This Savvy Surf Legend Talks with B About The Evolution of Competitive Surf
For over 25 years, surf legend Randy Rarick has wrangled adrenaline-charged surfers, international crowds and a litany of corporate sponsors to bring us the Triple Crown of Surfing—the most important series of surf contests on the globe. In fact, it could be argued that his work with the pro tour is solely responsible for launching companies like Billabong, Rip Curl, Quicksilver and the like in to the stratosphere.
We sat down with Rarick and Moz Mirbaba, an executive producer who shot this year's event, for an exclusive interview in which we covered top moments from the Triple Crown, how the event has become a platform for sponsors, and how the contest can now be seen all around the world.
B on Hawaii: So Randy, how long have you been involved in the Triple Crown?
Randy Rarick: Well, back in the early 70s I competed in a number of the events that are now a part of the Crown. Back then, Fred Hemmings owned and was producing them [Hemmings is now a Hawaii state senator]. I started working on them with Fred in 1983, and I took it over when he left for a life of politics.
B on Hawaii: Tell us how you see the evolution of the competitive surf scene on the North Shore during the Triple Crown events.
RR: It was the late 1980s when some real money started entering the sport of surfing—sponsors like Sunkist, Hawaiian Tropics, a few others. Before that, it was by hook or crook just to get the events up and running. Then Quicksilver, O'neill, Billabong came around, and it all changed. Now, surfing is a $7 billion industry. But it's still a constant battle to get sponsors.
B on Hawaii: Why is that? It seems that the world is now interested in surfing, even in locales with nary a wave in sight.
RR: We're at the mercy of mother nature, for one. It's not like the "Bat and Ball" sports, where you have a gate [so vendors can sell/collect ticket revenue] and a seasonal window with scheduled games that start at a certain time. We don't collect admission. We don't know what the weather will be like.
B on Hawaii: So what are the good points about the evolution of surf scene exposure?
RR: The biggest impact has been the internet coverage. It's huge. When you have a million and a half people watching a surf event, like we did this year, it's amazing. All those people might take up the sport, given the opportunity. And many have. I've traveled perhaps more than any other surfer on the planet: In the 1970s I visited 150 countries and surfed in half of them. No one had ever seen surfing in a lot of those places. Now, it's everywhere. There are people surfing in Norway, Korea, you name it. And even inland areas like The Great Lakes.
B on Hawaii: Obviously this is a huge draw for the surf apparel and gear companies.
RR: Contemporary surfing, although constantly evolving, is currently driven by the brands, since they make all the money. That's why these guys—like Mick Fanning from Rip Curl and Kelly Slater with Quicksilver—have big teams. It's basically a branding exercise that benefits the brands. Surfing is reinventing itself all the time, bringing in the next generation of consumers, and the brands have to keep up with that. And while these companies love that it's both a competitive sport and a lifestyle sport, it's also great because most of the athletes do it for the pure joy of riding the wave. In some ways, it's very pure.
B on Hawaii: We've noticed that throughout Hawaii, the Crown—and other past contests—are airing on cable television. Did you usher that deal in?
RR: We're actually trying to work with Time Warner to broadcast that station all over the mainland so people can watch it live in places like Florida, California, Maine. That's our goal. Dedicated surf channels whenever they want it. By the way, it's also good for Hawaii. I have friends that live on the North Shore and say 'I'm not gonna head to the beach when I can watch the whole thing from my living room, without the crowds and the sunburn.' I mean, they get the best views and replays from their couch. And they can see the ocean from their living room!'
B on Hawaii: What's the biggest obstacle you've encountered with the events?
RR: I don't know if I'd call it an obstacle, more of an annoyance. But we get NO support from the city and state of Hawaii for the sport of surfing. We brought in almost $10 million in direct spending during the Triple Crown, and got zero from the politicians. It's a shame. Biarritz, France, gets behind their festival and helps with all the people coming in. I have to battle tooth and nail just to get the beach permit to run the event. And then the cops come by and ticket all the tourist cars. It's so lame. You know, I can guarantee you the coverage we received this year on the internet and TV, thanks in part to the Eddie Aikau running, was better than the ProBowl. Which the state spent how many millions to get back here? It's very frustrating to get no acknowledgment or support. People downtown just don't get it.
B on Hawaii: What changes have you made, or plan to make, for next year?
RR: We're sinking a good bit of funding, upwards of $200,000, in to a comprehensive web cast that transmits around the world. That's probably the biggest change. We want the world to see our event.
B on Hawaii: Is that a fairly large undertaking?
RR: We worked with Windowseat Productions, who were hired by Quicksilver to shoot the Eddie. Moz Mirbaba has a solid crew, and they do a great job.
B on Hawaii: Moz, what's it like capturing such a quirky, loosely scheduled sporting event?
Moz Mirbaba, Executive Producer, Windowseat: Well, it's sort of our specialty really. We shoot snowboarding, skateboarding and other surf events. We've basically done everything the regular stations weren't doing. They were missing the stories of the surfers, the interviews, what makes O`ahu's North Shore so fascinating—all these are essential to this contest.
B on Hawaii: What was the biggest story this year?
MM: This year it was the world title race between Mick [Fanning] and Joel [Parkinson]. It was a close battle between two friends, everyone got in to it.
B on Hawaii: What differences in the contests have you noticed over the last 4 years, since you've been involved with shooting it?
MM: The vibe has definitely changed from year to year. In 2005 it was a media frenzy, off the hook. The last few years have been pretty mellow. This year, the international production scene was insane. There were film crews in from Australia, Germany, Japan, you name it. There's also a whole young group of new women on the womens tour that are ripping it up. So there's been a lot of attention on the girls, finally. This is bringing in a ton of new fans, new viewers.
B on Hawaii: Having three events right down the street from one another, all off a single road (Kamehameha Hwy), could present challenges as well as ease of coordination. Which way do you see it?
MM: It's a combo of both, there's pros and cons. You can hear the waves and storms coming, which is awesome. The surfers, the fans, the crew, are all right there. the challenge is housing. I have people spread out from Turtle Bay to Alligators. It's hard to have meetings before a shoot day. But the fact that everyone is within 7 miles makes it easier. I think next year we'll all get bikes and it might save time.
B on Hawaii: Randy, how often do you surf?
RR: I try and get in there every single day. I live right at Sunset Beach, and I surf there 95% of the time. I still shape boards as a hobby. And I do the surf auction every other year.
I can guarantee you the coverage we received this year on the internet and TV was better than the ProBowl.