Surfing long ago transitioned from a groovy ‘60s and ‘70s long-haired past time into an international high-stakes, high-money sport attracting some of the world’s most highly paid and talented athletes. Sponsors like Rip Curl, Billabong, O’Neill, Hurley, Quicksilver, Hang Ten, Kahlua and many more, pay millions of dollars to support surfers, provide gear, travel, accessories and publicity.
Surfing just doesn’t appear on any Olympic rosters or the screens of your local sports bar. It’s not mainstream. So mostly, the money, the high adrenaline rush thrills and spills, the tragedies (yes, surfing has its fair share) and its successes go unnoticed.
Many dedicated surfers would probably prefer it that way. There’s an attitude; a larrikin disregard for authority and conformity that surfers are either born with or imbibe when they’ve been surfing for a while – it’s part of the culture, along with social drug use, parties, music, sex…good times.
Professional surfers – both men and women — spend their year flying around the globe entering a series of pro surfing competitions that in total build up points for the World Surfing Championship. The calendar of pro events is well attended by not just the professional surfers. There is a caravan of officials, managers, photojournalists, media, bloggers, sponsors and fans who trail around the world to each event, too.
The events culminate in the annual crowning of the male and female world champion, a title that is loaded with prize money, glory, and attracts millions in sponsorship, advertising and publicity…and at least a year’s worth of revenue.
The runners up and top ten surfers don’t miss out, either. The sport is big enough that they earn serious money – enough to keep globe trotting for one more year, at least.
It’s hard to grasp that this lucrative sport has been successfully running for forty or so years without being noticed – especially when you look out the window as I am now and see snow falling on flat prairie land with not a beach or wave in sight. But I grew up next to the ocean, amongst surfers, and spent my teen years and early adulthood windsurfing and scuba diving on some of the world’s best beaches.
One of those beaches is Prevelly, better known among surfers as The Bommie, and part of the annual World surfing circuit. Prevelly is at the mouth of the Margaret River, a totally laid back part of the Western Australian countryside. The entire peninsular is a national park, riddled with caves, covered in 60’ high karri trees, and as peaceful as you can get without stepping off the planet…until the surfers come to town each summer.