Surfing America Executive Director Greg Cruse On Strengthening The Sport Of Surfing

USA Surf  Team’s 14-year-old surf protege and Encinitas, California native Jake Marshall

Earlier this year, Surfing America and ESA announced they had rejoined forces, after functioning as separate entities for the past several years. The decision hinged on several key factors within the organization and came over a period of time as new executive leadership took the helm at both Surfing America and ESA, explains Surfing America Executive Greg Cruse.

“I think ESA thought that Surfing America was overreaching on our attempts to get all the member organizations to standardize on divisions, judging criteria and online registration,” says Cruse. “There was also some hesitation in having all ESA members pay Surfing America membership. Also, some viewed the Surfing America Prime series going East as an incursion.”

Despite issues that had stacked up between the two associations over the years, Surfing America and ESA have started on new terms to work together in building upon the USA Surf Team and fostering the talented amateur athletes as they move up the ranks and continue to push the limits of surfing,

TransWorld Business talked with Cruse to find out the details behind the reunion, what it means for the future of amateur surfing, his stance on surfing in the Olympics, and how the groups hope to work together to strengthen the future of the sport. 

What does it mean to have the ESA as partners once again? How did this decision come about?

Greg Cruse, Surfing America Executive Director

We have been working hard to get ESA back on board since they opted out. ESA is the largest surfing association in the USA and has deep roots. I think the decision came over time as new executive directors at both organizations came on board. ESA saw some decline in their youth divisions to NSSA East and ASF as they were now the only conduit to the Prime Series and USA Championships. We both softened our views and Surfing America relaxed on some of the membership criteria that all member organizations were opposed to.  How does it strengthen Surfing America as the governing body of surfing? As the National Governing Body of the sport, we need to represent all competitive surfing organizations. ESA is the largest, so having them back in the Surfing America family greatly increases our reach and shows solidarity when we apply for United States Olympic Committee recognition. What does this mean for the future of the sport? It’s great for the sport because it outlines a clear path from a surfers first competition to becoming a USA Surf Team member. What does Surfing America see as key initiatives moving forward in order to continue to elevate amateur and professional surfing? It starts with our Surf School Instructor Certification making sure beginning surfers are safe and learning the sport properly. Our judging certification program makes sure everyone is judging and surfing to the same criteria that is used internationally in the professional and International Surfing Association ranks. Encouraging the member organizations to utilize 4 man heats and ISA/ASP certified judges in their championship events. Removing all bias and reducing subjectivity in the judging. Selecting the USA Surf Team in a fair and open manner and bringing all of our resources to bear on training these kids to compete successfully in the international arena. Providing scholarship opportunities through the ISA and programs with Laguna College of Art & Design and Northeastern University. Also bringing opportunities to compete to paraplegic, amputee and other challenged athletes. How does that directly impact the surf industry and the brands and retailers who are working so closely with these athletes and the surf community?By working to improve competitions and the perception that they are “fair,” we will increase the number of competitive surfers. Competition will push the performance level up and once kids are on the USA Team, they will be further developed to be champion surfers and great people, too. Surfing is an aspirational sport to the masses that buy surf brands. It is critical that we develop the future homegrown champions that will drive the surf business in the future.

2012 Surfing America Prime Champ Kevin Schultz

What do you see as the future of the sport? Does surfing belong in the Olympics? If so, what will be Surfing America’s role in that process? I would love to see surfing in the Olympics. It will probably require wave pools to be perfected, but we are only a few years off from that. Some would argue that surfing in wave pools would take the ocean knowledge and soul out of the equation, and I agree to an extent. But it would bring surfing to everyone from the midwest USA to landlocked countries. It may even reduce crowding at “real” surf spots. Surfing America’s role would be to make sure we have a deep pool of talented surfers who are impacted by our programs from the day they learn to surf, to when they begin competing and into the pro ranks. We would be the ones to select, train and field the Olympic, Junior Olympic and Paralympic Teams. What are the different divisions of the organization that you are hoping to build up through fundraising efforts?  Why? We have been given many more opportunities to compete internationally by the International Surfing Association including the ISA World Junior Surfing Championships, the ISA World Surfing Games, the ISA World Masters Surfing Championships, the ISA World Longboard Championships, the ISA China Cup, the ISA World Stand-Up Paddle and Paddleboard Championships and the ISA World Bodyboard Championships. We would like to field the best surfers available to represent the USA in these events and our funds raised would primarily go to that purpose. Beyond that we would like to begin a program of bringing under privileged children and children with disabilities to the beach to learn our great sport. Where do you hope to see Surfing America in the next six to twelve months?

USA Surf Team’s 17-year-old Taylor Clark

I see Surfing America continuing to pay off some debt that accumulated prior to my coming onboard, by continuing to cut overhead and non-essential expenses, while fielding top talent on our teams at ISA Competitions. I’d like to see the PacSun USA Junior Surf Team bring home a Gold Medal from Nicaragua in June. I would like to see the surf industry look at what a worthwhile and essential program we are to their business and once the dust has settled on their current cuts, allocate some much needed funds to our programs. I also know we will see some non-endiemic sponsors come on board, as we have many valuable properties with great exposure to a large valuable audience, that they can access in an authentic manner. Anything else you’d like to add? We’ve made a ton of progress in the last 18 months. As a life-long surfer, I love my job and am super enthusiastic and optimistic about the future of USA surfing and Surfing America. Like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/surfingamerica and follow us in Instagram @surfingamerica!