Review: 'How Surfers Get Paid' // A Stab Series
I can only imagine the grin on the director’s face.
The first episode of Stab’s new series, How Surfers Get Paid, opens with Jordy Smith sitting on a North Shore lawn. “That period was probably the toughest and hardest period of my life,” says Jordy while seated on a wicker chair, toes pointed inwards like a child.
“We got sued. I’m not even allowed to talk about it, but…”
But talk Jordy does. He talks about how he was served a writ on the sand of Huntington Beach immediately after surfing a heat of the US Open, and how his parents then lost their house, and the whole Smith clan had to move in with their gran for eight months.
Even better - at least from a viewer/voyeur’s perspective - Stab then film Jordy’s nemesis, who talks candidly about how, yes, his company sued Jordy Smith, going into detail about the hitherto unknown chapter of Jordy’s life. There’s no innuendo or speculation involved; both parties talk openly about the event. Time has passed but clearly there’s no love lost. Just getting them to agree to appear in the one project is a feat of negotiation and trust.
So of course the director of How Surfers Get Paid, would be smiling. As a means of grabbing viewer’s attention, it’s a stunning way to open a series - and a worthy intro for a review too.
Ostensibly, How Surfers Get Paid is an extension of Stab’s long-running Rich List - the latter a Forbes-style dick swing for movers and shakers. Although How Surfers Get Paid shares DNA with its predecessor, it presents as a very different beast, moving well beyond a mere list to tell the story of modern day professional surfing. It has more in common with Salts and Suits, Phil Jarratt's 2010 book, albeit in a video series.
There are no overdubs or narration, or even any surfing action, the story is told via interview footage with pro surfers and industry players past and present. Some of them are very comfortable airing old skeletons, and it’s not just Jordy. Strider Wasilewski’s drug smuggling story is told so matter-of-factly the illegality just floats on by. Notable in the roster is athlete agent and film producer Circe Wallace, otherwise known as the wife of Chas Smith. It’s only a small part but may explain the recent truce between Stab and Beach Grit.
The full project will be six episodes long, but Stab plans to film, edit, and release it in two-episode blocks. The reason for this is telling: They wanted the first two episodes to air so they could gain the trust of other intended participants. Modern media consumers expect a hero and a villain, and to be fair, Stab have had their hand in much villainy over the years, but for this story to succeed it needs both sides to be told.
The bigger story isn’t the good or the bad, it’s the commercial culture that surfing developed at certain points in time; that occasionally allowed millionaires to sprout, or decimated them till they sought more desperate means of survival. ‘Survival’ being paid to surf for a living of course.
Commerce has always provided the most outward-facing aspect of surfing, so in a sense How Surfers Get Paid is a historical document of the sport. You may despise the marketing of surfing, take a purist’s approach to how it’s been exploited, but How Surfers Get Paid documents a large slab of its history.
It’s worth noting that How Surfers Get Paid is linked to Stab’s recent shift in business model. Where once they were beholden to advertising (think website clicks and hits), they’ve now switched over to a subscription-based website (who gives a shit about clicks, are the paying readers happy?). So, for one, this series is right up their laneway with juicy gossip and insider talk, but it’s also free of advertiser tinkering. No longer is the mission to ‘increase advertiser reach’ or some other antiquated internet metric, but rather to entertain Stab’s new paymasters - the subscription holders.
At a smidge over thirty minutes an episode, the length feels about right for a series that has no surfing, just talking heads and period footage linked by title cards (heads up, Stab, get someone to proofread those).
Much as Phil Jarratt was ostracised for “talking out of school” when he wrote Salts and Suits, I could imagine some industry people tut-tutting the content in the first two episodes of How Surfers Get Paid. Who knows, perhaps those very same people will appear to tell their story in one of the coming four episodes?
'How Surfers Get Paid' is a six-part series that's begun airing on Stab. Yeah, it's premium content (read: subscription only)