaun Tomson (ZAF), Wayne Bartholomew (AUS) and of course the legendary four-time world champion Mark Richards (AUS). Between the four of them, they ushered in the new era, and by 1984, the tour had expanded to in excess of 20 internationally-rated events.
Tom Carroll (AUS) and Tom Curren (USA) soon pushed to the forefront of the sport and their contribution, plus a booming surf industry, paved the way for enormous growth. With over 60 pro events worldwide, the ASP introduced a two-tiered system of ratings in 1992, incorporating the Top 44, who automatically qualified for what was then called the World Championship Tour (WCT). A World Qualifying Series (WQS) was also introduced to feed the top tour with 16 people dropping off at year’s end to be replaced by red-hot WQS aspirants.
After several years of consolidation, ASP then took aim in a dynamic direction. In a somewhat radical departure from the ’80s and early ’90s tour look, event promoters were encouraged to stage top tour events at prime surf locations.
The industry caught on quickly, the big-name labels, as part of a global promotional strategy, began positioning their respective events at such exotic locations as Grajagan in Java Indonesia, Jeffreys Bay in South Africa, Mundaka in the Basque Country, Tavarua in Fiji, Teahupoo in Tahiti and Trestles in California and within the era saw the emerging dominance of reigning 11-time ASP World Champion Kelly Slater, while the likes of Lisa Andersen and Layne Beachley pushed women’s surfing to new heights.
The policy then evolved so that events were shifted in the schedule to be held in the correct peak swell season, with a waiting period or swell window. The objective and subsequent result would become the present mantra of ASP International: WORLD’S BEST SURFERS, WORLD’S BEST WAVES.
That shift in focus was a far cry from the ’80s and early ’90s when ASP World Tour events were staged at metropolitan beaches in the middle of summer, with the objective of filling grandstands and getting butts on beaches. Too bad the surf did not pump until the fall, and many grandstand events, locked into a Sunday afternoon finish, were subject to consistently poor surf.
There are still some grandstand events on the calendar, maintaining the public face of the sport as well as the all-important public accessibility to the world’s best surfers.
These days, the ASP embodies all aspects of surfing. From idyllic pointbreaks in exotic locations-to-heaving barrels-to big-city beachbreaks, the current ASP Top 34 and Top 17 take on everything from dream waves to daily training grounds, proving the ASP World Champion is truly the most well rounded surfer the sport has to offer.
The new ASP, however, has implemented a formula that literally beams these insane images of the world’s elite pros at the world’s most dynamic surf venues, directly into the global lounge room.
The organization has been at the forefront of the LIVE web streaming from event sites, which without delay, is delivered directly to the desktops of anyone with access to a modem. This, in itself, has changed the face of the sport, as second-to-none images of the best of the best are now accessible to one and all regardless of where an event is held.
While men’s surfing is reaching new heights with the fresh addition of under-20 progressive prodigies catapulting on to the elite ranks over the last year, the female talent on the ASP Top 17 has blown open the door in recent years, with the so-called ‘new guard’ taking women’s surfing to the next level. Whether you’re referring to the men’s or women’s ASP World Championship Tour in 2012, one thing’s for sure, this year’s elite roster is comprised of the finest group of surfing talent in history.
There is an air of maturity about ASP these days. Having been around for 36 years the sport is developing a deep and enriched heritage not unlike that of more mainstream sports. With a truly professional outlook, incredibly efficient business processes and practices plus healthy relationships with some outstanding business partners and events, we are sure that in 2012, ASP’s success will be immeasurable.