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Confusion reigns over issue of breakaway pro surfing tour

September 14, 2009 |  1:41 pm

Nine-time and reigning world champion Kelly Slater, 37, in action during the first round of the Hurley Pro.

As the Hurley Pro continues at Lower Trestles, pro surfers have been meeting behind the scenes to discuss the possibility of a breakaway tour that will involve ESPN, digitally and linearly, and perhaps 20 top surfers vying for more prize money than is being offered by the Assn. of Surfing Professionals.

Will these talks result in what has been referred to as a rebel tour? At this confusing point, it's difficult to determine.

Brodie Carr, the ASP's CEO, says there will not be a breakaway tour. Instead, positive changes will be made to keep ASP surfers happy and boost visibility. One such change will be to implement a singular rating system that will combine the elite World Tour with the World Qualifying Series circuit.

WQS athletes who win six-star WQS contests would be allowed to compete in some World Tour events and World Tour surfers would be mandated to compete in some six-star events to make them more appealing for fans and sponsors.

Nine-time world champion Kelly Slater, one of the central figures in the alleged development of a breakaway tour, is not discussing the issue until details are finalized.

Seventh-ranked Mick Fanning, the tour surfers' athlete representative, said "nothing is set in stone yet" but added that the mere threat of a renegade tour has at least lit a fire beneath the ASP's brass.

"And any kick in the bum is a good kick in the bum, I reckon," said Fanning, one of 19 Australians on the World Tour. Asked to list some of the surfers' gripes, Fanning laughed and said, "I could be here all day, but it's like that in every sport I guess."

Fifteenth-ranked Fred Patacchia said he doesn't think a breakaway tour will materialize, but perhaps that's just wishful thinking, as such an elite tour might cherry-pick only the very best surfers, and some would be free surfers not affiliated with the ASP.

Brett Simpson, who is highly ranked on the WQS and on the verge of qualifying for the World Tour, said he hopes a renegade tour does not materialize because it might diminish the legitimacy of the World Tour. 

"I don't know if it's Kelly being selfish or what," said Simpson, 24, a Huntington Beach athlete who is competing in the Hurley Pro as a wild card. "To me it's a bit  frustrating. It's coming in a year I might qualify and all of a sudden you're like, 'Is it really that prestigious anymore?' "

Nathaniel Curran, an ASP World Tour rookie, in action during the Hurley Pro.

It remains unclear how or whether the ASP would be involved, if in fact a separate tour develops. In fact, a lot remains unclear at this point. The new tour is rumored to involve eight events and offer a prize purse of more than $1 million, with even the last place finisher of each event earning $40,000. (Key word in that sentence is rumored.)

Chris Stiepock, an ESPN executive who has been part of negotiations, said the network's involvement at this point "is that we're discussing with the organizers of the new surf tour about being the media outlet for it."

Stiepock added that if a new tour develops, events would be taped and air one week later as one-hour highlight shows. He, too, was waiting to learn more from the surfers but seemed confident details will eventually become clear.

"Right now," Stiepock said, "there are a lot of surfers who need to talk to their agents, and a lot of discussions taking place."

With all of this going on it's a wonder anyone can focus on surfing. The competition window for the Hurley Pro, which is paying the winner $100,000 (thanks to a $60,000 boost from Hurley), closes Saturday afternoon.

Slater, 37, has won the event the past two years.

-- Pete Thomas

Top Photo: Nine-time and reigning world champion Kelly Slater, 37, in action during the first round of the Hurley Pro. Credit: © ASP/ CI/ Morris via Getty Images

Bottom photo: Nathaniel Curran, an ASP World Tour rookie, in action during the Hurley Pro. Credit: © ASP/ CI/ Rowland via Getty Images