WSL Owner Natasha Ziff Shares Her Passion for Surfing and WSL Athletes
You could argue that Natasha Ziff is the real reason the Ziff family invested in professional surfing.
As recounted at Waterman’s on Saturday night, she fell in love with surfing first, and reportedly told her husband he needed to get on board because this was something they were going to be doing a lot of in the future.
Lakey Peterson introduced Natasha before her Waterman’s speech and told stories about going on surf trips with Natasha, and Natasha always staying in the water longer than anyone else.
Here is a transcript of Natasha’s speech, which we recorded.
WSL Owner Natasha Ziff
“Thank you, Lakey, it’s an honor to be introduced by you. My daughter Tatiana is a huge fan of yours, as you know, and she’s pretty impressed by the fact that you were introducing me. I deeply appreciate you coming here tonight, especially considering you are in the quarterfinals first thing in the morning in the midst of a tight race for the world title.
“Thank you to SIMA for this honor, and I feel pretty humbled to share the stage with passionate environmentalist Kris Tompkins and the great Rabbit Bartholomew.
“In accepting this award, this is the first time Dirk and I have spoken publicly about our involvement in the WSL – a difficult choice for us, being as private as we are. But we are proud to represent the WSL, and I want to give recognition to the WSL executives and employees here tonight. Thank you for your tireless work and incredible dedication.
“Everyone here understands the power of surfing as a sport, a lifestyle, a sanctuary, an escape and a purpose. Personally, since becoming a surfer, I have experienced the depths of frustration, felt some of the worst FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) known to a human over missing swells, and more joy and elation than I thought I would ever feel.
“I believe in surfing: in the sport, the lifestyle, and the feeling it gives to those in the water. And to those watching Felipe Toledo landing two massive alley oops on one wave or watching Steph Gilmore dance through a barrel at Snapper or watching Rodrigo Koxa take off at Nazare.
“Most of all, I believe in the athletes. We are a surfer first organization – they inspire us, with their fearlessness and their dedication, and we support them, and strive to build a stronger sport for the next generation of surfers. Like the surfers we represent and are committed to, the WSL will always push forward, be innovative, always strive to be ahead of other sports in what it does and how it does it.
“One of the first surf movies I watched was “Bustin’ Down the Door.” The first time I watched it, I was dazzled by Mark Richards’ style, and taken aback at how determined, uncompromising, and courageous that group of men were, including Rabbit here – the founders of the professional sport. The opposition they faced seemed to make them fight harder. They were doing something new, untested, and unconventional.
“Surfing has always been about Bustin’ Down the Door — always about experimentation, leadership, individuality and innovation, both in athletic progression and culturally. And this is how we want to be, and will always strive to be, at the WSL: innovative and always pushing forward. The surfers, past and present and future, are our guides — the surfing greats have never been grumpy traditionalists, but tough innovators.
“The thing about innovation is that it’s sometimes messy. If it isn’t, then it is too safe. You have to be willing to take a set on the head and recover.
“We have faced a lot of challenges, no doubt, but have made some substantial changes that have taken the sport to a place it hasn’t been before, on a solid global platform with wider and wider reach.
“And with the addition of surfing in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, 20 men and 20 women, most of them competitors on the WSL championship tours, will compete for Olympic gold. It is a thrilling and overdue recognition, and very clear confirmation that surfing is a very serious competitive sport and deserves to be on a broader international stage.
“I am proud of many of the forward-thinking changes we have undertaken, but one that stands out is the commitment to elevate the women athletes of the WSL. The very first event for us as part of the ownership group was Snapper 2013.
“We had heard the stories of the women being routinely offered the worst conditions at combined events, and we were determined to make sure that stopped.
“It didn’t take long. The first day of classic Snapper dawned, and everyone, including the surfers, expected the men to take the water. But this time, the women donned their jerseys. Soon, Courtney Conlogue was threading a perfect barrel and coming out with a thunderous fist pump.
“Since then, the level of women’s surfing on tour has soared, as they push each other forward. Their determination is incredible. Sally winning Fiji with a busted eardrum. Tyler winning the title with a painful knee. Lakey winning Snapper at Kirra.
“We continue to be committed to putting the women on the best waves. My family and I watched from the shore this year as the women took to the water at Jeffreys Bay for the first time in almost 20 years.
“Jessi Miley-Dyer made a brave call to wait for the last day of the window in hopes of getting a magical finals day, and it paid off. The sight of these amazing athletes attacking and dancing with the greatest point break in the world was so inspiring — it brought me full circle from that day in 2013 at Snapper.
“But as for many things at the WSL, it’s really just the beginning. We are proud to offer pay parity at the CT level, and are now making sure that is true for Big Wave and QS events. There is more to be done, and we are pushing forward.
“It is also just the beginning for WSL PURE. When Dirk and I got involved with pro surfing, we knew we needed to make sure the business had a deep sense of purpose. It didn’t take long to see that purpose had to be simple and powerful: We are surfers, and we are here to protect the ocean.
“Last year, I led the charge with a small group, including Terry Hardy, to reimagine WSL PURE, and build it — not into a separate organization within the WSL but an integral part of the company itself.
“PURE runs through the fabric of the WSL, beginning with our headquarters, where an employee-led sustainability group has organized Styrofoam collections to give to shapers to turn into surfboards, and will create a composting system at the office. This continues into our events, where we are aiming to get to zero-waste events through the elimination of all single-use plastics and composting.
“And WSL PURE has partnered with great organizations large and small around the world who are doing important work to preserve ocean health, using our global reach to amplify and project their efforts and inspire our fans to get involved.
“PURE worked with Surfrider, one of SIMA’s beneficiaries, to support their “what are you fighting for” campaign across our platforms, and held a panel at Founders’ Cup at Surf Ranch in May with Shaun Thomson and Surfrider CEO Chad Nelsen.
“PURE has also worked with Save the Waves Coalition to bring attention to their World Surf Reserve, and WSL PURE is launching a video with Lakey at the Surf Ranch Pro highlighting the work of Santa Barbara Channel Keeper. To date, we have raised millions of dollars for PURE, and we have ambitious plans to enact real change with the help of our partners and athletes.
“And then there is Lemoore. Wave technology may be the biggest game changer of all. We all know there is no substitute for the ocean in competitive surfing — salt, sand, randomness, heat strategy, paddling endurance, and wave selection.
“In fact, we didn’t know how the surfers would react to the wave: I was lucky enough to be there when Carissa Moore first surfed the wave, her usual smile was the broadest I’ve ever seen; Tom Curren, who looked me in the eye and declared it perfect, Gerry Lopez and Mark Richards, who admitted that if he had to surf just one wave for the rest of his life, he would want it to be Surf Ranch.
“And for the fans, the amazing proximity to the wave, clearly able to see the facial expressions of the surfers, is undeniable, as anyone who attended the Founders’ Cup in May will attest.
“But I feel the most powerful thing about the technology that Kelly created is how it will develop the sport. Surfing will go to another level, with everyone from groms to the world’s top competitors being able to train, take to the air in new ways – and as surfers do, innovate.
“Dirk and I and the ownership group have been around for six years now, and with our partners and the incredible team at the WSL, have come an unbelievably long way. But we won’t stop trying, innovating, pushing forward.
“Thank you for believing, as we do, in surfing.
“Thank you very much.”
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