God From The Ma­chine

With new lead­er­ship and the abil­ity to now cre­ate world-class waves, the World Surf League is re­shap­ing com­pet­i­tive surf­ing as we know it

Surfer - - Contents - By SEAN DO­HERTY

With new lead­er­ship and the abil­ity to now cre­ate world-class waves, the World Surf League is re­shap­ing com­pet­i­tive surf­ing as we know it

The Au­gust 1974 is­sue of SURFER mag­a­zine fea­tured a satir­i­cal piece by Drew Kam­pion ti­tled “How I Surfed And Won In The 1984 Olympics,” mock­ing the fast-ap­proach­ing era of pro­fes­sional surf­ing. It opened like this:

“When the Olympic Games came to Hawaii in 1984, the Union of States, as has al­ways been the cus­tom, was al­lowed to name a new sport to the Pro­gram. Be­cause of vast pop­u­lar sup­port in the Is­lands, and for many other rea­sons, the sport se­lected was Surf­ing.

“A huge Ar­ti­fi­cial Wave ma­chine was con­structed in a sleek con­crete sta­dium; a Vari­able Reef and Wave Dis­si­pa­tor were added; Hawaii upped its pro­mo­tion of Surf­ing. All com­pet­i­tive or­ga­ni­za­tions within the or­gan­ism of Surf­ing ex­pressed de­light with the el­e­va­tion of the Sport to new heights of recog­ni­tion and pro­fes­sion­al­ism, al­beit am­a­teur pro­fes­sion­al­ism. Many surfers, who had in their sights ei­ther World Con­test goals or Pro Con­test goals, raised their tar­gets to the new apogee: Olympic Gold.”

That Kam­pion, over 40 years ago and a full year be­fore pro­fes­sional surf­ing was even a thing, man­aged to so ac­cu­rately sat­i­rize the state of pro­fes­sional surf­ing to­day was quite a feat of pre­cog­ni­tion. Wave pools, Olympics, right down to the col­lec­tive hys­te­ria their ar­rival has trig­gered. The fu­ture he so boldly pre­dicted is here, and on a bleak Novem­ber morn­ing, across the road from a potato farm in Cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia, we stood look­ing boldly into it—and it still looked like sci­ence fic­tion.

We were, of course, at Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch in Le­moore, where a hand­ful of surf writ­ers had been in­vited by the World Surf League (WSL), the wave pool’s owner, to ride the fu­tur­is­tic break. While the “wave sys­tem,” as the WSL refers to it, has been pub­lic knowl­edge for two years, few have ac­tual seen it in per­son, and there’s still a veil of se­crecy (and a big-ass fence) around the fa­cil­ity it­self. Dur­ing con­struc­tion it was passed off to lo­cals as a fish farm. The se­crecy is, in part, the WSL’S way of do­ing things, but they’re be­ing es­pe­cially cau­tious about rolling the wave pool out too grandiosely, as they them­selves are still com­ing to terms with this tech­no­log­i­cal won­der and what it might mean for the fu­ture of their or­ga­ni­za­tion—and the fu­ture of surf­ing it­self. The wave pool is tak­ing surf­ing across the Ru­bi­con, a fact not lost on the woman in charge of man­ag­ing where it all goes from here.

“Have you ever known a time like this in surf­ing?” It took me a mo­ment to re­al­ize this was a ques­tion and not a state­ment.

So­phie Gold­schmidt is the CEO of the WSL, four months into the job with a formidable sports mar­ket­ing CV and sud­denly at the helm of a sport “at a huge tip­ping point,” as she de­scribes it. She pauses for a se­cond, think­ing about tip­ping points and cli­mate change con­no­ta­tions. “A pos­i­tive tip­ping point, that is,” she clar­i­fies.

Slater wasn’t there, thank­fully. Surf­ing the pool was anx­i­ety-in­duc­ing enough al­ready. I think most of the writ­ers on site had penned some­thing mildly dis­parag­ing about the pool at some point, and we weren’t sure whether we’d been sum­moned to Le­moore to go surf­ing or to be rit­u­ally shamed in some way. Pool crit­ics sit just above Flat Earthers, but Slater’s pool is a chal­lenge to ev­ery­thing you know about surf­ing and ev­ery ide­o­log­i­cal pil­lar that holds it up, and I think Slater wanted us to ex­pe­ri­ence it know­ing full well it would blow our tiny minds and dis­pense with any pre­con­ceived no­tions we might have ar­rived with. Which is ex­actly what it did.

“So, what did you think?” It was So­phie, point­ing her phone’s cam­era in my di­rec­tion just af­ter I’d got­ten out of the water. “It’s Kelly, by the way.”

It was awk­ward stand­ing there with Slater sud­denly there—but not there at the same time—hav­ing to ad­mit, “Man, you know, you were right.” Surf­ing it had been a trip. While you wait for the wave to ap­pear there’s no sound and no move­ment. It then goes from sen­sory de­pra­va­tion to com­plete sen­sory over­load at the press of a but­ton. The ma­chine whirs to life then drones as the ca­ble drags the hy­dro­foil down the pool to­ward you. The wave ap­pears as a small boat wake, which triples in size as it nears. Ev­ery cell in your body screams, “Don’t f--k this up!” as sud­denly you’re up on a thin rib­bon of magic water among the big in­dus­tri­al­ized land­scape, none of which you’re even notic­ing. By the time you kick out 45 sec­onds later it all makes sense.

So­phie Gold­schmidt is a breath of fresh air. The WSL op­er­ates largely be­hind closed doors. The bil­lion­aire owner and for­mer CEO Dirk Ziff has never been in­ter­viewed about his in­volve­ment, yet here was So­phie can­didly talk­ing to jour­nal­ists deep in­side their se­cret in­stal­la­tion. She’s also a stark con­trast to the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s first CEO, Paul Speaker, a hard-ass deal­maker with lit­tle time for the surf press. His only visit to the SURFER of­fice, shortly af­ter the WSL had taken over the ASP in 2013, was de­scribed like “Godzilla walk­ing through Tokyo” af­ter the au­thor of this piece had de­scribed the WSL takeover as “op­por­tunis­tic” in the pages of the mag­a­zine.

No, there seems to be an air of dé­tente about the day at Le­moore and in­deed about So­phie’s whole man­age­ment style. She’s re­laxed. She asks ques­tions. She lis­tens. She ac­tu­ally grants SURFER a full in­ter­view, her first on the job, dur­ing which she re­peats the mantra “in­clu­sive” sev­eral times over. She is as good as her word in Le­moore, for to­day even the low­est of the low—surf writ­ers—are be­ing al­lowed into the pool (I think they changed the water af­ter­ward). These are strange days in­deed.

I joked to So­phie that she was a bold sign­ing for the top job, as she be­longed to two of surf­ing’s most tra­di­tion­ally marginal­ized groups; she’s fe­male and she’s English. She laughed (even­tu­ally) but in many ways the fact that she’s an out­sider makes her per­fect for the chal­lenge of tak­ing surf­ing beyond surf­ing. So­phie surfs oc­ca­sion­ally, and her boyfriend of seven years is an Aus­tralian surfer, so she had an inkling of what she was get­ting into, although her time in the job has still been a cul­tural ed­u­ca­tion. She’s tread­ing care­fully. When we ar­rived that morn­ing, she wel­comed us while not­ing that it was the an­niver­sary of Andy Irons’ pass­ing, and while ac­knowl­edg­ing that she never met him, she be­lieved the oc­ca­sion should be noted.

(Right) When Kelly Slater un­veiled his ar­ti­fi­cial wave, the surf­ing masses dropped their col­lec­tive jaws and hailed the new, mech­a­nized break as per­fec­tion in­car­nate. At the time, no one had any clue what the fu­ture held for Slater’s new in­ven­tion. Now it may hold the key to the growth of pro­fes­sional surf­ing. Photo by GLASER

The long game for the WSL since they took over the Tour four years ago has been hard to frame—or de­ter­mine if there even was a long game. They clearly pumped plenty of money into it, but re­sisted pulling it apart and put­ting it back to­gether, which was an ex­er­cise it sorely needed. So why had Ziff thrown down on pro surf­ing? Was it merely an in­dul­gent play­thing? A tax write-off ? We could never ask him per­son­ally, so we had no idea. The eco­nom­ics of the Tour were so im­per­fect—it seemed to only lose money—that we be­lieved it was sim­ply a rich guy buy­ing a league and some cool by as­so­ci­a­tion. But if this was the case, why weren’t there more Ziff sight­ings at con­tests?

The only time he’d been spot­ted at a Tour event was one morn­ing in Fiji a few years back, surf­ing the play­ful left off Namotu Is­land. He pad­dled past on a long­board, in­dis­tin­guish­able from all the other mid­dle-aged guys on long­boards out there. It was only af­ter he was spot­ted by a cou­ple of the surfers in the con­test that we re­al­ized it was the league’s mys­tery owner. Worth just shy of $5 bil­lion, Ziff was ac­tu­ally the se­cond-rich­est guy in the lineup that morn­ing. Larry Page—google’s co-founder, worth $47 bil­lion—was out there in a baggy neck-to-an­kle stinger suit. Pro surf­ing has never been a vi­able busi­ness, more a black hole where mar­ket­ing bud­gets go to die, so why were shrewd, big-money guys like Ziff in­volved? Surely they were hold­ing an ace, but what the hell was it?

They played their ace on De­cem­ber 18, 2015 when the first clip of Slater’s wave pool dropped. There it was. They’d split the atom. Soon af­ter, the WSL an­nounced it had ac­quired the Kelly Slater Wave Co. and sud­denly there was their busi­ness model. They had some­thing to sell: per­fect waves that could ex­ist any­where, an oceanic coast­line no longer a pre­req­ui­site. Com­mer­cial op­por­tu­nity would ra­di­ate out from these pools. They could sell pool li­cences, an­nual mem­ber­ships, day passes, T-shirts and après-surf beers. They could sell sur­round­ing real es­tate. They could sell pools as theme parks and train­ing fa­cil­i­ties. The WSL’S first com­mer­cial wave pool will soon break soil in Palm Beach, Florida, and the ar­ti­fi­cial surf arms race with other wave pool de­sign­ers has be­gun. Whether they can all make it work eco­nom­i­cally when na­ture pro­vides the com­pe­ti­tion free of charge is a mat­ter for some con­jec­ture, but stud­ies draw straight lines be­tween per­fect waves and rapid eco­nomic growth, and now per­fect waves could be dropped any­where in the world. The Tour, the sport, would be­come the mar­ket­ing.

For the WSL, the pool has be­come a PR gold­mine. Gerry Lopez, the high pri­est of surf­ing soul, rode the first left in the pool and com­pared it to G-land. The pool holds a strange sug­ges­tive power over any­one who rides it and it cuts across all strata, surf­ing La­mas and cyn­i­cal surf jour­nal­ists alike. By invit­ing leg­ends like Lopez, for­mer world champs, the best Tour surfers, In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee del­e­gates and pretty much any­one of in­flu­ence within Kelly’s cir­cle of friends, they’ve not only gained wide­spread en­dorse­ment of the pool, but also cre­ated a huge pool of good­will for the WSL.

As for the Tour it­self, the WSL have fi­nally be­gun se­ri­ously re­cal­i­brat­ing it, and not a mo­ment too soon. The big change this year is ob­vi­ously the ad­di­tion of the Le­moore pool to the Tour in Septem­ber. It’ll be a fas­ci­nat­ing ex­er­cise. For the first time ever, a Tour event nine months away has a guar­an­teed broad­cast start­ing time and a guar­an­teed swell fore­cast. The only un­known at the mo­ment is whether they will do away with the Tour’s stan­dard man-on-man for­mat and adopt a golf-style leader­board—runs not heats—which Kelly has wanted for years. It’s not in the rule­book, but nei­ther is the pool.

(Left) Like Slater’s wave, Cloud­break is syn­ony­mous with per­fec­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, only one of them is on the World Tour sched­ule next year amid sweep­ing changes. Photo by MILLER

The Le­moore event might give us the first hint of whether pool surf­ing might head down a sep­a­rate evo­lu­tion­ary path and be­come, for all in­tents and pur­poses, an­other sport en­tirely. Hy­per-tech­ni­cal switch­foot surf­ing on short, dou­ble-ended boards on a uni­form course will soon look more like aquatic snow­board­ing than surf­ing. If Olympic surf­ing at the 2020 Games in Tokyo does end up go­ing down in a pool—and ru­mor has it that ev­ery­thing un­der the sun is be­ing done to make it so—it might well mark the break­away. From there, the idea of two tours—one in the ocean, one in the pools—hold­ing each other in or­bit isn’t with­out merit. But one thing at a time—let’s just get a sin­gle tour to work first.

And that brings us to 2019, when the whole deck gets reshuf­fled. From leaked re­ports, the Pipe Masters goes from fin­ish­ing the Tour to start­ing it in Fe­bru­ary, Europe moves into spring and the whole thing wraps up in Septem­ber. The big change is that the men’s and women’s world ti­tles will be de­cided in a fi­nals se­ries held on boats in the re­mote Mentawai Is­lands. How many times have com­ment sec­tions de­bated the Tour, with some­one say­ing, “Make the Tour like a boat trip!” Well, here it is. The skinny is that it will be re­mote enough for ex­clu­siv­ity, which means it will al­most cer­tainly be the WSL’S first foray into pay-per-view broad­cast­ing. What hasn’t yet leaked is whether event for­mats—in­her­ited from the WSL’S pre­de­ces­sor, the As­so­ci­a­tion of Surf­ing Pro­fes­sion­als (ASP), and de­signed by surfers, for surfers—will be mer­ci­fully pruned back to cre­ate a spec­ta­cle less likely to trig­ger nar­colepsy in surf fans. The whole thing will be shorter, slicker and eas­ier to watch.

Along­side these seis­mic shifts in the sport, the WSL it­self has be­come un­rec­og­niz­able from when they took over, and even more un­rec­og­niz­able from the pre­vi­ous regime. The old ASP head­quar­ters was lo­cated in a di­lap­i­dated shop­ping cen­ter in Coolan­gatta where muzak played and pen­sion­ers shuf­fled glacially on Zim­mer frames. It felt like a set from “Napoleon Dy­na­mite.” The of­fice was of­ten empty, es­pe­cially when there were waves across the road in Rain­bow Bay. The WSL is now based in Santa Mon­ica, the of­fice fea­tur­ing walls made from aged ma­hogany wine bar­rels and vin­tage doors from the es­tate of Bob Hope. And while the ASP was hardly a desti­na­tion em­ployer, the WSL now em­ploys 140 peo­ple full time, 100 of them in the Santa Mon­ica of­fice. Their ex­ec­u­tive hir­ings have al­most ex­clu­sively come from other big sports with big three-let­ter acronyms—the NBA, NFL, UFC and WTA. Heavy hit­ters from the world of sports mar­ket­ing and broad­cast­ing are en­ter­ing the surf­ing fray, while the WSL’S con­nec­tion to big money has also brought in global con­sul­tan­cies, agen­cies and think tanks like Repu­com and Te­neo. The changes are per­son­i­fied by Dave Pro­dan, who once had the job ti­tle of “ASP Me­dia Guy” and dressed ex­clu­sively in flan­nel shirts, but is now the WSL’S Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent of Global Brand Iden­tity. I don’t even know what that means, but he’s no longer in flan­nels and the di­rec­tion is clear: the WSL has a naked am­bi­tion to be a big three-let­ter sport it­self.

There are broadly two kinds of surfers: those who want to share surf­ing with the world, and those who want to keep it for them­selves.

It’s been that way since Dora was a boy and will be for­ever more; the main­stream and the coun­ter­cul­ture locked in a cold war for moral con­trol of surf­ing. Un­der­stand­ing this his­tor­i­cal schizm has been part of So­phie Gold­schmidt’s cul­tural ed­u­ca­tion in the big job. “My per­spec­tive up un­til tak­ing this role is that it was very in­clu­sive and very ac­cept­ing, so it’s only more re­cently as I’ve got closer to the heart of the cul­ture that I’ve ap­pre­ci­ated that isn’t al­ways the case.”

The WSL wants to share surf­ing with ev­ery­one—to turn a profit, of course—but aren’t lim­it­ing them­selves to the sport and the Tour. They also want to sell the broad church of the surf­ing life­style. It’s an all-of­surf­ing play. “We have mul­ti­ple pri­or­i­ties and ob­jec­tives we’re fo­cused on, but it’s big­ger than just surf­ing,” says Gold­schmidt. Check their In­sta­gram feed. There are re­posted big waves, travel im­agery, surf­ing dogs, log­gers, kids—hell, even Jamie O’brien and Poop­ies are on there. It’s the surf­ing ex­pe­ri­ence ag­gre­gated and pack­aged up. “We’re go­ing to be more am­bi­tious about how we also tran­scend into life­style, how we cap­ture the more ca­sual fan and cap­ture a broader au­di­ence, be­cause that’s good for surf­ing,” says Gold­schmidt. “We don’t want to be­come too mass, though, be­cause then we lose our cool­ness and some of the ap­peal of what makes us who we are, but I think we have a long way to go be­fore we have to worry about that. I think that life­style cross­over is what makes us unique. I don’t think there’s any other sport that sits at the epi­cen­ter of where sport and life­style cross over like surf­ing does.”

Pro­fes­sional surf­ing has never been more pro­fes­sional, more mar­ketable and more mar­keted—but less dan­ger­ous, cul­tur­ally. When­ever that bal­ance has swung in the past it’s been an in­vi­ta­tion for the coun­ter­cul­ture to rise, a coun­ter­cul­ture that of­ten de­fines it­self by sim­ply be­ing the op­po­site of what pro surf­ing is. Ask Noa Deane or Bobby Martinez. That ten­sion will al­ways be there and hal­lelu­jah for that. Surf­ing needs white to have black, and as we speak there is a rebel tour al­ready be­ing ral­lied to­gether, sound­ing out pretty much ev­ery black sheep who has walked away dis­il­lu­sioned from the Tour in the past decade (you can prob­a­bly guess who they are). The irony here, of course, is that an early in­car­na­tion of the WSL was once it­self a rebel tour.

The WSL, how­ever, be­lieve they can walk the fine line of build­ing a main­stream sport out of surf­ing with­out cre­at­ing a fa­tal dis­con­nect with surf­ing lif­ers—“the core”—which they’re strongly con­scious of. “Ob­vi­ously I think we can do both, but you have to be very thought­ful and you can’t move too quickly and I think there are dif­fer­ent strate­gies and dif­fer­ent levers you can pull for dif­fer­ent au­di­ences,” says Gold­schmidt. “Where life­style and sport cross over, it’s about find­ing that bal­ance. It’s not like we’re go­ing to go out and change ev­ery­thing. There are def­i­nitely things ripe for change and we’ll be test­ing some things and try­ing to evolve rather than rev­o­lu­tion­ize the sport, but there are some things we have to hold onto dearly and very tightly. We can ab­so­lutely do both and we will. We cer­tainly don’t want to alien­ate our hard­core fans. All we ask is that peo­ple stay open-minded.”

Even with the wave pool dawn and the Olympics ush­er­ing in a glo­ri­ous dy­nasty for pro­fes­sional surf­ing, there are still no guar­an­tees it’s go­ing to work. I’ll see your wave pool and raise you 40 years of boom and bust pro surf­ing. The WSL are still go­ing to need some things to go right in or­der to fu­ture-proof the Tour.

They’ll need the pools to work, for one. The pools un­der­write the whole thing. There’s no prece­dent here, so we’re fly­ing blind as to what might hap­pen. They’ll want to break a big Asian mar­ket some­where with the pools as the Tro­jan Horse—maybe Ja­pan in the short term, def­i­nitely China in the long game. Tak­ing surf­ing to China and mak­ing it vi­able will be a cul­tural chal­lenge not un­like col­o­niz­ing Mars, but be­tween the pools and, more im­por­tantly, the Olympics, who knows? In ma­ture surf­ing na­tions, like the United States and Aus­tralia, maybe it’s the more, er, ma­ture surfer who will be the sav­ior here. Watch­ing Lopez surf the wave and come in laugh­ing like a kid val­i­dated the pool to an army of Baby Boomers, still in good-enough phys­i­cal shape to con­tinue surf­ing and look­ing down their nose at golf. Will Le­moore re­sem­ble “Co­coon” and will surf ranches be­come the coun­try clubs of the fu­ture? If the scented-can­dle-and-or­chid-filled bath­rooms at Le­moore are any­thing to go by, they are look­ing at a high-end clien­tele. Cheaper, more ac­ces­si­ble wave pools will ap­pear—they al­ready have thanks to Basqubased en­gi­neer­ing com­pany Wave­g­ar­den—but the eco­nom­ics will de­cide who, if any­one, wins. And if none of them do and the land­scape is dot­ted with empty, con­toured con­crete wave pools, then in­vestors could move their money into skate­board­ing.

The WSL will also need the surf in­dus­try to hang in there. The big surf brands re­main in slow re­treat from the Tour, and no mat­ter how deep their pock­ets, the WSL can’t do the heavy lift­ing of fi­nanc­ing the Tour alone.

Then they’ll need peo­ple to watch, which sounds like stat­ing the ob­vi­ous, but this is a de­sen­si­tized view­ing pub­lic who have seen so many surf­ing thresh­olds crossed in the past two decades that un­less some­one is break­ing their back un­der a mu­tant lip or land­ing an air with­out a name, it’s hard to en­gage them. They’ve seen Mick Fan­ning at­tacked by a shark, for Christ’s sake. How do you fol­low that? This might be­come a real is­sue in the pool. One of the few re­deem­ing fea­tures of tra­di­tional, ocean-based surf con­tests is that at least no two waves ever look the same. In the pool they are all the same, and while I’ll hap­pily watch Steph Gil­more ride uni­form 15-se­cond tubes, the only other per­son I want to see in those tubes is me. They might need to con­sider some half-time en­ter­tain­ment to break it up. I won­der if Slater knows any­one?

More than any­thing the WSL will need more peo­ple to go surf­ing. The no­tion of a great, un­tapped, un­surf­ing au­di­ence—repu­com’s fa­mous 130 mil­lion “hand rais­ers,” the global fig­ure the WSL’S con­sul­tants gave to a po­ten­tial non-surf­ing view­er­ship — re­mains just that, no­tional if not delu­sional. Mean­while there’s a stag­na­tion of real surf­ing num­bers world­wide, along with a wild de­mo­graphic shift in who they are. More teenage girls, more old dudes, less Mil­len­ni­als. Kids and Baby Boomers seem like low hang­ing fruit for a pro surf­ing fan base, while Mil­len­ni­als are much harder work. Win­ning them over re­quires cool, and no mat­ter how many Am­bas­sadors of Stoke they em­ploy, the WSL will never be cool in a dis­so­ci­ated Mil­len­nial way.

(Left) High-per­for­mance surfers like Filipe Toledo have re­fined their ma­neu­vers and pushed pro­gres­sion in the sport in ocean waves, which are in­her­ently un­pre­dictable. By al­low­ing some­one like Toledo to train in a more con­sis­tent set­ting, the level of per­for­mance surf­ing may reach en­tirely new heights. Photo by MILLER

But So­phie Gold­schmidt re­mains buoy­ant, and she’s right. The WSL are the best chance pro surf­ing has ever had, and if it doesn’t hap­pen now it never will. “If you’re stand­ing still in this day and age, you’re mov­ing back­wards. It would be a shame and in­ex­cus­able if we don’t take ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­ni­ties to re­ally grow it and take it to new au­di­ences and al­low new peo­ple to ex­pe­ri­ence it.”

If there is any doubt that Slater has brought us all here to­day, just read the clos­ing chap­ter of his 2003 book, “Pipe Dreams.” His vi­sion of Big Surf­ing goes way back: “Surfers have dreamed of cre­at­ing the ul­ti­mate wave ma­chine. The per­fect setup would take surf­ing to ev­ery town in Amer­ica and make the sport as main­stream as soc­cer. All my friends would be able to quit their jobs and work as res­i­dent pros.” Now his Tahi­tian friend, Raimana Van Bas­to­laer, is the res­i­dent pro at Le­moore. Slater is a sharer of surf­ing. A sharer of the stoke. All his friends are get­ting tubed in his pool and los­ing their minds. Stoke makes the world go round in Slater’s eyes, and it’s why he gen­uinely can’t un­der­stand why some peo­ple think the wave pool is a bad thing for surf­ing.

Re­gard­less of whether or not you agree with Slater, you can bet that he’s look­ing at the Le­moore wave right now and al­ready think­ing of im­prove­ments, of Le­moore 8.0, and where that will lead both the sport and cul­ture of surf­ing next… and him­self.

Kam­pion’s satir­i­cal piece is nar­rated by an anony­mous surfer, the Olympic surf­ing gold medal­ist, a guy mono­ma­ni­a­cally driven to suc­ceed on a surf­board but driven also by higher call­ings. Does he re­mind you of any­one? Ac­cord­ing to the piece, af­ter this surfer wins gold, he goes on to run for “World Sec­re­tary” with a goal of put­ting “ev­ery Hu­man Be­ing into the eye of the most per­fect wave imag­in­able: Him­self. And there, as a planet, we will find God.”

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