Sage Erickson lost her round 3 heat today, but she probably shouldn’t be too worried about it—she gets another shot in round 4, and she has Victory on her side. Actually, Victory is in Sally Fitzgibbons’ corner, but she was eliminated in round 2, so now he’s backing Sage. After all, she’s from Ojai, and he lives just down the road from there.
I didn’t know people like Victory existed. A webmaster from Ventura who only learned to swim a year ago, Victory took his first and only surf lesson a few months back, and has only stood up on a surfboard “maybe five times” (as he told me over hummus and carrots in the Swatch Fan Appreciation booth today). But despite his lack of experience in the water, Victory might be pro surfing’s biggest fan.
He stumbled across the sport via Lakey Peterson’s film Zero to 100 on Netflix last year, and discovered live webcasts a short time later. Immediately hooked, he flew out to Maui in December to watch the Honolua event from the cliffs, was in Huntington in July for the US Open, and took leave from work this week to come down to San Clemente for the Trestles comp. He’s decked out in a Sally Fitzgibbons jersey, lounges in his beach chair like a boss, and seems to know half of the journalists and athletes milling about in front of the media tent.
This is exactly the sort of fan the WSL has been hoping to attract to the sport of surfing—a non-endemic enthusiast who is attracted to the lifestyle via the sport, rather than vice versa—and this literally flabbergasts me, because all this time I thought Paul Speaker was just another corporate blowhard.
Victory gets pretty excited when Mick Fanning paddles out for his round 2 heat against Matt Banting. He isn’t quite sure why Fanning’s turns earn him the top heat score of the day, but he’s stoked by the 18.6-point total, as Fanning is one of his favourite male surfers. I explain to Victory that Mick is one of surfing’s great comeback stories, recovering from a career-ending hamstring tear to become one of only a few champions to ever win three world titles.
Victory already knows about the shark attack, the struggles in Mick’s personal life last year, and the fact that he’s ranked 10th this year despite only surfing four events, but when I explain to him that Mick’s hammy had to be sewn directly into his femur with harvested tendon, and that he still came back and won a world title two years later, the Venturan webmaster looks at me like he’s just found out the earth is round. This guy is the ultimate surf fan, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is wearing number 7 tomorrow.
I tried to watch the heats today from Victory’s point of view, rather than the overly informed, somewhat jaded perspective I’ve developed after a 30-year obsession with what basically amounts to sliding on water. Rather than focusing on the fact that three of the top 10 lost to wild cards and bottom dwellers in the first three heats of the day (including Matt Wilkinson, whose title aspirations were pretty much put to bed after he collected yet another 25th), I cheered for guys like Alex Ribeiro, who actually does some pretty damned amazing surfing, despite the fact that he’s only won two heats so far this year.
And when Kelly faced off against rookie Ryan Callinan in heat 4, I didn’t judge his board choice with a knowing look in my eye (as if I have any idea what the best surfer of all time should be riding), but instead just sat back and enjoyed what really is the greatest show on earth—or at least in surfing.
But it was when the women hit the water that I really got a feel for Victory’s stoke, because as much as he enjoys the Hurley Pro, he’s mostly here for the ladies. But not in some pervy, objectifying way—he literally just really loves women’s surfing. So much so, in fact, that he’s willing to sit through 13 heats of men before he gets to see Sage paddle out for her round 3 clash. How’s that for a role reversal! And although Sage eventually went down to Tyler Wright (who absolutely blasted her way to a 17.5+ heat total, a berth in the quarters, and one step closer to her maiden world title), the fact that Victory was there, cheering his second favourite surfer on, was a victory in and of itself.
For the first time ever, I realized that the rest of the world might actually care about all this silly water sliding that we do, and that’s pretty rad. After all, beneath all of the jerseys and heats and win percentage stats, we are all just having fun—whether we do so in the lineup or watching from a chair on the beach, the important thing is that we never stop playing.