Stab Magazine | Breaking: The Eddie Is Close To Being Back On This Winter!
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Breaking: The Eddie Is Close To Being Back On This Winter!

Should Red Bull and the WSL set aside their differences the greatest show on earth could go on. 

news // Nov 20, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

The Eddie is the biggest event in surfing. The Pe’ahi Challenge last winter nearly doubled the WSL box office as far as viewership’s concerned – bigger than Pipe, Chopes, and Fiji. Then along came the Eddie last winter. It was called on, called off, and when the event finally ran it not only broke but set a new bar for record viewership of a surf event. “The Eddie blew everything off the charts,” an anonymous, integrated source from Hawaii tells Stab. “Jaws (last winter) was the highest viewed before the Eddie. Then the Eddie tripled the viewership of Jaws.” If the Eddie hadn’t run for the first time in eight years, its success would not be as visible, and the following would be a very different story.

On account of last winter’s success, and the record-breaking audience, the Aikaus were told they should ask for more cash from the event sponsors. The contract was up and the timing made sense and then things fell apart. Regardless of the event running, Quik had always paid an annual royalty fee of $180k. When Quik failed to reach the asking price of the Aikaus rumoured to be around $1m, it went to the courts – which has been covered in detail – resulting in the event’s cancellation.

Here’s where Red Bull entered the scene to get involved in a major surf event. And although Red Bull and the WSL have rocky history, this enabled more cash and allowed the WSL to negotiate a new deal with the Aikaus. Which they signed off on. But now some serious politics stand in the way. Red Bull and WSL are both media companies, and therefore competitors–they both want broadcast rights. Quiksilver own the rights to Waimea, The Aikaus own the event name, and the WSL own the talent. No party can run the event without the other.

WEN861

Red Bull Cape Fear in Sydney featuring former world tour surfer, Mr Kirk Flintoff. With WSL’s strict contracts with their surfers, this is as close as Red Bull will get to a world tour surfer.

Photography

Rod Owen

“As of last night it was all systems go, the event was to be WSL sanctioned, and Red Bull would hold the media rights,” says our source. “Then this morning Red Bull pulled back on their promise. They want some leniency from the WSL, asking them to allow their surfers to compete in Red Bull’s events.” Which brings us back to the recent Cape Fear Event, where the WSL barred their surfers from the competition. “People who surf full-time on the WSL aren’t allowed to do any other events,” Albee Layer, a Cape Fear invitee told us in annoyance after the contest had run.

Red Bull and the WSL tumultuous relationship dates back to 2013 after a sizable deal fell through at the 11th hour for the 2014 WSL tour. Since then, Red Bull’s been virtually invisible from the world tour scene. Remember when each event had the 21 Days series that followed two surfers in the lead up to the competition? Gone. Or when Jordy Smith wore his Red Bull hat on the podium and the ASP threatened to fine him $50k?

If Red Bull cut a deal direct with the Aikaus and the WSL, the event can’t be held at Waimea. The Eddie at Sunset or Waikiki doesn’t have the same ring. If Quik cut a deal with Red Bull, then the WSL would block their athletes and the event would lose its shine. And, Red Bull have seen first hand what happens when the WSL threaten competitors from surfing in a non-WSL sanctioned event: they obey.

MikeCoots EddieAikau 2016 2664

This is the greatest show on earth, as per the ratings most surfers agree.

Photography

Mike Coots

There’s good reason the event has only run nine times in its 31-year legacy. And it all comes down to one saying: The Bay calls the day. A saying that haemorrhaged Quik $350k after the event got the green light last year only to be called off the next morning. 

“Even with all the pressure that we’ve had from surfers who were in the contest, the media and stuff, we’ve always kept true to what the standards were going to be,” Quiksilver’s spokesman Glen Moncata told KHON2, adding that during the contest’s inception, “If we’re going to make this a real Eddie, it’s got to be solid 20-foot Hawaiian surf at Waimea Bay — and we have kept that statement the whole time. We’ve never, never swayed from that.”

For Quik’s name to be removed from the Eddie, a seamless handoff of the permit is required, and this handoff happens to be explicitly forbidden by the city of Honolulu. The rules state: “Permittee shall not transfer, assign, or sell any or all rights granted by the permit or grant the use of any or all of the permit period to a third party or relinquish possession or use of the whole or any parts of the part granted to permittee under the permit. Any transfer, assignment, sale, grant or relinquishment of the permit shall automatically null and void the permit.”

MikeCoots EddieAikau 2016 2463

Forget Koa Rothman on the wave, fate had him there. But look at the men scrapping out the back for fear of the next wash-through.

Photography

Mike Coots

Red Bull, the Aikaus and the WSL all know that without Quik the Eddie can’t go. “The way it sits right now,” our source tells us, “Quik’s aligned, but Red Bull and the WSL will have to hold hands on it this year. When the event ran last year, the only reason Quik and Red Bull didn’t work together was because it had to be WSL sanctioned, or else names like John Florence, Kelly Slater, Greg Long and other WSL surfers in wouldn’t be in the mix.” The most prestigious big wave event on earth cannot run without the most prestigious talent in the water.

Quik wants to make sure the Eddie runs but won’t impair its standards. “Quiksilver doesn’t want an asterisk in its history because of politics,” continues our source. “It’s a namesake that should carry on. And Murphy’s Law, if all the parties can’t work together and it’s called off, this winter will probably get a swell that’s bigger and better than last year’s.”

The WSL is allegedly in no rush to make a decision because history is on their side, never has The Eddie run in back-to-back years. And just as the WSL sees cash relief from Red Bull, Red Bull sees the opportunity to get back into surf through the WSL. If the two can reach an agreement there will be more eyes on the Eddie than ever before, especially following last year’s theatrics. So in the end, it all comes down to more cash to the Aikaus and a battle for media rights.

“Last night it was on,” our source tells us. “WSL and Red Bull wanted to blow it up and broadcast the opening ceremony: priest, prayers, paddle out and all. But then this morning, it seems things have changed…”

If they can’t reach an agreement, Quik is going to donate the $180k that would go to the Aikaus to the North Shore community and junior lifeguard program.

But if they can put aside their schoolyard differences and work together to save a three-decade-long event, this will serve as a litmus test for the future of Red Bull and the WSL’s relationship.

MikeCoots EddieAikau 2016 2460

Photo of the year of the most watched surf contest of all-time.

Photography

Mike Coots

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