Sea Notes

Hi, my name’s Kelly; I’ll be your waiter tonight

On Jan. 23, I dragged my way, as usual, to the Action Sports Retailers, or ASR, show at the San Diego Convention Center. The thing has never done much for my surfing — I mean in two decades I have never once seen a board I was interested in trying, or a new wetsuit that would keep me warm during these oh-so-cold winter months. Instead, we find all things resembling surfboards, as all sorts of knickknacks and other junky items jump onto our tail blocks, in order to gain a free ride on our years of wave riding. The worst offenders usually come from nonsurfers — New York based companies using surf images to make a point that they are for real. OK, want to have some fun? Go into one of those “surf” shops that crowd the malls, and ask who shaped the 6’2” Al Merrick in the window, or ask if they recommend quads or Thrusters for J-bay. Alright, enough bitterness.
I had once proposed that everyone entering ASR be given a “surf proficiency test,” before being allowed to pass. Quick, what bothered Mike and Robert from the “Endless Summer”? What was Donald Takayama’s nickname? Lacking any real credentials as a retailer, for years I wore Skip Frye’s tradeshow badge to ASR, only to have posers ask for my autograph. Anyone who surfs will realize that Frye has been one of surfing’s most recognized legends for the past 30 years. Artist and surf chronicler Craig Stecyk, who photographed me wearing Frye’s badge, quipped, “This is the only place in the world you could pull this off.”
But there we all were in the pit of a Babylonian surf orgy, whoring ourselves to the highest bidder, hoping to impress the wealthy and the tacky enough so we could aid them in exploiting us. Guilty as charged, your honor.
But at this year’s tradeshow none of that mattered. The place was an aquatic version of “Tombstone,” a ghost town whose relevance had passed with a few gawkers bowling down the otherwise empty aisles, seeking souvenirs of a once-glorious past. Ironically, real surfers were noted by their absence, as a decent northwest swell was turning slabs of saltwater into ruler edged perfection only blocks away. The place was depressing, no orders being written and nobody signing new team riders — the fruits of the earth in exchange for their image. It did, however, prove a good place to nap and I must thank one generous patron for allowing me afternoon slumber in preparation for an afternoon session.
All of this leaves one to speculate on the fate of pro surfing. (Hey, what has any pro surfer done to improve your life lately?) Will Joel become a jujitsu instructor? Will Machado find work as a shampoo model? Will Slater become headwaiter at the Cardiff-by-the-Sea Chart House? Nah, the aforementioned superstars actually work for their keep, providing us too much entertainment in the ocean to join us in our trivial pursuits. Still, if this season’s tradeshow is any indication, they might want to dust off the resume.