fun, or at least funny.
If you’ve been living under a rock F1 racing is now official the hottest ticket in the United States of America. This fact may not come as a surprise, but it definitely should. Just a few years ago, ultra-sexy and ultra-exclusive auto racing was considered a lost cause in the land of the free, home of the brave, completely eclipsed by NASCAR and its moonshine roots.
An event in Austin, Texas last year drew the largest audience of the entire international season, with more than 400,000 visitors over three days. This weekend’s race in Miami is officially the nation’s hottest ticket, with prices soaring into four figures for modest seats.
What has changed?
A brave British production company, Box to Box Moviescreated a series for Apple Television called “Drive to survive‘ with in-depth interviews with the drivers, teams, owners and fans seen and loved by many.
All major media outlets credit the program with the wild surge of interest that takes us straight to professional surfing.
The same box to box is behind ours Do it or don’twhich I’m sure you’ve read about here, here, here, here, etc., and I’ve been offered the opportunity to chat with his showrunner (head producer) for a limited 20 minute window to see if he’s once the CEO of World Surf League was Paul Speaker’s bold declaration that Surfing would soon eclipse the National Football League could come true.
Warren Smith (not this Warren Smith), showrunner, agreed to chat and chat, which we did, albeit after a slight hiatus in communication. I was wondering if BeachGrits reputation had preceded him, guardians of the World Surf League™ wall, wagging fingers and shutting down lines, but no, though he and others in the crew had read it BeachGrit before and during filming.
you will be seen
In any case, Smith is handsome, as Smiths are used to, direct and transparent. That’s where we start.
Was that damn World Surf League trying to limit your control or did you really have full control?
We had access to all areas. They didn’t approach us with this show. There was a chance meeting and we realized that there was an interesting world here. They were open. We want to tell the human stories and as a world there isn’t a lot of surfing content out there. We saw it as a great opportunity. They opened doors for us, introduced us to the players, gave us access to the rating tower, wherever we wanted to be. But no, there was nothing taboo.
The way we like to work we go with a (can’t read my own writing) approach. We are not surfers, we have no preconceived notions. We were there to capture what we found compelling. The world number ones have great stories, but so do surfers lower down the rankings. We only looked for the interesting spots. We learned early on that sometimes things happen in the judges’ tower, for example, so we set up a camera there, but also let it run very lean. There aren’t a ton of cameramen everywhere. So much footage lands on the floor it doesn’t go into final editing but (can’t re-read and full transparency, I took notes with my daughter’s glittery green pen while in the parking lot of a suspicious neighborhood of San Clemente by I use her equally suspicious book Crow Boy as my desk).
It was flattering to hear the positive response from the surfing community. We get so immersed in it during production that we start questioning ourselves. But if we focus on human history, where sport is the reward, then hopefully it will work. Ultimately, we’re also trying to attract new audiences. We want and need to please the die-hard surf fan, but also explain everything to the new audience. There have been times when even we in the crew have asked “why is that?” in relation to the rules etc so it’s important to clarify that.
Walking in we realized that the appetite (for surfing and surfing culture) is huge. You have these incredibly fit, incredibly talented people competing in these beautiful places. We’re trying to expand that appetite. It’s a damn hard sport to conquer. If you look at it up close, these guys and gals are amazing. It’s one of the hardest things. The talent. The ups and downs. And yet everyone (the surfers) felt like “nobody knows who we are”. Even Gabriel Medina thought nobody knew who he really was. It was a bit tricky to get it right in Hawaii with all these Covid restrictions, but when we got to Australia we had far better access and that’s where you see how it really kicks off. The surfers themselves really don’t care about our cameras. They are there to win world titles, not to be TV stars.
The stakes? I think the stakes in surfing can be much higher for the individual than in Formula 1. Surfers are just a cut away from not being able to focus solely on the professional sport. For example, in European football, there are six tiers of professional football leagues, giving a player many opportunities to support themselves. But in surfing, you can’t feed yourself if you can’t make it. All of these surfers are self-employed. I think there are incredible bets that way.
In the end, it feels like browsing is in good, or at least honest, hands with the Box to Box crew. There’s a sense of what surfing is, what it can be, how it can be, that feels realistic. It’s not trying to craft a narrative out of the airwaves for a nefarious gain. In addition, there is a firm gaze focused on the core conversation. to BeachGrit and Is not that good etc. A much steadier eye than our own World Surf League.
Surfing will never be more popular than the National Football League (damn, Narrator) because of the aforementioned “why is that?” There’s a lot of “why is this the way it is?” but that makes it fun I suppose , or at least funny.