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SURFING / Rockin' Fig & Dave

World Tour Looks for Bigger Splash in Australia

March 03, 1994|Rick Fignetti and David Reyes | Rockin' Fig is Rick Fignetti, a Huntington Beach surfer/shop owner. Times staff writer David Reyes has reported on U.S. surf teams competing in Bali and Brazil.

An item in one of the surfing magazines about a vote taken by the Assn. of Surfing Professionals board, which runs the world tour, caught the eye of Rockin' Fig and me.

The association is going to move the location of the final stop on the World Championship Tour from Hawaii's famed Pipeline to Australia in December. The Pipeline was the victim only because the board wanted to finish the season with what it hopes will be a bang.

Yeah, I got a lot of mixed emotions about that move, Fig said. What do you think?

Many people believe Pipeline represents surfing's mystique. More than any other surf break, the place has symbolized the challenge, danger and beauty of surfing. Also, no other place has been so well-photographed so that people like me, who have never surfed there, can appreciate the place because of how we envision it. (Doesn't hurt to have a song named after it, either.) We contacted Graham Cassidy, the ASP's executive director, who lives in Australia but visited the ASP's Huntington Beach headquarters last week.

What's been the reaction to the change, Graham?

"We've had a mixed reaction," he said. "Some view it as a daring move. . . . In terms of people's perceptions of Hawaii, they think of the (great) waves. But the tour has to think beyond just the waves."

In Australia, the finals will receive greater fan support and greater media attention, Cassidy explained.

"More to the point, it's difficult to generate interest here and around the world from a rock in the middle of the Pacific."

Oh man, I don't like that comment. Hawaii is the place where the real waves are, and for me, it sounds like a great place to have the finals. Media-wise it might not be as good as Australia.

Besides media attention, Cassidy said the move would give Australians an opportunity to host a mobile contest.

For the uninitiated, some of the best surfing contests are scheduled with a waiting period of days or weeks, with the particular break to be determined later. This helps organizers hold the contest at the best locale and in the best wave conditions.

Australian surfers, Cassidy said, enjoy a vast following like that accorded to pro tennis or golf stars in the United States. Organizers are planning to have a long waiting period sometime in December and a "700-mile window" along Australian's eastern coast for the final contest.

"This is going to bring back the safari style of surfing," Cassidy said. "We may have everybody on buses and airplanes ready to head out."

People may not understand that and won't appreciate the move, Cassidy acknowledged. But he added that when the ASP tour hits Australia, it's treated like a Formula One race. The venue cities open up, and there's heavy coverage by newspapers and TV, with profiles on competitors and personalities.

In short, glitz.

For example, take the first world tour event this year, coming up at Australia's Bell's Beach from March 31 through April 6. Rip Curl, a big Australian wet-suit manufacturer, sponsors it and daily attendance is expected to average at least 20,000 people with the finals drawing 35,000, he said. (By comparison, the ASP finals at Pipeline only draw about 5,000 people, according to ASP figures.)

And in Australia, they charge $5 per car (about $3.50 U.S.). No tour event here has ever asked an admission fee, but charging spectators is a concept that will be tried in Huntington Beach this year when Prime Ticket sponsors the U.S. Open of Surfing from Aug. 2 through 7. It is the only world-tour event in the continental United States. And, get your wallets ready, because they plan to tentatively charge $8 per head, said Don Meek, a Prime Ticket official.

Plans call for Prime Ticket to build a surf stadium with an entertainment stage and an exposition area for beach products.

It will be neat to see the Top 16 in the world here to rip it up. We get a sprinkling of those guys in the Bud Surf Tour , but all those heavy-hitters will be there for the U.S. Open.

What works in Australia could work in Orange County, Cassidy said.

"The beauty of having the U.S. Open here in Huntington Beach in August is that a lot of people who follow surfing will be coming out of that event thinking about the world tour."

Fig's already psyched.

With the Op Pro right before the Open, that means two pretty big contests in a ro w right here in HB. I know I want to see it happen.

Contests: The U.S. Bud Surf Tour visits Seaside Reef in Cardiff this weekend.

Forecast: According to Surfline/Wavetrak, surfers can expect fun waves in the head-high range beginning today.

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