Since the ASP became the WSL last November, internet forums around the globe have been flooded with commentary on the commercialisation of surfing:

“Ahh man commercialising surfing even more and losing its soul ……. ”

“The continual push to make surfing mainstream is concurrently turning it into one of the least pleasurable activities to engage in. There is a difference between making a decent living and “maximising profits” (which is just a euphemism for justifying rampant parasitism).”

“dudes we have had enough of them-prostituting surfing to the masses–for their own personal gain”

“Surfing, the once great individualistic sport, is being turned into a mushy, soggy cartoon”

And yeah, maybe all the keyboard warriors are right. Maybe pro-surfers shouldn’t get paid to surf, maybe they should surf shit waves around the globe (because really, that’s what tour used to be like). But maybe too, all those armchair warriors have a fairly short memory when it comes to the commercialisation of surfing and perhaps their idea of surfing as a great bastion of counter culture is a bit skewed.

One of the first people to surf in the States, Geroge Freeth was hired by local developer and railroad magnate, Harold Huntington to promote the beachside suburb of Redondo Beach in 1907. He appeared for the magnate again in 1910, surfing at Huntington Pier.

Using surfing to promote a product didn’t stop there:

Coke ad 1962

Kodak ad:

Hollister = California cool:

Don’t surf? Who cares!?

To a much more recent incarnation:

So, for over 100 years surfing and business have gone hand in hand.

At the same time, surfers (and to some extent the advertisers too) have embraced the personal freedom, the rejection of the 9-5, and the sense of individualism that surfing brings. For many, surfing is about discovery, escapism, self-expression and revolution. It’s about rebels and outlaws and sticking it to the man…

I think it’s this dichotomy that has so many people up in arms.

They still see themselves as rebellious teens fighting the powers that be while sitting at their desk, checking the local cam to make sure conditions are just right for them to brave the waves or waiting for their annual leave to accrue for that once a year trip to Bali/Mexico. For them, the WSL embodies everything they want to reject. It’s everything surfing shouldn’t be.

But on the flipside, big surfing corps have enabled surfers to push the boundaries, have invested in new technologies to advance our equipment, and have provided avenues for the few of us who can compete at the top level to hone their skills.

Yes, the WSL is a commercial entity and yes, they are trying to make money from surfing.

No matter how commodified you think surfing is becoming, there will always be the other side to it. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to. Choose not to be a pro. Just switch off, step away from the computer, grab your board, head to your favorite break and remember what it is you love about surfing. That bit’s up to you…