The Surfersvillage Interview
1988 World Champ helped build the pro tour, now he's building more
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 18 November, 2014 - Barton Lynch is getting tired of people pegging the early days of pro surfing as a grovel-fest held at tacky venues. Because that era is constantly rehashed and reiterated in this tone during webcasts, history is being re-written as such.
When pundits blast those dismal early days of the tour they are missing the point: Barton and the other pros were getting PAID to surf. Not much, but they were getting paid. “We weren’t there because the surf was good,” says Barton. “We were there to build the sport.”
Fans who grew up in an era of Teahupo’o webcasts have trouble grasping the stoke level of the early generation of grovelling pros. In and around his 1988 world title Barton helped build a platform for future growth and paychecks for professional surfers. Something he’s very proud of.
When the time was right Barton and crew displaced the old guard at the ASP in a coup and helped build a new ASP and the current Dream Tour we see today.
But what was it that Barton found even more challenging than getting a group of surfers to agree on the future of the sport? – building his second career, the one he’s created outside the contest singlet.
Barton Lynch at Pipeline: Photo supplied
Many of the younger surfers don’t realize how bad the waves could be during the three-to-the-beach era of surfing. You competed on the pro circuit when the Dream Tour was still just a dream. Were the contest venues that dismal?
Mate, we were going to the beach and getting paid to surf. Dismal is not the word that comes to my mind. It was a gift. And remember it was best four waves before best three and sometimes we surfed six-man heats.
I think what people seem to forget is that we were dealing with a growing, always changing, evolving thing – that is the development of the sport of professional surfing, no two years were ever the same.
The culture had obviously been around for a lot longer and was established but in the creation of this career path certain actions and directions had to be taken to popularise it. I was on tour for 15 years and in those years it changed consistently - there were different judging criterias and different judges, different locations and venues some good many not but pro surfing had to be exposed. It had to get out there to areas of the world that didn't know about this sport, so we went to many little towns and areas of the world to spread the word - England, France, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Japan, even went to Allentown Pennsylvania.
These places barely knew of surfing and so we were the generation that had to do the work required to create the platform for future growth and we did that. We weren’t there because the surf was good. We were there to build the sport. It wasn't big enough or strong enough to take the bold steps of going to remote locations without crowds because no one would’ve known what you were doing ‘till it came out in a magazine a month later because there weren't the media platforms there are today.
The belief was that for it to be a sport it had to have fans, spectators and atmosphere that created a sense that this was a serious sport and these are serious athletes to be respected, and hopefully paid like that. For this to happen the tour went to geographic regions that had large populations close by who might come and fill the stands/ bleachers or the beaches and make this thing look real and saleable. We went to Huntington, Manhattan Beach, Bondi, Zauratz, Newquay, and the list goes on, but I believe it was essential for the time and the current wages of the top pros suggest that it worked.
Then the time came when the sport was ready to change directions and start taking the best surfers in the world to the best waves but the ASP management didn't agree so they were displaced in a coup that replaced the president and the executive director with management that agreed with our desires to go to better waves and this is when the dream tour was created.
But I do get sick of the negative tone it is spoken about with. I think some people use that as their defence or excuse but in the end a good surfer just does his or her job regardless of the conditions or the rules. The cream always rises to the top as they say.
Barton present day in the Mentawais: Photo supplied
How was the transition from pro surfer to, well, what is it exactly you are doing now? Share with us some of the job titles you’ve had between your 1988 world title and present day.
The transition was hard, retiring from the tour after 15 years was easy. I was sick of it by the end and most probably should’ve got out a year earlier. But the reinvention of self and opportunity and making a living was the hard part.
I now have several things that I am involved with – I am ambassador for Hurley and have my roles with them - I coach and mentor their Australian junior team and help out internationally when needed. I do webcast commentary for their events, or I did before the new asp took over with the one team, but I love commentating. I provide feedback on product and provide opinion on anything within the company and where it is required.
I produce my grom festival – BL’s Blast Off that includes a coaching program and contest and next year is its 10th anniversary. I am contest Director at the Hurley Australian Open of Surfing and an expert analyst for Fuel TV’s ASP preview show. I am a father of two and husband.
Over the years since retiring I have done a heap of different stuff to put food on the table, remembering that in our day when you retired from tour most of us had to go and work to pay the bills. That was the hard part because you really just wanted to surf but with no income you had to be creative. I have produced 60 television programs. I have managed surfers and produced events. I have consulted for brands, mc’d at functions, been guest speaker, coached and mentored hundreds of surfers of all levels from beginners to top level pros and everything in between. I have contest-directed, commentated, written stories, endorsed products, anything that I have had to do so we could stay independent.
Yes, Barton wears straps on occasion: Photo supplied
You sponsor a grom event with Hurley. Tell us about why you feel the need to do this.
Yeah it’s official title is the “Hurley BL Blast Off presented by beecraft” Shit another long story – my father started the very first open ocean swim race in Australia back in 1974, he convinced a few mates to swim from Palm Beach to Whale Beach and it is still going to this day. It is the longest running and biggest ocean swim in the country but my father passed away the year after he started it. I was 11 and it is his memorial swim but he never got to see how popular the idea became. It is an amazing community asset and the major fundraiser for the Whale Beach Surf Life Saving Club.
I saw what a great legacy he had left behind and it made me want to do something similar but in what I love – surfing. It continues my family’s relationship with our beaches here on the peninsula. I also had a few ideas of what was wrong with most events for kids and wanted to try something different and see if we could do it better, and I think we have. This year we had 360 kids and 100 on waitlists wanting in. 2015 will be the 10th anniversary so I’m stoked with how it has gone and continues to grow. We actually had 8-year-old triplets come all the way from Texas for the event this year.
What is that you do professionally that you are most proud of?
That I try not to wank on about what I do and achieve and just get on with doing. I am not sure that pride is a good emotion to live with, hard not to though. I spend more time trying to be humble than I do being proud. Actually being a good father and husband is what I strive to be and if I can be that and my family are happy and healthy then I might afford myself a little pride.
Tell us what has been your biggest mistake?
Where do I start? I have made a few mistakes over the years and continue to but try to see them as learning and an essential part of my journey, be accepting of my short comings with the confidence that my intentions are always good. I am super keen to be as good as I possibly can at everything I do.
But if I have to name one I thing it would be that I haven’t been the best judge of character and have found myself trusting the wrong people and ending up in situations that I have had to repair and resolve. And not having the courage to trust myself more in some of those relationships and businesses.
What did you learn from that mistake?
Trust yourself and be in tune with what you feel and trust those feelings.
Yes! - a short answer at last.
Along with snowboarding, skating is always a fun go for Barton
Share with us something you said publicly that you now regret.
Again there are a few. I think at times I have said things without thinking or considering other people’s feelings or beliefs. I used to have a need to make my point and have it understood but I let go of that need sometime ago. I am happy for people to believe whatever they want and for that respect to be afforded me. I did make some comments about Huntington back in the days when my “bad wave” venue frustration started to boil over. I also did say some not so appropriate things when the prime minister acknowledged my world title win. Again there are a few but they spring to mind.
Is there something going on in the world that makes you scratch your head and think: “But this is soooo important! Don’t they get it?”
Can you stop it? Again there are so many things that I consider wrong in the world we live and again most of the things I could say and think might offend others who don't see it the same way but Fukushima really bothers me.
There is this catastrophic environmental disaster going on day by day and has been for years now and the media seem to have abandoned the general public and sided with big business and industry and decided not to report the truth and share information with us that will help us make decisions that will affect our health. I believe it is crime against humanity by the mainstream media, a few days after the meltdown the US go to war with Libya because there is nothing like a war to get front page and flush Fukushima off the front page and I swear within a week it was out of the news papers and media and has never been back since, criminal because it is still going on and we are told nothing.
The Cancer epidemic we are living in bothers me and the chances are it is because of the ever growing toxins and poisons in our environment but the capitalist machine doesn't care about the average person’s health. We are just collateral damage in their profit making ventures. Have you ever seen that show “Mega factories” and seen the coca cola factory just pumping out these plastic bottles on a conveyor belt faster that the eye can see, 24 hours a day? It is a disgrace the way we are treating the planet and the ignorance and apathy that most of us live with. Yeah there are a heap of things that baffle me about us.
Share with us your biggest Rocky Balboa moment (you know, where he punches sides of beef in a meat locker and then runs up the stairs).
It will be in just a minute when I leave this computer and go and change my little two-month old son’s nappy at 51 years of age and then melt when I see him smile.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? Selling shoes?
If I had my way I would ride everyday of my life, either on a shortboard, longboard, sup, snowboard, streetboard, skateboard, tow in, paddle in whatever the conditions of the day best suit. I would be free to do it and would die a happy man.
OK, you get to drop into four moments in history – surf or otherwise. Please name them and why.
I would want to see how Nelson Mandela spent the time behind bars he did and understand how he didn't come out wanting revenge. There is something for us all to learn from that man and his forgiveness and superior understanding.
Same goes for Mahatma Ghandi, always been inspired by his positivity and patience and his unwavering belief that good will prevail. Not sure that I share that unfortunately.
I would like to live in the time of some of the great religions and see for myself what really went down. Knowing how history is manipulated and having seen it enough I know that things rarely happen like they report they did.
And the pioneer days of surfing and the innocence of a simpler time have massive appeal for me. Humans are on a really good run of fortune and have been around long enough to have taken most things too far.