What the heck is Surf 100?
Review by Ding Alley
By the time this review comes out, the recent W.A version of Surf 100 will have already slipped into recent history – even typing notes up on a ‘live’ pay-per-view product feels kinda redundant.
But there’s every chance Surf 100 is gonna be a Thing, so if you’re curious about the nature of this Thing, and wondering whether or not to shell out for future such Things, or indeed if this Thing is going to become THE Thing, do read on.
Though Surf 100 raises many questions only the future can answer, there’s one thing we CAN be sure of: the crew at the Woz are watching this like a hawk – a myopic, tone-deaf hawk with thalidomide talons – but a hawk nonetheless.
OK, so Surf 100, or at least this WA iteration, is structured as such: four surfers undertake a 100-minute session – broadcast in real time with a Woz-scale armory of camera angles and replays etc, with the surfers mic’d up for banter etc, and the lineup still populated by punters.
It’s at the limits of Ding Alley’s cognitive powers to understand, let alone articulate it, but friday’s broadcast is ‘live’, even though the 100-minute session was shot back in early August.
That session featured four W.A stalwarts: Jay Davies, Kael Walsh, Jacob Willcox and Jack Robinson at six-to-eight foot North Point. Kinda pumping but with lulls, and with most of the hardcore N.P crew fortuitously up north, our stars had pretty much the pick of the sets.
Nine filmers and two audio guys captured the session, and a 100% real-time-chronological document of those 100 minutes was assembled. This was then broadcast on Friday with ‘live’ commentary by the team of Sal Masekela and fellow ‘thought leaders’ (Stab’s term, not mine) Yadin Nicol and the cherubic Dane Reynolds.
And though Dane’s commentary wordcount is about a tenth of his counterparts, his endorsement of the Surf 100 deal is a big plus, obviously, for the perceived legitimacy of the whole endeavour. Not just for the acolytes out there in paywall land, but also, if you’re say, a famous surfer on the fence about participating and Dane R calls you, it’s perhaps hard to say no.
Yadin Nicol, being equal parts West Australian and Californian, provides most of the verbiage, and with those prodigious choppers and Auseppo hybrid dialect, he could well play a young Greg Norman, were a biopic of that golfing icon to be made, and Yadin wanted try his hand at the whole thespian thing.
So, we’ve got four surfers looking for two scoring rides, three thought-leaders (how I detest that term) holding court, and common folk like you and I encouraged to hand over 14.99 USD (bang on a Lobby AUD) to view the event live on the interwebs, and – if we care to – score our heroes’ rides out of 100.
Even though the branding and self-references are minimal in Surf 100, this is a Stab venture, employing typical Stab creativity and innovation to separate us from our hard earned coin.
I’ve always viewed myself as too plain to buy into Stab’s whole schtick, but the potency of its founding DNA – Derek Rielly and Sam Mac leveraging the learnings and frustrations of their respective mag-employee histories into Their Own Deal – echoes decades down the line, with Impresario Sam Mac still deftly conjuring away.
You-Know-What-19 throwing the Woz under a bus this year has opened a giant window of opportunity to re-imagine the Surf Comp experience, and Surf 100 – while not a lay down misere – gets the job done, and when you consider the admirable smarts and sweat bringing it to life, you have to give it it’s due.
OK, so without lapsing into a sad ol’ blow by blow recap, here’s some rapid-fire notes on the broadcast:
The commentary studio is as makeshift as contest director Chris Binns’ Covid beard is sturdy. Speaking of Binnsie, his fingerprints are all over the talent profiles and analysis of North Point. Binnsie’s as personable and savvy a graduate of the surf mag nursery as you can get, and his editorial-honed curiosity makes him a great interviewer and narrative engineer.
Proceedings get off to a slow start, with zero waves ridden in the first ten minutes of the session. Time, then, to throw to a profile on Jay Davies, which in turn sets Sal Masekala to fanning his face with his hand while declaring the depth of his attraction to the noted power surfer.
It doesn’t take long, however, for the engaging aspects of Surf 100 to come to the fore.
Firstly, there’s the fact that this is, in many ways, a free surfing session, but one that’s forensically documented. This means that any moments of serendipity, happenstance or drama are captured unharmed and bottled intact for our enjoyment – the audio ‘wiretap’ dialogue among the surfers as first real set approaches is truly a goosebump moment and authentic in a way the Woz, for all its resources and bluster and repeated attempts, has yet to achieve.
Other moments of near-magic: a twelve year old grom sharing a ride on a mid-range bomb with Jacob Willcox, then undercalling the swell size like a pre-pubescent Baz Cornell back on the beach five minutes later; Jack Robbo speculating on ‘buying’ a set wave from local charger Ollie for 300 bucks; (indeed, local charger Ollie nabbing THE wave of the session); the drone angle showing the nuance of lineup positioning; our surf heroes demonstrating respect for the concept of taking turns and, gloriously, Jacob Willcox’s creative and clinical tube stance adjustments. Every bit the savant that fella.
Some misfires are to be expected: where the lineup audio wiretap takes us along for a sometimes thrilling ride, the booth guys are seemingly uninterested in engaging the punters; I’m sure it’s more lack of skill on their part, rather than the too-cool-for-youse it appears to be. Again, I’m too old and fusty for the whole Stab schtick, so I have NO idea what to make of Stab fella Michael Ciaramella’s shirtless pieces to camera, other than to see it as part of the weird narcissistic smarm that makes up the more odious facet of the Stab mix. Keep in mind that your correspondent is definitely too unhip for this personal repulsion to count for much.
Also as mentioned before, Stab’s brand presence (MC’s soliloquies aside) is very discrete in Surf 100. There’s no advertising either, and seeing as there are no coincidences in the world of Sam Mac, we can deduce that these iterations of Surf 100 are very much a careful proof of concept phase, possibly with a view to selling the package when it gets traction.
Even the surfers in the lineup sound savvy to the commercial agenda of the thing, with one competitor mentioning ‘chasing Brazillian pay per views’ in a lull towards the end
And though the show winds down awkwardly with Sal returning to his pet topic of Jay Davies’ musculature, It’s hard to deny a great deal of smart creative thinking has gone into Surf 100. All the values of good surf media: curiosity, rigour, storytelling and creativity are in play. Even the punter-scoring interface is well considered, tested and bug free..
Clocking in at over two hours, however, my interest in Surf 100 runs out of puff by the time commentators and contestants convene for their Zoom meeting to announce the winner (Jack Robinson). So I pick up the phone to yak with director Binnsie as he embarks on (by-all-accounts heroic) post-contest beers.
Binnsie tells me a few things:
By the time North Point was go, it was the third or fourth attempt to run it. They’d been staking out Gas Bay because the original concept was based on scoring both a left and a right – until they realised that multidirectional requirement was severely compromising the options. “North Point was our big learning, so to speak. It didn’t matter if it was just one way.”
The beauty of this concept is you don’t need infrastructure: “Soon as it’s live you need a broadcast truck at very least. This ‘augmented live’ way, you have a light footprint – the only infrastructure we brought to North Point was a flag – oh and Snake (Jake Paterson) brought a camp chair. That was it.”
The Surf 100 crew aren’t afraid to at least dream of a roster of low-impact high-return transmissions. As Binnsie reckons, “Like, what’s to stop us taking Occy and Curren back to Bells?”
I leave Binnsie to his well-deserved lager frenzy and consider the implications of Surf 100.
It’s telling that The Woz had given Surf 100 a decent promo push on its site and socials – and with the tectonic plates of global sports consumption shifting, bucks for broadcast rights coming to an end, and ad revenue hurtling off a cliff – you’d have to think the Woz is paying more than a passing interest in how the next iteration of Surf 100 plays out and pays out.
// DING ALLEY