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U.S. Open of Surfing Folo: CNN, Get Your Coverage Right!

July 29, 2013

An unfortunate but necessary departure from my usual blogs on writing and authors …

On Sunday, championship day of the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach featured big victories by Brazil’s Alejo Muniz over California’s Kolohe Andino, and 2011 ASP Women’s World Champion (and current women’s world tour leader) Carissa Moore of Hawaii over California’s Courtney Conlogue.

2003 Vans U.S. Open of Surfing champ Alejo Muniz

2013 Vans U.S. Open of Surfing champ Alejo Muniz

It was a huge day for Muniz and Moore, played out before tens of thousands of spectators at

Huntington Beach Pier, which has hosted the mainland’s largest world tour event since the old Op Pro days of 1982 – and before that, the United States Surfing Championships.

Unfortunately, six hours or so after Muniz and Moore raised their arms victoriously in front of their fans, some rowdy non-surfers from outside the Southern California coastline turned what should have been evening of celebration on Huntington Beach’s Coast Highway and Main Street into a riotous mess. And just as unfortunately, the national news media jumped in and blamed the surfers and their fans!

We’ve been down this road before. In 1986, I was working with the Sports Illustrated crew at the old Op Pro in Huntington Beach when a huge riot broke out. While officials and surfers huddled on the well-secured central scaffold, hundreds of drunken maniacs cut loose, turning a great sports event into front-page news for all the wrong reasons. I pulled an all-nighter on the phone, pleading with Sports Illustrated’s fact checkers to minimize the riot coverage. “Surfers didn’t cause the riot,” I said. “Professional surfing has nothing to do with the people who came to the beach to make trouble.”

2013 Vans U.S. Open women's champ Carissa Moore, the 2011 ASP World Tour Champion

2013 Vans U.S. Open women’s champ Carissa Moore, the 2011 ASP World Tour Champion

Thankfully, Sports Illustrated listened, reducing riot coverage to a few sentences.

I only wish the same could be said today for CNN, and even some California news stations – that fueled their sensationalistic agendas this morning. “Surfers riot, clash with police,” reads the video link on CNN.com’s home page.

Give me a break!

First of all, surfers did not cause the riot – just as they had nothing to do with the 1986 fracas at the Op Pro. Trouble-seeking, drunken idiots who have nothing to do with the beach lifestyle did, turning over port-a-potties, no less. Second, a very small percentage of surfers on this planet have ever exhibited violence – and even then, the vast majority of instances amounted to fistfights in the lineup. Nothing more. They sure as hell aren’t going to trash Surf City USA while still abuzz over a great week of professional surfing and the scene that is the Vans U.S. Open. This is like saying all competitive surfers are stoners – a perception I spent the entire decade of the 1980s and first half of the 1990s disproving while building the case for surfers as serious amateur and professional athletes.

Clearly, CNN didn’t take any time to check out their story. If they had done a single fact check, they would have known the riot didn’t ensue until six hours after the contest ended. And the locals, the surfers, tried to stop it! They proved yet again that solid, resourceful, fact-centered journalism is a dying practice. CNN only covers professional surfing when the waves are 10 feet plus in Hawaii during the Triple Crown of Surfing. That’s their editorial decision, which is fine. What is not fine is launching into the sensationalism of a riot to pin it to surfers.

"Soul Surfer" author Bethany Hamilton, one of the most inspirational athletes in the world.

“Soul Surfer” author Bethany Hamilton, one of the most inspirational athletes in the world.

This weekend, many of the top women surfers in the world will compete in the Ford Super Girl Pro at Oceanside Pier, 60 miles down the coast from Huntington Beach. Among the competitors will be surfing’s miracle girl, Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm in a shark attack and later wrote Soul Surfer, a bestselling and deeply inspirational memoir later adapted into a motion picture. Think Bethany is popular? She has more than 659,000 “likes” on her Facebook page!

Also on hand, undoubtedly, will be a strong police presence. This happened in Oceanside in 1986, when the Stubbies Pro was held at Oceanside Harbor four weeks after the Op Pro. An unusually large continent of cops turned out, even though it was totally unnecessary.

Hard to believe history is repeating itself. For those of us who are planning to attend the For Super Girl Pro, let’s get out there and cheer on these great athletes, and remind the CNNs and other media hell-bent on irresponsible, headline-grabbing, ratings-generating stories about the real world of surfing.

It certainly isn’t what they want to create. Put the blame where it belongs. All you need is your own video cameras and feeds to see who started the riot on Sunday.

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5 Comments
  1. Think about championship wins by any sports team – drunken fans get out of hand and tear up the town. Does the news report that the damage was done by the Laker bench? Not only is it never the athletes, it’s not even about the event. It’s about people who feel the need to drink to excess and then destroy whatever’s around them. It’s a shame that CNN couldn’t figure that out.

  2. surferpl permalink

    This is why CNN’s ratings are just below the Knitting Channel.

  3. Nice job of reporting, Bob. Kate Conway is jealous. When will CNN wake up and put in the effort behind their so-called stars, who should be writing these comments instead of you and your fans?

  4. My brother suggested I would possibly like this blog. He used to be
    entirely right. This post actually made my day. You can not believe just how a lot time I had spent for this
    information! Thank you!

  5. Great job setting the record straight. Thank you.

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