What Surfing Can Learn From Figure Skating | Does the act of judging change the nature of good surfing altogether?
Surfing is coming to the big stage in a couple short years. To be judged by qualified judges as well as armchair critiques the world over. Is this fair? How can one judge style? Why do you like the style you like? Turns out every sport has to deal with it.
How do you decide what is good surfing? Can it be measured? Should it be measured? Does the act of measuring change the nature of good surfing altogether?
Physicists speak of the observer effect, which describes the changes that the act of observation has on a subject or phenomenon being observed. If we lay a ruler out next to surfing, do we influence the future/present of the sport/art?
Before we even begin to measure, there must be a scale, a unit, something to measure surfing with. And who gets to decide what constitutes good surfing? We all know what we like to see, what we consider good style, good technique. But is that a learned bias? Do we only know ‘good’ when we see it because someone came before us and defined it?
If the first surfing you ever experienced in your life was watching someone struggle down the line, out of trim, in an awkward poo-stance while forcing mistimed snaps, it would be the most beautiful and amazing thing you had ever seen, no? With nothing to measure it against it is, by default, the best. Surely?
All this has been on my mind since I listened to a Radiolab podcast which tells the story of Surya Bonaly; a French figure skater who never quite reached the competitive heights that she aimed for. She was a powerful, explosive, raw, unrefined talent. Not an elegant or particularly graceful skater like tradition favours. Because her approach to the sport was different to her competitors and despite the fact she could perform all the same moves and more, she never had the success in competitions that many believe she deserved.