The future of the APB World Tour according to Terry McKenna

November 20, 2019 | Bodyboarding
Terry McKenna (right): one of the most influential figures in the history of bodyboarding

On October 20, 2019, 22-year-old Tristian Roberts from Onrus Beach, in South Africa, won the Fronton King in the Canary Islands, Spain.

Roberts made a comeback in a dramatic title race to become 2019 world champion after early exits from front runners Sammy Morretino, and Pierre-Louis Costes.

Once again, the Springboks lift a world title trophy.

Alexandra Rinder won the women's event, and Sari Ohara became the 2019 Women's World Tour champion.

Roving reporter Seamus McGoldrick attended the Fronton King Festival in Gáldar and, after the contest, he sat down with the man behind the 2019 APB World Tour, Terry McKenna, to get the lowdown on planned changes in the circuit in 2020.

McKenna has a background in Events and Tourism. He ran the IBA, and the APB pretty much singlehandedly this year.

In the past, Terry was also the world tour manager for the KiteSurf Pro (KSP) World Tour.

Alan Muñoz: South American bodyboarders are taking over the sport | Photo: APB

A Non-Profit APB

"We had a meeting here the other night in Fronton, and I'm excited to say that we've got a new structure," revealed Terry McKenna.

"The APB proprietary - the corporate company in Australia - is closing down, and a new non-profit APB is starting up."

It was a lengthy meeting, and Terry was glad to see a good turnout, but it came to a satisfactory conclusion. Once the non-profit APB is up and running, the old APB can shut down in Australia.

"The promoters are the ones that put the contests on. For a long time, they have been asking to come to the forefront of the decision-making process," underlines McKenna.

The tour will continue with the promoters spearheading in 2020. There are many things you must balance when you are putting on a professional sports circuit.

When you consider the riders, the APB staff, the promoters, the volatility of the global economy, and even things that come out of the left-field like the civil unrest in Chile, the bodyboarding industry is very complex right now.

Whatever way you look, significant changes are ahead.

"A few of the old people from APB will stay on," confirms Terry.

"Probably Craig Hadden will stay on and do the rankings and all technical stuff. He's like a historian of the sport. He's incredible."

Terry says, "Alex Leon resigned officially as the CEO of the APB. He has done a wonderful job."

"In 2009, we were approached by a company in Australia called Schroders, which was a high-risk venture capitalist company, and they said we've got potentially three million dollars for you. We sold it to the people in 2010, and we rolled it out in 2011/2012."

"The IBA years of 2011 and 2012 were real double high points. It was probably the benchmark since I've been involved. Then, in 2013, the wheels came off. Luckily, I jumped off the Titanic before it hit the iceberg," underlines McKenna.

"Alex didn't want the ship to go down. He actually took my position with the IBA after I left, and so, unfortunately, he was on the Titanic when it sank, but he made it to a life raft."

"In this way, Alex managed to bring some of the embers from the IBA and blew on them until they turned into a flame that became the APB."

Terry McKenna: the new leader of the non-profit APB World Tour | Photo: APB

APB World Tour: A Challenging Endeavour

Very few people could really understand the magnitude of the job that Alex took on. The APB became the beating heart of professional bodyboarding.

It gave the sport a pulse. It was a tremendous feat, and Alex was the right man for the job. He was a bodyboarder through and through, a Shark Island local.

Leon started the association for the greater good of the worldwide boog fraternity.

He helped assemble a small core group of professional bodyboard media people who were able to put together clips and event media on a modest budget that would not compare to other professional extreme sports like skateboarding or snowboarding.

"It was a short turnaround, and Alex did an excellent job. The legacy he has left us with is the media platform. Throughout the APB South American leg, our media platform had 40-45 million post reach and around 4-5 million in post engagement," states McKenna.

"So, post reach is not a realistic figure, but post engagement is full-on because they are the people that are sending like and comments messages from Canada or Germany or wherever."

"Our interaction with our online audience is our strong point, so this is something the association really wants to try and build on in the future."

Another of Alex's legacies is the inclusion of spectacular locations like El Floppos, Teahupoo, Nazaré, or El Frontón on the APB World Tour.

The logistics of holding contests at these perfect bodyboard locations are considerable. Still, the events at these high-performance waves have consistently raised the bar in competition over the last five years.

The local council in Gáldar, Gran Canaria, are very proud of their Fronton Kings and Queens.

They have built a permanent infrastructure to help run the Fronton King festival, including seating area, a skate bowl, and a space for an outdoor concert.

This shows the positive effects of local councils investing in bodyboarding. Government money is keeping the APB World Tour alive.

"There's not much corporate money, unfortunately," says Terry. "It's just the way the world is. I think Alex's role, though, was always going to be stopgap."

"[And on tour] we are all professionals in our chosen field, and the thing is if we had the money, we could have done it. We just didn't have the money. It's as simple as that."

Terry McKenna: he's been promoting professional bodyboarding since the IBA World Tour era | Photo: APB

A Passionate Judging Team

The actual judging of a bodyboarding contest is a fine art. There has been a fairly consistent judging panel over the last four years.

Good judging is a decisive and hidden factor in every successful bodyboard contest, and the judging has progressed along with the level of riding.

"We ran a big judging course in Antofagasta this year. More than 200 people actually applied for the course. So, lots of people that want to learn about this and want to work at this level," adds Terry McKenna.

"I think there will be some changes next year in regards to the judging."

"For a long time, it's been a similar crew because how do you get more experience than someone that's constantly being selected to judge the world tour? We're keen to break that model and give more opportunities to other judges."

"I work in the judging tower a lot," says Terry, "I mean, it's my place, and I see these guys in action. It's a real skill set to be a good judge. You don't just need to be a good bodyboarder."

"You need the ability to recall, to remember the rides, and to compare a wave that was caught three hours ago to one just caught two minutes ago."

"At Frontón, the word that I heard them saying in the tower all the time was 'commitment.' When you take off behind the peak here at Frontón, it can be so shallow and so heavy."

"The water is so clear too because when you are at the top of a ten-footer looking down, you can see that there is only a foot of water over an encrusted barnacle reef! So commitment is a huge one."

The World Bodyboarding Championships Concept

"I should just say," stresses Terry, "that the 2020 tour is looking pretty good. We've got some really big decisions to try and make in the coming months about a potential restructure of the tour."

"One problem - the tour is growing. More events want to join the circuit. We have an event in Peru next year. Argentina is making an inquiry. There is an event in South Africa."

"So, that is three events, and there might be another two beyond that. This year, we had 11 contests, and next year, it could be up to 16 events."

"Then, on the other side of that, the industry support for the riders is actually shrinking, so there is less money around than ever before in the sport."

"There is less financial support from the brands, so this is a problem. I mean, you have got a tour that is growing, and then you have an industry that is shrinking, so we need to re-engineer the way that the tour works."

"We can't make a tour where only the richest guy is able to go around the world to be the APB World Tour champion," says Terry.

"One of the concepts that I had was that the 2020 tour would become effectively a qualification tour for the World Bodyboarding Championships in Pipeline in February 2021."

Essentially, Terry is saying that one big contest would be used to crown someone a world champion, but to be in that position, you need to do the tour.

Imagine a football season that runs for 26 weeks, and in the end, there is a playoff with the top eight teams.

"Next year, we're going to get rid of the Grand Slam events," says Terry.

"Events will vary from one to ten-star events. If you win any of those, you will go directly into the Pipeline event. You can follow the tour or win just one event to get a place at the Pipeline event."

At the end of the year, in December, the rankings will show who's inside the top 24.

The top-ranked competitors will not be world champion, but they will be the top seeds going into the world championship contest at Pipeline.

The big contest would be composed of national champions from regional events, the ETB, the ABA World Tour, the American, Brazilian, and Japanese tour.

Pipeline is the perfect venue for this style of champions event.

"Having all these champions ties back into the local associations and try and make the national tours stronger. Then, if you have a big event like Antofagasta, maybe the top four guys will go straight to Pipeline," explains the man behind the APB.

"In this way, the Pipeline contest is being populated throughout the year. People who've got the money to follow the tour, follow the tour, great."

"At the end of the year, the top 24 will have the ultimate seeding. Then you'll have podium finishers, event winners, and some national tour winners."

Pierre-Louis Costes: a key performer on the APB World Tour | Photo: Frontón King

The Business Model: To Move and Adapt

The international bodyboard world tour needs to keep moving through current business complexities.

The machine needs to keep the gears spinning. In the last few years, there has been a changing of the guard in terms of riders on tour.

The Ryan Hardys and Guilherme Tâmegas of the past have been replaced by the Tristans and Tanner McDaniels of the future.

The APB needs to keep crowning champions.

And now there is a changing of the guard in the staff behind the world tour. So, it really is a new beginning - brand new riders and a brand new world tour.

"In the first year of the APB, there was around about $120,000 prize money. This year we had $500,000. That's a lot of prize money. The tour has grown every single year since Alex started it in 2014. It has grown in prize money. It has grown in the number of events."

"Alex started with three or four events, and this year we had 11 and maybe 16 next year. Everything is going in the right direction, but the one problem was that we never got someone to give us the money."

"Bodyboarding hasn't got any support as a sports league for the last 20 years, so we can start to think of different ways to actually run this business."

"Maybe another way we could do it is to create a media platform like APB TV and make it a Netflix for bodyboarders."

"We put all of our material from around the world into this one portal, and this could be a one-stop-shop for bodyboarders who maybe pay ten dollars a year to access everything that is on there, including the stuff like the Underground Tapes and the Tension series."

Bodyboarding is still learning.

It is still only 40 years old as a professional sport, and it is important to bear in mind that the future looks good.

APB World Tour: Terry McKenna hands the 2019 women's world title trophy to Sari Ohara | Photo: APB

"We Grew the Tour, But We Didn't Grow the Budget"

Arturo Soto, a well-known promoter from Antofagasta, will be one of the new figures in the new APB management as well as Danny Hernandez, the promoter from the Fronton King Festival, and Ramon Alvarez, the promoter from Sintra, and Julianna Lara from Itacoatiara.

Natasha Sagardia will, most likely, be the general manager of the new APB non-profit. She is an experienced promoter running several big events in Puerto Rico, as well as a world-class rider. 

"They are probably the Big Five, and the riders representatives are Joana Schenker and Josh Kirkman."

"We have a new organizing committee, and it is led by the promoters. The promoters have their own group of professionals that work with them on their events," confirms Terry McKenna.

"So, when you put all the promoters together with all their teams behind them, that's a substantial amount of resources. When we need to get some graphics done, we have got five or six graphic arts people to go to."

"When we need a press release, we've got five or six press guys that can do it for us. So, by using this model, we have a lot more resources than we had when it was just Alex and the boys."

The APB members and staff had four events to manage in 2014, and they had enough money, and everything was fine to manage a circuit that size.

But the tour grew, and Terry and Alex effectively created a monster. They didn't have the money and staff to manage a growing World Tour properly.

"That was the problem: we grew the tour, but we didn't grow the budget. It is as simple as that," acknowledges McKenna.

Still, the APB had some very energetic, talented, and professional people working for them for the last five years. Media is key.

"It is a lot harder than what a lot of people think," notes Terry.

The common thread in the staff of the APB is a passion for professional bodyboarding and the idea of creating a dream tour for the top riders that also connects the global bodyboarding brother and sisterhood.

No one is doing it for the money.

"The entire operating budget for the APB last year was US$86,000, and that included everybody's wages and all of the merchandise, all of the posting fees for websites. Everything. The entire budget."

"So 80 grand, you would want to pay Alex more than that. That is a $100,000 job just to start with."

"Head judge Craig Hadden got $3,000 a year. The guy working on the APB World Tour website gets $3,000 a year. This is the kind of money that we are on, so people need to know this stuff."

"We are not in this for the money. We are in this because we are trying to do something and leave a legacy."

"I am here personally because I have already built a multi-million dollar business for bodyboarding once before with the IBA, and then some guy came and fucked it up."

"So, when Alex said, 'do you think you can come back and help us in 2015?' it was my mission."

"I came back to get it to where it was before it crashed basically. I'm not here for the money. There is no money in this."

"I'm not in it for the travel. It is not as glorious as you think. I've traveled the world a thousand times. It's a pain."

"I've got a million opportunities in Australia to work in commercial radio, and I've kind of turned my back on all of that to just stick with this for another year," reveals McKenna.

"I'd say 2020 will probably be my last year in bodyboarding because I have to get on with other things in my life."

The protests this year in Chile over social injustice is another recent factor that could impact the APB tour.

It is important that the events and social programs the APB runs in South America continue.

Terry tells me that it is "a real scary moment because, you know, Chile had done such a great job with building up their Triple Crown."

Chile has a strong presence on tour with talented and stylish riders like Nelson Flores, Kevin Torres, Alan Muñoz, and Yoshua Toledo. South American riders are getting more coverage and followers, which is great to see.

Terry believes with Chile, "you're always guaranteed that it's a good show."

"The Iquique final days highlights video is still our number one piece of media we released all year," adds Terry.

"So, people really enjoyed the men and women surfing Punta Dos and the unpredictability of it. It reminded me a lot of Shark Island."

"And we took someone to the hospital every day of the competition in Iquique. Not to the doctor, to the hospital, because they were beyond the doctor. So, people were getting shredded there."

Kevin Torres: one of the most talented Chilean bodyboarders on the APB World Tour | Photo: Frontón King

The APB Is Not The WSL

Terry believes that surfing and bodyboarding can co-exist. Surfing doesn't see bodyboarding as a threat anymore.

The APB doesn't need to compare itself to any other surfing organization.

"Bodyboarding is its own sub-culture of surfing, and you've got to remember that surfing is probably about 50 or 60 years older than bodyboarding, so it's had a big head start," stresses Terry.

"You know, even pro-surfing is still a bit of a miracle."

"From an outside point of view, bodyboarding has carried a bit of a chip on its shoulder in general since the surf companies bailed on bodyboarding way back in the late 1980s, early 1990s."

"What happened was everyone was bummed out that the full potential of the sport was never realized, so, in a sense, they carry a bad feeling and, unfortunately, that bad vibration only attracts further bad vibrations."

"So I'm saying that everybody just needs to be on the same page. Enjoy this sport for what it is."

"Hopefully, it will start with this APB TV, and we can bring in drop knee, we can bring in the free riders. We can put everyone into one domain under the one umbrella."

"The reason why the 2011/12 season was so successful was the fact that you had Hardy, Rawlins, Winchester, Player, and Tâmega. The guys from the original big era of bodyboarding were still competing."

"It would be good to get Tâmega and Hardy back over to Frontón for a classic heat. We want to try and extend on the Heritage Series and all of these types of things, and we've got a lot of work to do."

"It's going to be a tricky kind of a year for everyone," Terry continues, "because when you have a large number of people trying to make a decision, it can be really difficult."

"There is no real boss of the tour anymore. We are all on the same level, so it is a pretty good model."

"It is a tricky little time for the sport, but I think, in general, things are going great. Something has needed to change - we were all aware of that - and it has changed," underlines McKenna.

Terry McKenna: he is also an accomplished surfer | Photo: McKenna Archive

An Investment Would Change It All

A positive change in the working conditions on the world tour for the staff would work wonders.

The easiest and quickest way this can come about is if a company comes along with a significant injection of funds. It all comes down to money, the cause of and solution to all life's problems.

Organizations will not run right if their leaders are being underpaid.

The lion's share of the work is being done by the guys calculating the ratings, the people running the website, and the APB top managers, the CEOs.

These guys have been working hard for years, unusually not for any hope of a big wage but for the importance of the work itself. They love bodyboarding, but they are also highly skilled professionals.

"I'm looking forward to [2020]," says Terry, "and working with all the guys and designing and engineering something that's going to work for everyone."

"Sammy Morretino won his third world title, which is really cool. He was in the running for a prone world title, and he just fell short, but it was a great effort. Sammy, for me, was the alpha male of the year. He was just incredible, a great kid."

"Then, of course, there is Tristan, that was just a phenomenal effort - for the cards to fall like that, the chances were so slim."

"The guys that we've got coming through on tour, like the Tristans and the Sammys, they are just as good as anyone has ever been, if not better."

Nazaré: Red Bull could be sponsoring an APB World Tour event at Praia do Norte | Photo: Silva/Red Bull

Female Riders: The Tour's Biggest Asset

Terry is a great influence on the young guns on the world tour, but it is important to realize he is also a solid supporter of the women's event, which Terry repeatedly told me was the tour's biggest asset.

In fact, some of the innovative women's events hold the biggest potential for the 2020 world tour.

"It was a really exciting end to the tour. Alex Rinder put in a great performance. She is just so well suited to Frontón, and it was really obvious when she was surfing in that final."

"Then, Sari Ohara winning the world women's title was just unreal because Sari's been around for a long time. Forever. She has been a fantastic supporter of the tour. Again, it goes to Japan. Again, it goes to South Africa," adds McKenna.

"There's an event in South Africa next year in Cape Town, and then there will be a possible event in Japan that we're working on now."

"Since Sari won the world title, one of the islands came forward and said 'hey, we want to have a round of the world tour here.'"

"So I think at the moment, the sport is as healthy as it's ever been."

"I mean, we are speaking with Monster and a few other companies at the moment. Red Bull wants to put 50,000 bucks into an event at Nazaré next year. It's an exciting time, you know."

"We are speaking with people with wave pools for a potential wave pool event in 2020. Yeah, there's some pretty cool stuff happening. We will stay tuned and, more importantly, stay together," concludes Terry McKenna.


Words by Seamus McGoldrick

The Surfing Christmas Gift Guide for 2019 | Explore our Christmas gift ideas for surfers