Stab Magazine | How The ISA And WSL's Apparent Power Struggle Is Stifling The Careers Of Surfing's Olympic Hopefuls
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How The ISA And WSL’s Apparent Power Struggle Is Stifling The Careers Of Surfing’s Olympic Hopefuls

A story of overlapping events, and the athletes who are forced to choose between qualifying for the World Tour or the 2020 Olympics. 

news // Jul 27, 2019
Words by stab
Reading Time: 20 minutes

As he boarded his flight from Oahu to Lima, by way of LAX, on December 5, 2018, Alonso Correa knew that he was throwing away his only chance to qualify for the 2019 World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour (CT).  

The 20-year-old professional surfer had entered the Vans World Cup of Surfing at Sunset Beach—the final 10,000-rated event of the 2018 WSL season—ranked in the top 50 surfers on the Qualifying Series (QS). Should he have finished first or second in this event, Correa would have jumped into the QS top-13, earning himself a spot on the 2019 Championship Tour (as there were three double-qualifiers from last year’s CT). 

Correa would have been the first-ever male* Peruvian surfer to achieve this level of competitive success.

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Alonso Correa showing plenty of potential at the Vans World Cup.

Photography

WSL/Saguibo

After placing fifth at the HIC Pro—another Sunset Beach-based event—earlier that season, Correa advanced through his first two heats at the Vans World Cup, defeating former Championship Tour surfers Ethan Ewing, Aritz Aranburu, and Matt Wilkinson (who was the number one surfer in the world for several months in 2016) in the process.  

Around that same time, the 2018 Pan-American Surf Association (PASA) Games—a regional, nation-based surfing competition associated with the International Surfing Association (ISA)—were set to begin at a wave called Punta Rocas in Correa’s home nation of Perú. In fact, the PASA waiting period of December 2-9 directly overlapped with the WSL’s long-held World Cup dates of November 25 – December 6. This presented an issue, as there were multiple surfers scheduled to surf in both the WSL and PASA events, including Santiago Muniz, Lucca Mesinas, Noe Mar McGonagle, Alonso Correa, and Carlos Muñoz.  

At the start of the PASA Games, the contest director announced that they would wait as long as possible for all surfers remaining in the Sunset Beach event to return to Perú, so that they wouldn’t have to forfeit their spots in the PASA event. Muniz, Mesinas, and McGonagle lost early at Sunset, leaving them ample time to fly to Peru; Correa and Muñoz advanced. 

As the Vans World Cup pushed toward the end of its waiting period (and therefore into PASA’s waiting period), the PASA organizers decided to run all of the Men’s Round 1 heats except for Muñoz’s and Correa’s, as they wanted to give the pair, who were the highest-rated surfers in the PASA event, extra time to return from Hawaii.

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Muñoz, too, was having a good shake at Sunset.

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WSL/Saguibo

As the days wore on, PASA decided they couldn’t wait any longer and gave Muñoz and Correa a hard return date. If the pair didn’t make it to Peru by December 7th, they would be officially disqualified from the PASA Games. Worse still, there was no flight path from Honolulu to Lima on the night of the 6th (the final day of the Sunset event), making it impossible for Correa and Muñoz to surf in both competitions. 

A decision had to be made: stay in Hawaii to surf in the World Cup, pursuing the off-chance that they might place highly enough to qualify for the 2019 Championship Tour, or abandon the position they’d worked their entire lives to achieve, instead flying to Peru to compete in a regional surfing event that offered limited exposure and no prize money.

For a professional surfer in the prime of their career, the decision seems obvious. Opportunities for CT qualification don’t come along every day. Of course, they would stay in Hawaii. 

If it weren’t for one important detail… 

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The 2018 PASA Games.

There are three channels through which a Pan-American surfer can qualify for the Olympics. These channels have a system of hierarchy, Channel one being the highest. 

It’s also worth noting that only two surfers per gender/per country will be eligible to surf in the Olympics. So, if two male surfers from Brazil qualify through Channel one, no other male Brazilian surfers can earn a spot in the Games through any of the other channels. Capiche?

Channel one: There will be ten male and eight female Olympic qualifiers from the 2019 Championship Tour. Essentially, it’s the ten highest-ranked men and eight highest-ranked women, so long as there are no more than two surfers per gender/per nation in those groups. 

So, if USA and Brazil both have three surfers in the men’s top-10, the first two will earn an Olympic slot while the third (from each nation) will be deemed ineligible, giving the surfers ranked 11 and 12 on the CT the opportunity to seize those spots, assuming there are not two or more surfers from their home nation already ahead of them. In the case that there are two or more surfers from their home nation ahead of them, the Olympic slots will then become available to surfers ranked 13 and 14, and so on.

It was unlikely that Correa or Muñoz would qualify through this channel, because they weren’t yet on the CT, and even if they did qualify for the CT via the World Cup, they’d still need to have a successful rookie season to make use of this option. 

Channel two: Another Olympic slot is available for surfers who finish in the top four (male) or six (female) of the 2020 ISA World Games, so long as no two CT surfers of their same nation/gender already hold Olympic spots. This is another low-percentage option, due to the breadth and depth of talent that will inhabit that event. 

Channel three: In the 2019 Pan-Am Games, the top-rated male and female will earn a tentative** spot into Tokyo 2020. This is the easiest of the three options, because it entails beating just 15 other non-CT surfers.

Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that the only way to qualify for the Pan-Am Games is by competing in the PASA Games. 

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Correa and Muñoz had a decision to make.

Photography

WSL/Poullenot

In other words, if you’re from a Pan-American nation and not on the Championship Tour (like Correa and Muñoz), competing in the PASA Games is more or less essential if you want to represent your nation in the Olympics.  

In this light, Muñoz and Correa’s dilemma became much more complicated. 

For Correa, the decision wasn’t just about the Olympics versus the CT. The Peruvian government had been subsidizing Correa’s route to the Olympics, hoping that he could provide at least a Peruvian flag in surfing’s Olympic debut, if not a medal. If Correa didn’t show at PASA, his chances of Olympic qualification would more or less disintegrate, along with his government support checks. In an age when even top CT athletes are struggling to find sponsorship, money screams.

“It was a really tough decision to leave Hawaii,” Correa told Stab. “But I talked to my parents, I talked to the Federation, and we decided it was best for me to come home and surf the PASA event. The Olympics only come around once every four years, and it’s a really great opportunity. I will have more chances to qualify for the CT.” (More on that later.)

Meanwhile, Carlos Muñoz chose to stay in Hawaii, hoping to earn a spot on the 2019 CT with a massive Sunset performance, despite how badly it pained him to relinquish his best opportunity to represent Costa Rica in the Tokyo Games. 

“That was really hard for me,” Muñoz told Stab. “I don’t think we should have been forced to choose between the CT and the Olympics. The events never should have been scheduled at the same time. And, if PASA was willing to wait for Alonso, they should have waited for me too.”

Muñoz used his frustration as motivation, pushing hard at Sunset all the way to a quarterfinal finish, but ultimately falling short of CT qualification. 

In a way, Muñoz had missed his best chance to compete in the 2020 Olympics for nothing.

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With quads like a Christmas ham, how was Carlos ever gonna say no to Sunset?

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WSL/Janssens

Unfortunate, yes, but not a huge deal, right?

The fact that the two surfers were forced to make a choice between potentially qualifying for the CT or the Olympics isn’t exactly a travesty. Life’s not always fair, the road to success is paved with failures, etc. 

But the story of the unfortunate ISA/WSL event crossovers does not end there.  

Take, for example, the US Open—a WSL QS 10,000 event that has run in the same place (Huntington Beach, CA) and time (late-July to early-August) for over a decade. The US Open’s main event consists of more than 100 male surfers of varying nationalities, including, of course, Pan-Americans. 

In alignment with their recently established equal pay initiative, the WSL has also included a Women’s QS 10,000 to the 2019 US Open. This will be the first Women’s QS 10,000 in the WSL’s history and one of two in 2019. This event will also include a large number of Pan-American females.

With this in mind, would it make sense for the Pan-Am organizers, who are consulted by the ISA, to choose the exact same dates as the US Open to run the surfing portion of the Pan-American Games—a 38-sport event that spans a total of 19 days? 

Because that’s exactly what they did.

The 2019 US Open’s main event begins on July 29th and runs through August 4th. The Pan-Am Games (which, again, include 38 total sports) go from July 24th to August 11th—this gave the Pan-Am organizers a three-week window to schedule the surfing portion of the event (which takes seven days).

The final decision on when to run, which was influenced by the ISA, was between July 29th and August 4th—the same exact dates as the US Open. 

After realizing this fact, one surfer who had qualified for both the Pan-Am Games and the US Open, Leilani McGonagle of Costa Rica, sent a formal petition to the ISA, PASA, and WSL. It read [sic]:

To all whom it may concern,

As athletes we have learned to eat, breathe, and sleep for the sport of surfing. We have sacrificed and invested to be where we are today; and we know you have done the same to give us these opportunities. The purpose of this letter is to formally address the problem that has caused us, as athletes, great unrest. Specifically, we are referring to the schedule conflict between the PASA Games 2019 and US Open of Surf WQS 10,000. Both events hold great magnitude and career determining implications, and yet have been programmed to run on the same exact dates (29th of July to the 4th of August, 2019). We ask you, as the governing bodies of our sport, to acknowledge that you hold our futures in your hands and to ask for your collaboration in finding a solution.

The conflict of dates between organizations has put some of the most elite athletes qualified for these events into a difficult position. It is a heartbreaking decision of whether to support your country at the PASA games (with a chance of earning a spot in the 2020 Olympic Games) or compete in the US Open of Surf (one of the highest level WQS events with World Tour qualification implications). There is no greater honor for an athlete than to represent their country in the Olympics Games. However, qualifying for the elite WCT dream tour is something we are all striving towards and is one of the biggest accomplishments a professional surfer can achieve. Obviously, we all understand the magnitude and talent of WCT athletes. For this reason, they have been given priority in the Olympic qualification process without even having to win a slot in any of the other Olympic qualifying events. Olympic dream or dream tour? Is it fair that just us surfers of the ‘Americas’ region must decide?

We would like your acknowledgment that it is with great unfairness that these events have been scheduled on top of one another. We ask you to help us, help you, bring the most talented to surfers to the most elite level. It’s not every day that the opportunities of being in the Olympics or qualifying to the World Tour are present. As the governing bodies of our sport, we ask you to work together so that these events are not on the same days. The PASA Games should not conflict with any WQS 6,000 or 10,000 events. Athletes and their teams have put in a lot of effort, sacrificing both physically and economically, in order to be in a qualifying position for both these events. In the name of fair play, we plead to you to allow us the opportunity to compete in these events we have trained so hard to be a part of. Aren’t we worth the effort?

Sincerely,

Leilani McGonagle

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Mcgonagle’s not one to be pushed around.

Photography

Steve Morrissette

McGonagle’s petition received signatures from more than 10 Pan-Am athletes and offered possible solutions to the organizations, including [sic]:

●     PASA run surfing on first week of time slot of PASA games. PASA Games run only short boarding open men and women and finish event in the first two days competition scheduled. This is possible considering there are only 32 athletes. WSL agrees to wait for the athletes during these days.
●     WSL shifts US OPEN to a different date. Suggested (1-9 July) (22-26) These are dates that are not conflicting with any other WCT, or high level WQS events.

The WSL was never going to change the US Open dates. 

How could they? There were permits, massive sponsor contracts, and an ironclad legacy to uphold. Moving an event of that scale to a different date would affect thousands upon thousands of people, cost some unimaginable sum, and, in the end, likely be disallowed by relevant permitting agencies.

Given this context, if the organizations wanted to avoid an event overlap, the onus was on the ISA and Pan-Am organizers to alter their course.

Luckily for them, the Pan-Am Games’ 19-day window appeared to leave plenty of wiggle room. Plus, as McGonagle has astutely noted, the shortboarding portion of the Pan-Am Games consisted of just 32 surfers (16 men, 16 women), meaning it could be completed in under two days. In theory, they could finish the Men’s and Women’s divisions either before or after the US Open’s main event, allowing surfers to compete in both California and Perú.

But the ISA said no—that they’d tried their best but were ultimately unable to alter the schedule even slightly, despite how easy and logical the fix appeared to be.

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The ISA President of 26 years, Fernando Aguerre (left), and his brother Santiago (right).

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ISA

In an email sent to Stab, ISA President Fernando Aguerre further explained the situation [sic].

We exhausted every option to avoid a clash, including even asking the WSL to consider moving the US Open back by one week.  

“The reality is, until a few months ago, there was still a (tentative) QS 10,000 scheduled in Mexico in the second week of the Pan Am Games, so even if we would have moved surfing into the second week of the Games (something we explored with the Lima organizers), it would still have faced a potential conflict for some surfers.

“I should also point out that surfing is just one of 38 sports in Lima with a complex scheduling matrix involving multiple stakeholders, so needless to say, not under the sole control of the ISA.”

These are fair points, but we should also note that, because the Mexico event was considered “tentative” (whereas the US Open’s occurrence is/was a foregone conclusion) and didn’t include female surfers, the potential downsides of running the Pan-Am Games over that event window were always going to be less than overlapping with the US Open. 

It should have been their primary option.

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It would have been pretty special to see the QS visit “somewhere” in Mexico. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

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WSL

While there are at least nine surfers affected by the US Open/Pan-Am Games overlap, it’s clear that women have been most badly burned. Not only are there a larger number of females who are double-qualified for the events (six women versus three men), but for CT-aspiring women, missing the US Open is even more burdensome than it is for their male peers. 

Why? 

Men have five, potentially six, QS 10,000 events in the 2019 season. Women have only two. By missing the US Open, women are forfeiting half of their prime point-collecting events of the year; this will put them at a severe disadvantage come qualification time. 

It’s also worth noting that there’s another major Women’s QS event that runs just before the US Open—the 6,000 Supergirl Pro (July 26-28)—that women competing in the Pan-Am Games will also be forced to miss.   

We spoke to the woman who’s arguably most affected by this situation, Chelsea Tuach of Barbados, who, as a former CT competitor, currently sits just outside of the requalification mark at number 9 on the QS. Despite her early-season success, Chelsea has opted to drop out of both the Supergirl Pro and the US Open in order to pursue an Olympic slot at Pan-Am. 

“It would be really special to represent my country in the Olympics,” Tuach said. “Barbados hasn’t had many athletes compete on that stage, and I really want to be one of the first 20 women in the surfing Olympics. Ultimately, I think the Pan-Am Games are my best shot at getting there, so I have to try to block out the QS and put all my eggs in this basket. Because I know if I go to the Pan-Am Games pissed off about the fact that I’m missing two QS events, I’m not going to surf well.

“But it’s frustrating,” Tuach continued, “because I already have a win at a QS 3,000 this year, and the Supergirl Pro and US Open are obviously two of our biggest events of the season. Hopefully I’ll get the Olympic slot at Pan-Am and then can make a big push on the back half of the QS. Otherwise, my goal of requalifying for the CT will have to wait until next year.”

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Difficult as it must have been, Tuach has made her decision. It’s Olympics over CT in 2019.

When asked about why she thought the ISA events kept coinciding with major QS events, Chelsea offered a politic opinion.

“As a surfer, it doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve heard some people say that the organizations [WSL and ISA] are both too ‘proud’ to give into one another, but I also know that people like to jump to conclusions, and that so much goes into planning these events, so I’m really not sure what to think.”

Another surfer who’s putting his WSL career in jeopardy in order to attend Pan-Am is Costa Rica’s Noe Mar McGonagle (yes, Leilani’s brother), who currently sits at number 101 on the QS rankings.

“After the US Open, there’s a re-seeding on the QS,” McGonagle explains. “By not surfing in that event, I’m leaving the door open for surfers to jump me in the rankings, which means they could take my spot in the remainder of the QS 10,000 events this year. However, if I were to surf in the US Open, I’d almost definitely improve my ranking, because I’m seeded in the second round and those points alone would boost my total.” 

But as Tuach said, the Pan-Am Games are the best chance for any non-CT Pan-American surfer to qualify for the Olympics. And, having recently lost his main sponsor, McGonagle is feeling a financial pressure to pursue medals rather than points. 

“The Costa Rican government has been supporting us,” Noe explains, “and they only really care about the Olympics. They basically told us that if we don’t go to the Pan-Am Games, we’re gonna lose it all. And the way the surf industry is right now, it seems like national governments are the only ones willing to help us out.”

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Fellow Ticos McGonagle and Muñoz shared the podium at 2018 QS event in Costa Rica. For reasons beyond their control, they won’t be able to do the same at Pan-Am.

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WSL Nichols

Oh, and remember Alonso Correa? The Peruvian surfer who pulled out of the Sunset event despite having a chance at CT qualification? He’s having another strong year on the QS, currently ranked 22nd and fighting his way toward the top 10. However, due to the aforementioned circumstances, he’ll also be forgoing the US Open in pursuit of an Olympic bid at the Pan-Am Games.

“When I made the choice to leave Sunset last year,” Correa said, “I decided that I was all-in on the Olympics—that I would do everything in my power to qualify for the Tokyo Games. But honestly, I didn’t expect that I’d have to miss a QS 10,000 this year, too. At least the men have six primes, so missing one isn’t the end of the world.”

Despite Correa’s optimism, missing a single QS 10,000 can have a massive impact on a surfer’s ability to qualify for the CT. Plus, the US Open might not be the only QS 10,000 Correa will have to miss due to an ISA-overlap in 2019.

So, it could be argued that the Peruvian has forfeited two years of qualification for the sake of one potential Olympic bid.

But Correa is far from alone. Below is a list of all the surfers who could/should be surfing in both the US Open and Pan-Am Games and what event they ultimately chose: 

Men

Noe Mar McGonagle (CRC): Pan-Am

Alonso Correa (PER): Pan-Am

Lucca Mesinas (PER): Pan-Am

Women

Brisa Hennessy (CRC): US Open

Leilani McGonagle (CRC): US Open

Chelsea Tuach (BAR): Pan-Am

Dominic Barona (ECU): Pan-Am

Summer Macedo (USA): US Open

Tia Blanco (PUR): unverified

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Even the CT’s rookie sweetheart, Brisa Hennessy, is being affected by this kerfuffle.

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WSL/Dunbar

Counting the World Cup/PASA Games and US Open/Pan-Am Games overlaps, the WSL/ISA are two-for-two on Olympic qualifiers coinciding with major QS events (or three-for-two if you count Supergirl). But it doesn’t stop there, the other Olympic qualifier event this year, the 2019 ISA World Games, also coincides with a QS 10,000 and flirts with the dates of a QS 6,000.

The 2019 ISA World Games—which offer the top male and female qualifier from each continent (with the exception of the Americas) a tentative quota place—run from September 7-15 in Miyazaki, Japan, while the Pantin Classic (a Men’s QS 10,000) runs from September 2-7 in Galicia, Spain and the Azores Airlines Pro (a Men’s QS 6,000) runs from September 17-22 in the Azore Islands off the coast of Portugal. 

In theory, if you were to make the final day of the Galicia event, you’d miss the opening day of the ISA Games and probably the second one too, as the flight from Spain to Japan takes no less than 15 hours, and you’re also going against the grain, time/date-wise. Then, if you surfed on the last day of the Japan event, you would only just make it to the Azores in time to compete in the QS 6,000, assuming there were flights available.

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Japan and the ISA recently ran a mock-Olympics at the Tokyo 2020 venue of Tsurigasaki Beach. It went “well,” according to event organizers.

While the conflicts may initially appear to be a one-sided issue, we’ve been made aware of a clause in a 2017 agreement between the WSL and ISA, which states: 

The WSL commits to create a window in their 2018, 2019 and 2020 calendar for the World Surfing Games (WSG) and that there is sufficient time for athletes to travel to and from the WSG location to enable them to participate. For the 2019 and 2020 WSG, the WSL will provide 3 options in the months of April, May and 15 September – 31 October, possibly close to existing CT events, and shall not schedule any WSL QS events 6,000 and above during this window, and will use best efforts to not schedule QS 3,000 events during this window.

The WSL appears to have broken this agreement by scheduling both a QS 10,000 and QS 6,000 in the back half of September, which potentially prohibited the ISA from running the World Surfing Games on dates that would not conflict with major QS events. 

In response to this point, the WSL noted that they run 160 events throughout the year (their only break coming between December 21 – January 3), and that every time they change an event date—which are oftentimes established years in advance—it has a huge trickle-down effect on their other competitions, including all the surfers and staff involved. 

For example, the WSL was forced to push this year’s Freshwater Pro (a CT event at Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch in Lemoore, CA) back a couple of weeks so that it did not conflict with the ISA World Games. As a result, for the first time in their history, the WSL has been forced run a QS 6,000 (the Azores Airlines Pro) at the same time as a CT event. This becomes an issue for lower-rated CT surfers, who might have wanted to compete in that QS 6,000 to try to requalify for next season. 

The WSL also made the point that their annual calendar is released far in advance of the ISA’s, making it hard for them to know when, or where, the ISA events will take place, thus increasing the likelihood of an accidental overlap.

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The Freshwater Pro has a later date in 2019—a result of the WSL’s willingness to work with the ISA and its event schedule.

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WSL

And while we’re on the subject of the ISA World Games, we would be remiss to ignore this decision from the powers that be. 

Per the Olympic qualification rules (as established by the ISA), there are ten Men’s spots and eight Women’s spots allocated to the top Championship Tour surfers in 2019. However, the ISA has included a clause that in order for those Olympic qualifiers to be deemed “valid,” said surfers must compete in both the 2019 and 2020 ISA World Games. 

There’s no requirement for the CT qualifiers to achieve any level of competitive success in the 2019/20 ISA World Games. They could, in theory, catch a little piece of whitewater, paddle to the beach, and retain their Olympic slot. However, if the CT surfers refuse to go to these events, they will be barred from entry into Tokyo 2020. 

So what, exactly, is the purpose of their attendance? Is it merely to draw more eyes to these ISA events, which have historically failed to attract the world’s elite surfers?

According to Aguerre, the ISA is simply maintaining the Olympic status quo.

“All major global sports have their top professionals participating in their national teams,” he said. “This is the case for soccer, rugby, and tennis, for example.

“In soccer, Messi and Ronaldo have lucrative careers as top professional players, but they have built time in their schedules to play in their national soccer teams at World Team Championships, Continental Cups and Olympic Games. I have this same view for surfing.”

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Oh, how Messi loves to don Argentina’s baby-blue and white.

According to the Olympic guidelines, each nation must provide three surfers per gender to compete in the 2019 ISA World Games, and those surfers are decided (when applicable) by the CT rankings following the Margaret River Pro. 

Per those rules, Team USA would be sending Kolohe Andino, John John Florence, and Conner Coffin to Japan this September—during a short gap between the Tahiti and Lemoore events—to compete in the 2019 ISA World Games. However, because Florence is injured and will likely miss the remainder of the competitive year, that requirement trickles down to the 47-year-old, 11-time World Champ Robert Kelly Slater, who, prior to the 2019 season, was adamant about making the 2020 Olympic squad. 

In fact, the potential for Olympic qualification appeared to be Slater’s raison d’etre for competing in 2019. But now that he’s in a position to achieve that goal, and the reality of having to compete in Japan this year is setting in, Slater has changed his tune. 

In a recent interview with NBC, he said:

“I think I have to surf that event, and if I don’t, it may disqualify me. But I’m not sure if I want to go to Japan and compete right now. I’m not exactly sure how I feel about the Olympics right now, anyway.”

Fernando Aguerre offered this response to Slater’s statement:

Expecting the top pro surfers to represent their country, just for the honor of wearing your national colors in one event per year sounds like a reasonable proposition.

“We fully respect Kelly’s opinion and prerogative and certainly hope that he reflects carefully on the opportunity before him, especially at this stage in his amazing career.”

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Slater and Aguerre shared their Olympic vows on-stage at the 2018 Founders Cup. But what does it mean, now?

So what’s the takeaway from all of this?

Have the two organizations responsible for creating a fair and logical path to the Olympics have failed to do so?

Could it be, like Bajan Olympic-hopeful Chelsea Tuach has heard whispered down the lane, that the WSL and ISA are too “proud” to relinquish any iota of power to the other? Or is it merely a coincidence that major Olympic qualification events keep coinciding with QS 10,000s?

The WSL, historically, has commanded bigger names, sponsorship deals, and public attention. But, now that the ISA has majority control of surfing’s Olympic fate, the scales have certainly shifted. 

In an email response to our queries, the ISA President since 1994, Fernando Aguerre, made a point of noting that, “The ISA (and I personally) have worked for over 23 years to accomplish what most people in the surfing and wider sporting community thought was impossible: Olympic surfing. We did this on our own, with very little outside support or resources.”

That’s all very true, and it deserves both respect and gratitude from anyone who will directly or indirectly benefit from surfing’s inclusion in the Games (that’s many of us). 

However, the point could be made that the ISA has used its control of the Olympic qualification system as a vehicle for self-aggrandizement, one which tends to blare its horn and rev its engine in negotiations with the WSL, Olympic rule-making, and the scheduling of qualification events. 

On the flip side, it could be argued that the WSL has been obstinate in its refusal to alter competition dates and honor its contractual agreements with the ISA, thus exacerbating the issue.

The perceived pissing match between surfing’s largest competitive bodies would be kind of funny if its greatest effect wasn’t on the surfers themselves. But unfortunately, that’s exactly what has transpired in the lead-up to surfing’s Olympic debut. 

Mommy and daddy are fighting, and the kids are curled up in a closet, trying, sometimes unsuccessfully, to avoid the flying shrapnel.

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Another gal affected in the ISA/WSL scum: miss Tia Blanco of Puerto Rico.

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WSL/Poullenot

Despite their tendencies to project blame on one another for any Olympic shortcomings, both the WSL and ISA have assured Stab that they’re on good terms and are working together to streamline the Olympic qualification process for all surfers. They’ve even made a recent arrangement to swap judges for their upcoming events; a few ISA tower-hounds will be flying to Tahiti and Lemoore, while some WSL score-lords are heading to Miyazaki for the 2019 ISA World Games.

All of this points to a brighter Olympic future, but it does little to quell the grief of Carlos Muñoz, Alonso Correa, Chelsea Tuach, Leilani and Noe Mar McGonagle, Kelly Slater, and a host of other surfers, who have suffered the seemingly unjust effects of the organizations’ unwillingness to cooperate with one another on a project that is, frankly, not about the ISA or the WSL. 

It’s about the surfers, and specifically the best surfers from each geographic region, who should have a chance to represent their nations on the Olympic stage without also sacrificing their WSL careers. Unfortunately, that’s not how it’s played out thus far.

Leilani McGonagle said it best:

“I thought that hearing from the athletes would bring [the ISA and WSL] to the realization that the sport is about the surfers, and that they would help give us our best shot. Unfortunately it wasn’t so successful, as the best-qualified surfers still had to choose.”

 

*Sofia Mulanovich (of Peru) won the 2004 Women’s ASP World Title.

**This slot is ‘tentative’ because, per the ISA’s rules: “If a NOC or National Olympic Committee qualifies more than the maximum number of athletes, the 2020 ISA World Surfing Games will prevail and any places earned from 2019 will be re-awarded to the next highest finishing athlete(s).” In other words, even if you win Pan-Am, you’re not officially guaranteed an Olympic bid, however, one female and one male will eventually be chosen from this field to compete in Tokyo 2020.

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