Where are all the Aussies?
At the recent Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa there was a noticeable absence in the winner's circle. The missing surfer wasn't there in the final, nor the semi finals, and they barely showed up in the quarters either.
However, it wasn't one individual that had gone AWOL but a whole nation - the Australians.
Just one Australian, Connor O'Leary, made it to the quarters of one of the most important qualifying events of the year. 1 surfer out of 8.
The round earlier, Round 4, the count was 5 Australians, and 3 of those were CT surfers, meaning there were just 2 legit QS Aussie warriors among 32 surfers.
Perhaps you, like me, are wondering where all the Australians have gone?
It's a complex question, involving demographics, cultural change, plus missteps by Surfing Australia, and Swellnet will endeavour to answer them over coming weeks but for now we'll lay out some bare data that shows our declining competitive attendance.
For this we've counted the number of surfers from each country in the QS top 100 since the tour split in 1992. We chose the QS as we're not trying to measure competitive success as per world titles - the US would take that anyway - but an overall count of pro surfers who comprise the upper ranks.
If there were to be no change in the top 100 after the upcoming World Cup at Sunset, Australia would count just 19 surfers in the top 100 - equal to its lowest showing, which was in 1994. However, the 1994 count comes with a caveat of sorts.
When the tour split into the WCT and QS it wasn't wholly welcomed by pro surfers, especially back markers and 'lifestyle' pros relegated to the QS. No longer were they following the festival circuit where contests coincided with the biggest parties of the year, but they had to grind it out on a less prestiguous tour that travelled to less exotic locales. Accordingly a generation of Aussie pros packed it in.
At the same time a bunch of American surfers were on the ascendancy. The surfers who came to be known as the 'Momentum generation' swelled the ranks, even if only for a short time.
In 1995 Paul Sargeant had his first LMB meeting to rally young Aussie surfers and counter the Americans. The acronym was highly dubious (Lick My Balls), subsequent behaviour from Sargeant even more so, but whether it was due to LMB or some other reason, Aussie participation on the QS rose immediately. In 1995 there were 30 surfers in the top 100, which is just off the long term average of 29.76.
Here's the nationalities of the QS top 100 for the last 25 years:
And here's the same info in black and white (right click and open in a new tab for bigger image):
The most immediate trend is that Australia (blue) peaked just after the turn of the century and has been on a steady decline since. The US (yellow) is in a very similar situation, which is no great surprise as we have similar surfing cultures.
Also, the supposed 'Brazilian Storm' has been simmering all along; they're likely to register their highest number this year - 31 surfers in the top 100 - yet they've been coasting in the mid-20s for many years. Brazil's long term average is 23.50 surfers in the top 100.
The biggest movers are the others. Where once there'd be the odd South African, Brit, or Tahitian, they now collectively rival the other three powerhouses. The 2017 top 100 includes surfers from South Africa, Portugal, France, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Morocco, Uruguay, Basque Country, Spain, Tahit, Indonesia, and Peru.
Apologies to the nations that fall under the 'other' umbrella for lumping you all together. If I cop enough grief I'll go back and count each one.
Stay tuned for more info...