Bobby Martinez's Rebel Cry

Can the enfant terrible's harsh words and crisp moves reform the corporatized surf scene dominated by Orange County's action-sports industry?

"Mark," posting on Surfline.com, noticed the ASP had its calculations wrong. Slater did the math himself and passed the word along. Four days later, Slater won the heat he needed and was re-crowned.

But the ASP's reputation took a serious ding. As "whoisjob" (pro surfer Jamie O'Brien) tweeted, "WHAT IS THE ASP???? Its [sic] a SANCTIONING body for a WORLD TITLE."

Within two days, the organization announced it had accepted the resignation of CEO Carr. But the controversy wouldn't die. The ASP had screwed up its most basic mission just as its complex One World ranking system was in its first full year.

Surfing into the future
Associated Press
Surfing into the future
Martinez: Straight outta Santa Barbara
Ted Soqui
Martinez: Straight outta Santa Barbara

"It's the first time in surfing history [the ASP] ever fucked up on the points," says Martinez.

ASP's Prodan says the mistake was not from the new, computer-driven system, but rather "human error." Officials there claim the complex tie-breaker formula was the problem.

But at ESPN's Action Sports website, contributor Peter "Joli" Wilson questioned that, noting that if human error affected the world-title decision, "you have to think, what other results and ratings might be skewed?" Room for error was plentiful given that the One World Ranking involves changing the point values that can be won at all ASP-sanctioned events and required a complex weighting system.

Even Quiksilver jabbed the ASP. It asked Martinez for an interview set at a Santa Barbara-area tennis court after the fiasco. There, he delivered a powerful serve—and some choice words. He lightheartedly suggested that surfers who'd qualified to try for the world title should check the math because their chance might have come and gone during the previous mid-season cycle.

"Honestly, after New York, people were like, 'Oh, man, he's crazy,'" pro surfer Strider Wasilewski says of Martinez. "But now, after you see what happened in San Francisco, people are like, 'Maybe he's not so crazy.'"

Wasilewski is widely liked and works in the industry, and his approach to criticism is softer than Martinez's, but he also questions the results of ASP's changes.

"They did it to evolve the sport as a business, so that more people would stay interested and they could sell the package—but it didn't work," Wasilewski tells the Weekly in early November. "They still don't have a blanket sponsor for the tour. They don't have a TV deal; the companies are all funding their own webcasts—so there's no continuity. There's no webcaster or sportscaster or surfcaster, whatever you want to call it, that becomes a glue and people get familiar.

"They have not put together a package of any sort for anybody to actually become interested," he concludes.

By mid-November 2011, the ASP was considering backing off the change that Martinez found so egregious: the mid-season cutoff. Surfers are also pushing a return to the two-tier system—made up of a title race and qualifying tour, says Renato Hickel, the ASP's World Tour Manager.

Hickel has a warm Brazilian personality, and it's easy to take him at his word when he claims that calling Martinez in New York to ban him from the tour was difficult. "I know Bobby, and I'm really fond of him," he says. Although the press and gossip were painting Martinez as having lost it, Hickel saw a different man. "We met later in the hotel, and he gave me a hug and we exchanged a couple of jokes."

But ask Hickel which individual surfers are pushing the ASP to return to the old system, and Hickel buttons up. "Surfers who attended the Board Meeting were representing the 'surfers' as a whole, so it is best to address [them] as 'the surfers' or 'the majority of the surfers on tour,'" he says in a follow-up message.

With ASP refusing to name the board representatives who spoke out, surfing had lost the guy who was always unafraid to speak on the record.

"Maybe the way [Bobby] said it wasn't extremely diplomatic—it could have been done in King James version of etiquette, the rules of Canterbury or whatever, or, like, the way you see the House of Lords do it on C-SPAN: 'Good gentlemen, I object; this is bullshit, as we say,'" says Lightning Bolt's Paskowitz, thinking it over in his setup in Venice, miles from the money in Orange County. "Maybe, yes, semantics could have been different—but the guy's point is valid."

In fact, on Dec. 27, 2011, the ASP and the surfers' union announced they were dropping the mid-season cutoff for the 2012 title race. They cited scheduling complexities as having made the system unmanageable. The essence of their decision reflected Martinez's point of view: A mid-season rotation doesn't work in competitive surfing. Martinez just didn't say it that way on a beach in New York.

What Bobby Martinez did was "no different than a John McEnroe outburst, you know—get over it. That's the one analogy that I used," says Monster's Tim English. "After I put it in that context, everybody was like, 'Oh, yeah—why is everyone making such a big deal out of it?'"

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