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Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Inside the webcast world

Jeff Doner behind the screen directing the action in the U.S. Open webcast booth.

It's been said that the webcast saved professional surfing. It's hard to argue the point, considering how many people around the world are able to stream live events into their living rooms. It's also been said that last week's U.S. Open webcast was the best to date, complete with follow cams, lights, booms, and all the technical wizardry that comes with it. Having Barton Lynch on the mic also helped.

On Sunday director Jeff Doner invited me into the booth for a little behind-the-scenes look at what they do, and what I came to find is that the crew that makes the webcast possible is probably the hardest working group in surfing -- rivaled only by team managers who are oh-so diligent about ensuring their surfers have the right hat on during post-heat interviews.

"It's not easy, but it's what we do," tells the ever-modest Doner, who spends the better part of the year on the road working on ASP World Tour events.

When you consider that the production crew has to get to every event days before any surfers show up, and lug a live broadcast studio around the world with them, you start to get the picture. Then there's the issue of setting up and making sure that the live feed is successfully being beamed out to the rest of the surf world, which is easier said than done from somewhere remote like Tahiti.

"If we're not firing on all cylinders it's a direct reflection on the sponsor and the event, so we have to be spot on," continues Doner.

When the event does get the green light their workdays usually run longer than 16 hours. "These days you don't screw up the webcast, you just don't. And it's our job to work through all the technical hiccups and produce a top-flight broadcast, so we get their first thing every morning and don't leave until it's dark every night."

With twelve cameras to cut back and forth to, Doner orchestrates the 10-person U.S. Open production crew like a regular, old maestro -- calling out when the judges need a replay, or when it's time to put the score up on the screen.

After watching Slater's semifinal heat against Simpson from the booth eventually Doner gets a break and we exit out into the sun. We immediately run into Bob Hurely on the sand. "How's it going in there?" he asks.

"All good. All systems go," says Doner.

"I keep getting messages about how good everything looks on the computer," compliments Hurley. "Keep up the good work."

"We always do," replies Doner.

As the final of the U.S. Open gets set to take the water Doner confides that it's been a month and a half since Doner's seen his family. "As soon as we shut this thing down and pack up the gear I'm out of here," he says, before ducking back into the broadcast trailer.

So, next time you complain about the webcast or punch your computer because it's not working right think of the 10 sweaty humans crammed in a small trailer, doing their best to bring you the finest in online surfing entertainment. It's certainly not easy, but when you think about it, who else in the sporting world does it better?