SQUID INK: There's No Soul In Surfing

23 Jun 2016 20 Share

Illustration by Coolbin Nash

Illustration by Coolbin Nash

SQUID INK | Opinion

In 2016 Squid Ink was born. It's an area of discussion where the Coastalwatch community can bring to the table the most formidable issues of the moment to stimulate healthy debate.

To have your issue featured send your 500 words to editor@coastalwatch.com. Submissions will be published & edited at the discretion of the Coastalwatch editorial team. Submissions will not be published if they are offensive or defamatory in any way. 


Why Did The WSL Start Playing Gambling Ads In The Fiji Pro Webcast?

Words by Bali Strickland

Sport and gambling – The two just seem to go together like cheap wine and bad headaches. The thing is, gambling on something you have no control over, just makes it more fun to watch. A whole lot more fun, in fact. That’s how I got into watching rugby league – I started gambling. Online gambling gave me a love of the game where before, I couldn't really care less. I never played rugby as a kid, I didn't know the rules, I didn't have a team. My enjoyment of watching the game was based largely on playing the numbers game - Trying to beat the odds.

I was never a rugby kid, I was, however a surfing kid. Surfing was and remains to this day a huge part of my life. I love everything about it. The escapism, the freedom, the feeling of warmth in a fully sealed 3:2 steamer on a cold winter's morning when the swell is pulsing. And, I love watching the world tour - at least I used to love it. Then I made the biggest mistake of my life and started gambling on it, online.

At first, I couldn't even believe how much fun it was. If betting on a sport you don't give a toss about makes you a fan, what can be said of betting on something you've been involved with for 28 odd years? Addiction set in pretty quickly, I suppose that’s the thing with it. I suppose that’s why they give you a free $50 bet when you sign up – like a tobacco company handing out freebies and business cards in schoolyards.

SEE ALSO: Sean Doherty On Finals Day Fiji Pro, Buying The Whole Cow

For three or four years I carried on with it. I was so hooked and so convinced it was just harmless fun that I even helped sign up a whole bunch of my friends. Smart people those bookies, they'll give you a free bet every time you sign someone new up. Eventually, however, no matter how well you know the game, if you gamble, you will lose.

I didn't lose a lot of money, I bet small and lost small, but I did lose. I lost all of it and so did all my friends. It’s inevitable, and eventually, you lose enough times that you just stop putting money into your account, which is exactly what I did. I just stopped depositing more money. Can you guess what happened next?

Yeah, I kinda stopped watching. Turns out the added excitement that gambling brought to the table, is replaced by an equally strong feeling of emptiness once you quit. I still try and watch, but it’s just not the same. Before gambling, I would have never missed watching Wilko burn through the rounds at Snapper. This year I hardly even tuned in. Do you want to know the first thing that went through my head when I found out he had won? "I wonder what he was paying?”

Wilko and I grew up in the same town, for ‘you know what’s’ sake. I should have been stoked out of my skull for him, and I was, I really was, but you can't stop the demons in your mind from heckling you about every little thing they wish you'd done for them. Not unless you take your sorry arse to the correct authorities and get yourself properly medicated, but that’s a bit extreme in this case. I truly regret throwing away my innocent joy of simply tuning in and cheering on some of the world’s greatest surfers.

Which brings me right to the point-at-hand here. Why are the people who have taken over the tour now actively promoting an activity that is capable of destroying the love of watching the sport they claim to be the keepers of? Do the guys in charge not know that there are kids watching? Sure, kids can't join up but what about in a few years when they turn 18 and can? They've spent their entire childhood seeing Gary Sweet trying to charm them into his b-grade celebrity pockets. It’s the ultimate indoctrination technique. Firstly, they install the virus like a Trojan horse then, they just sit back and wait.

WSL. What does it stand for? I used to think it stood for "We Spend Lots." And they do spend lots, and the show is amazing, they are doing great things. Boring commentary perhaps, but its clean, professional and beautiful. They seem to lack the most basic respect for the fact that kids are watching. Did you get that last part? Kids are watching! And yeah, the Rugby League also advertises online gambling during their broadcast but who wants surfing to become like Rugby League? Controlled and contrived and becoming more and more politically correct with every season. Am I out-of-line in saying this? Weren’t our heroes the ones who busted down the actual proverbial door in the first place, weren’t they renegade punks? Yes, they were and no we can’t expect things to stay the same. The sport will, and is changing, but at what cost?

SEE ALSO: Danny Griffiths On, What It Felt Like Falling 20-Stories At Shipstern Bluff

There are a lot of people talking about the soul of surfing and how it’s being sold out. The thing is, I kind of agree with Kelly Slater on this one. Not to quote him directly but he said something along the lines of, ‘How can something external to yourself, have soul?’ Surfing has no soul. Surfing is just another activity just like playing chess or mountain biking or wing-suiting through the trees like those freaks on YouTube, mere inches from the ground. The so-called "soul" of surfing was designed by guys like Gordon Merchant to be sold. And sold it was, and glad we are for warm wetsuits we have and forever board shorts will be. Stretchy and comfy and yes, life is better and living the search is wonderful.

For me, it’s not the selling of surfing that is really in question; it’s the selling of souls. When the WSL allows online gambling merchants to advertise an activity proven to cause pain and suffering, they are selling the very souls of the viewers, both young and old. As far as I'm concerned, all they're doing is painting themselves a bleak and lonely future where the fans of the sport don't even know what they're watching. Like me, cheering on the Melbourne Storm to another 13+ margin win over some other club.

My name is Bali Strickland, and I'm a gambling addict. I'm also a surfing fanatic, and I still love watching the tour despite its shortcomings. Go Wilko, boo WSL.

* Bali Strickland is an award winning filmmaker and cinematographer from the NSW Central Coast. He has shot surfing professionally for over 20 years, including WSL events and company surf trips as well as his celebrated movies Evolve and Framelines. Involved, thoughtful and a passionate ocean lover Bali has plenty to say about the many different directions modern surfing is headed, and we welcome his opinions as a new regular contributor to CW.

PLEASE NOTE - Comments that are slanderous or derogatory towards others will be moderated by the Coastalwatch editorial team.

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