5 Things That the WSL Got Right in 2015
Words by Craig Jarvis
The World Surf League is always a sitting duck. They’re open to abuse, and the uncontrolled ranting of an unaccountable Social Media populace who find it most satisfying to out-insult their friends and followers in their sometimes hysterical online battering of our Professional Surfing body.
Yet in their deranged amusement of accumulated insults, many people forget the excellent deeds that the WSL has performed, and the various positive precedents they’ve set. We should, at all times, give credit where credit is due. Here are a few of these good things, deserving of said credit, lest we forget…
1. They brought back J-Bay.
“Oh, but wait,” I hear you say, “We nearly lost one of our world champions in the process.” Well, Slater stuck around for the next two weeks in J-Bay, surfing a few Supers swells and a few other quieter spots. He wasn’t too fazed by it all. One of his sessions had 60 surfers out, so it’s time to move on from the shark encounter.
More importantly, the good deed of bringing the event back was performed in early 2014, when the WSL, under the advice at that stage of Graham Stapelberg, committed to an event in J-Bay, the J-Bay Open, bringing much relief to a somewhat battered local economy and stoking out the best surfers in the world. Stapelberg, who’d set up many events at J-Bay when he worked for Billabong, knew the value of an event here.
“For me it was a very simple decision,” he says. “In keeping with the WSL mantra of ‘Best Surfers in the Best Waves,’ J-Bay was an obvious choice. I remember going to Paul Speaker and said we’ve got to get J-Bay back on the calendar and his immediate response was, go and get it done. I left immediately for SA, was there for 12 hours, met with the J-Bay City Council and Koffie Jacobs and got Koffie to agree to run the event on our behalf and that was it.” When Taj Burrow heard the news, way back then, his response was that ‘J-Bay should be on the tour forever.’
2. The extension of the 2015 Quiksilver Pro, Gold Coast waiting period.
The waiting periods have always been non-negotiable in Championship Tour events. This changed at the Quik Pro and even though the finals weren’t run off in firing conditions, at least it was run off, despite all the difficulties encountered. Dave Prodan, WSL VP of Communications told Stab that it was an easy decision, but no mean feat.
“Philosophically, it was an easy decision,” said Dave. “The conditions were poor, but the models projected an increase on the day after the original window. Operationally, it was a huge undertaking in terms of staffing, accommodations, permits, etc. but I think that everyone's commitment to the cause was inspiring.”
So just how difficult was it to pull off?
“It took significant investment in permitting, staffing, accommodation and flights, and it's not something that is possible at every venue. However, the elements aligned for the WSL to do it for this season's event and there was little hesitation on our end.”
Money and headaches aside, was it all worth it?
“The world was treated to some mind-blowing surfing and the emergence of Filipe Toledo as a legitimate title contender. Best surfing in the best waves (sometimes that means the best waves possible) is what we're about and what we delivered. Definitely worth it.”
3. The reintroduction of Dane Reynolds.
He could have easily slipped off the radar this year. There were countless banal rumours that he was climbing into the beers, and slowing down with his new little family. The WSL were having none of that, and immediately gave him the wildcards into the two events that they had full wildcard control over – the Fiji Pro and the J-Bay Open, combined with his sponsor wildcard in the Quiksilver Pro, Gold Coast, and he was suddenly back in the mix. Despite his not posting massive results, he’s done all right and is currently in with a shout for possible qualification. With another sponsor event coming up, the Quiksilver Pro France, these odds could even up more. Kelly Slater agrees. “I think it's great,” said Kelly. “I’d love to see Dane get a couple more good results, or maybe win an event. France is a spot he can really wreak some havoc in the top five so it'll be interesting. I'd love to see him qualify through this process and see whether he wants to compete full time again. He's really interesting for everyone to watch and follow because he doesn't alter his course or bend to fit other people's criteria.”
4. Taking the BWWT to Puerto Escondido
One of the most dramatic big wave locations in the world, Puerto Escondido was the obvious choice for a new event when the South African big wave surfers voted against having a tour event at Dungeons. It has been in the limelight already this year for many reasons, including many possible wins in the XXL Awards, and an embracing local community who are amped to have the event here.
“The decision to go to Puerto was collectively a no-brainer for the WSL Big Wave team,” says Graham Stapelberg. “Gary Linden was given the approval, once we heard that Dungeons was off the table, to go down and secure the permit for the WSL. What is clearly different from the old ASP structure to the new WSL is that we have financial security that allows us to invest in professional surfing’s future. Under the old ASP we could never have moved from Dungeons to Puerto Escondido so quickly without first securing a promoter who was willing to underwrite the full cost of running an event.”
Event wildcard and often recognised as best big wave surfer in the world, Shane Dorian, is equally enthused. Stab asked him if he thought that the venue lends itself to a big wave event: “Yeah, for sure. The cool thing about Puerto is that it does get really big a couple of times each summer, with good conditions,” he says. “The wipeouts are going to be amazing.”
5. Taking Championship Tour surfing to The Box
This was the forward thinking approach that really kicked off the whole ideology that the tour is prepared to react effectively when necessary. They could have easily continued hacking it out at the main break at Margaret River, but instead opted to put the surfers out at mid-tide, eight-foot Box conditions that were scary enough for local, dialled in surfers, let alone a bunch of blow-ins from Brazil, Cali and South Africa. Even Micro was pretty stressed about the situation, explaining in a post heat interview that it’s hard to paddle into an eight-foot set when there are dry rocks in front of you (he still advanced).
Still, almost everyone charged, the imagery that emerged was dramatic, and the event and the sport itself were elevated to the next level.
WSL Commissioner Kieren Perrow made this call, and the frother that he is had little qualms in sending the boys out into the pretty treacherous conditions.
“We’ve been wanting to include the Box for years,” Kieren told Stab. “With the move to CT a few years back we managed to get this across the line. It's a crazy and exciting wave with so much to offer, really difficult to surf and hard to run heats because of how tidal it is. This year was big and ledgy, and tough on some guys. For a few days it was borderline too big and we really pushed to get as much out of the tide each day as possible. I think it was definitely worth the effort. Owen (Wright)’s 10 was one of the biggest and best caves I’ve seen ridden out there.”
*Plus, one more thing: The way they dealt with the Kelly Slater 4.17 score.
When Kelly did that massive backhand air and rode it out on his belly at Lowers, many thought that the score was legit, while others thought that the ASP judges were high. Either way, the response was vehement. All the CT surfers and most other surfers with a background in competitive surfing nodded their heads in subtle affirmation at the score, while other surfers less entrenched in the competitive scene screamed to the heavens about how the sport is corrupt. How those filthy insults rained down, and how people wailed and gnashed their summer teeth! Even old Sam George bashed out a few ‘disgrace’ comments for a Surfline article.
The WSL were having none of it however, and head judge Richie Porta went on camera with a decisive account of it being an incomplete move. Then Kelly went on camera to say that he didn’t ride it out, he landed on his knees and then transferred to his tummy, and that he hoped, with a chuckle, that no one saw. He went on to say that was happy with the score and that people shouldn’t get so upset. Whatever your thoughts on this, it's good to know that the new WSL address things like this rather than try to forget about them.
And, the precedent was decisively reaffirmed: Ride out of your moves, and you get the score.
And so… it has to be said that the WSL really is doing some good shit for professional surfing. What’s not to love? Fee free to comment.