In 1960s, when structured competitions were first introduced to the sport of surfing, the guys and girls all did it for love and ego. There was no sponsorship, certainly no surfing industry – just a bunch of teenagers who gathered intermittently around the globe 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, began 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 the ASP. The very first pro surfing governing body (International Professional Surfers) crowned Peter Townend the very first pro surfing world champion and he was followed by Shaun Tomson, Wayne Bartholomew and of course the legendary four-time world champion Mark Richards. 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 surfer, who automatically qualified for the ASP World Championship Tour (WCT). A Qualification Series (QS) was also introduced to feed the top tour.
Following the growth of the 80’s and 90’s, ASP took aim in a dynamic direction and event promoters were encouraged to stage top tour events at prime surf locations, rather than metropolitan beaches in the middle of summer that were subject to consistently poor surf. 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 Indonesia, Jeffreys Bay in South Africa, Mundaka in the Basque Country, Tavarua in Fiji, Teahupoo in Tahiti and Trestles in California. This era saw the emerging dominance of 11-time ASP World Champion Kelly Slater, while the likes of Lisa Andersen and Layne Beachley pushed women’s surfing to new heights.
Things evolved even further so that events were shifted in the schedule to be held in the correct peak swell season with a waiting period. The objective and subsequent result would become the present mantra of ASP International: WORLD’S BEST SURFERS, WORLD’S BEST WAVES.
In 2014, the convergence of the production, marketing, media, social and sponsorship initiatives under the ASP banner for the first time in the sport’s history will allow the ASP to prioritize athletes and fans as well as celebrate and grow the sport of surfing worldwide. 2014 will see the rebirth of professional surfing when a new look, tone and feel as well as consistent and top-of-class programming that will showcase the world’s best surfers on the world’s best waves better than ever before.