Surfing Meets Fox News

Paul Speaker, CEO of the World Surf League, appeared on Fox News a few days ago to speak to host Stuart Varney. Obviously Speaker was there to big up the sport of surfing. The interview was amusing, bemusing, and cringeworthy in roughly equal measure, and contained a number of questionable claims, among them:

– Kelly Slater earns “way more” than $20m a year, and will continue to do so for a very long time.

– The waves at the Fiji Pro were 13ft.

– 22 million people in Brazil tuned in to watch the semi-finals and final of the Rio Pro, broadcast on the Globo television network.

How do the claims hold up?

That Kelly Slater earns way more than $20m a year seems highly unlikely. The 2013 Stab Rich List had Slater earning just $3.4m a year, a million or so less than first placed John John Florence’s estimated $4.8m. Since then Kelly has split from his major sponsor Quiksilver and his contest earnings have dried up; his own personal business ventures were undertaken only recently, and it’s hard to imagine they’ve increased his earnings sixfold already. Slater doesn’t appear on Forbes 2015 list of the world’s 100 highest-paid athletes, which starts with Floyd Mayweather at $300m a year and ends with basketball player James Harden at $18.8m.

I have on occasion surfed a 5ft wave, and once, when I was young and didn’t know any better, I thought I surfed a 7ft wave. But there is of course no such thing. Do not listen to anyone who claims to have seen a 9ft wave; report immediately anyone who reports the surf as being in the 11ft range, for he is plainly mad. The idea of a 13ft wave is even more absurd, and had I seen one on the Fiji Pro webcast I would surely have recognised it as such.

What about the viewing figures? BeachGrit’s Chas Smith pointed out an article by Claire Atkinson that appeared in last Saturday’s New York Post, in which Atkinson, following an interview with Speaker, put the figure of Brazilians watching the finals of the Fiji Pro at 29 million, an increase on the Rio Pro figures. This, said Smith, constituted almost 30% of the country’s population, or to put it another way, every single Brazilian of working age.

Nuts, no? Except Brazil is in fact home to 200 million people, not 100 million, which means that only 15% of Brazil’s population — if the 29 million figure is to be believed — was watching the Fiji Pro. Still an improbably big chunk of Brazil, but a big chunk less than 30%. As for Brazilians of working age, roughly 68% of Brazil’s population (136 million) is between the ages of 15 and 64, the official “working age” bracket — so 29 million isn’t much over 1 in 5. Turns out Paul Speaker’s not the only one to make up random shit.


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