Creating Mark Visser
In July of this year a session went down in Tasmania's deep south that the mainstream media reported as the largest waves ridden in Australia. The crew who surfed it were mostly local Tasmanians yet the only person who made the headlines was Sunshine Coast surfer, Mark Visser.
The exclusive exposure given to Visser is no surprise for anyone who's followed his transformation from struggling 'QS journeyman to Big Wave Adventure Athlete.
The public image metamorphosis of Visser commenced in 2009. I first noticed it when I began receiving an unsolicited stream of press releases updating me on his health and whereabouts. Amongst other things I was informed that Mark Visser: had just 6% body fat; can hold his breathe for over six minutes; that he was nominated as an eligible bachelor and would appear with his shirt off; and also that Visser's jet ski was currently being loaded on to a plane.
Big news that last one...
Visser had a management team behind him creating and disseminating press releases and I've no doubt it was they who informed the newspapers following the aforementioned Tasmanian session. As the editor of Swellnet the press releases were sent to me in the hope that I, in turn, would inform you about their client. Each 'news' snippet referred to him as Big Wave Surfer Mark Visser and they positively reeked of PR brand-building. I treated them with the disdain they deserved.
Yet somewhere along the way – between the bare-chested portraits and the big-wave acclaim – the press releases found purchase with people of influence.
A production team spotted potential in Visser's act and has since been bankrolling his projects. Since connecting with them Visser's upward trajectory has steepened dramatically with, first of all, a night surfing stunt at Jaws back in January, and now a well-documented hunt to ride a 100 foot wave. The latter replete with slick production and the entire gamut of Navy SEAL imagery and equipment: tight black suits, big planes, and hand gestures exchanged by people with very serious facial expressions.
Mark Visser is now a Big Wave Adventure Athlete, and people – a great number of them - are paying attention to him. The metamorphosis is complete.
In amongst my cynicism there are lessons to be learnt in this story and they should be noted by anyone hoping to follow Visser's lead and break free of the surf industry. The first is this: 'If you keep selling yourself someone will eventually buy'. While the second lesson is far more simplistic: 'Don't listen to your critics'.
The fact is, Mark Visser used an initial burst of shameless promotion to create an image that launched him into the public eye and then onwards to the people who counted. He's now got the resources to attempt something no surfer has done before. And for that he deserves kudos.
However, before I scarf all the humble pie, I do reserve one last slice of cynicism for Mark Visser and his 100 foot quest. It is this: there is no way on God's great Earth that he will ever find and ride a 100 foot wave - the science is dead against him. That said, I highly doubt Mark Visser will start listening to his critics now.