Stab Magazine | Is It Time To Bring Back The Search Event?

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Is It Time To Bring Back The Search Event?

We’re sick of celery in the World Tour mix, give us pickled asparagus and a crab claw! 

news // Nov 16, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The WSL released the 2017 Championship Tour schedule today. With the exception of a location change in Brazil and Corona graciously picking up the tab in South Africa, it’s more of the same.

Save a few heats in Fiji and the last day in Tahiti, this year QS 1,000 events in the Tuamotus and Mentawais scored harder than any CT event all season long. Both were new spots on the schedule. Both featured relatively no-name surfers. But if the lowly qualifying comps had received some significant front-page real estate from the WSL it’s fair to say the viewership would have been solid just based on the conditions.

What drives the WSL machine is viewership. What drives viewership is pumping surf. If dudes are pulling into kegs, people tune in to watch. Red Bull’s Cape Fear contest, with its chaotic format and invite list of random underground chargers, has proven that it’s all about the swell, not the surfer. In 2014 the Billabong Pro Tahiti scored “the best surf for a contest ever,” according to Taj Burrow—eight to ten-foot and perfect—and record audience of over 12 million tuned in to watch.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmSlHXbIb1A

“It’s like car racing or hockey, people watch to see wrecks and fights,” CJ Hobgood once succinctly explained. “People watch to see what’s going to happen next.”

So why are QS 1000 comps going to the Ments while the CT is headed back to Bells? Is there really a huge demand to watch four-foot, wind-blown crumble on the Bowl? Imagine how many people would have tuned in next year to watch John John and Gabs swing for the fences at Lance’s Right.

For over 15 years the CT schedule has remained virtually unchanged. We’ve watched tour surfers go to the same spots, and while the storylines change (can John John defend in 2017?), the settings are always, always, always the same.

“I’ve been to all these places for years, it’s hard to stay motived,” explained Fred Patacchia, before retiring in 2015. “After awhile it’s just more of the same, and I think that’s something that anybody that’s been on tour can attest to. The challenge is keeping it fresh and fun.”

https://www.youtube.com/embed/61UtxOQg_zc

When the economic crisis smashed surfing in 2011 and 2012 the CT schedule was cut down considerably. Cornerstone contests like the Gold Coast, Bells, Brazil, and the Pipe Masters survived, but stops in Japan, Mundaka, New York, and even J-Bay were clipped (J-Bay was briefly reduced to a six-star before being reinstated as a CT event and thankfully picked up by Corona this year). The tour also lost the Rip Curl Search, the one event that brought some spontaneity to the schedule. After thoroughly engaging stops at Padang, Mainland Mex, Chile, Reunion Island, and even un-exotic Ocean Beach in San Francisco, The Search disappeared five years ago, so ho-hum, back to Hossegor and Rio we go.

When Rabbit was CEO of the ASP and the surf industry was flush with cash, surfers were living high on “the Dream Tour.” The whole operating premise was to put the best surfers in the best waves. If they had to go to G-Land or Reunion Island, so be it. Rabbit’s a surfer’s surfer, and in his heart he knew that for the tour to be successful, for it to appeal to his core audience, it has to be held in world-class waves. It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears from Rabbit and his team, but from a fan’s perspective they produced a golden era on tour.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/1-Ji6QZoV7k

“You have to keep a distinction between the sport and the industry,” Rabbit told Sean Doherty in 2011. “They don’t have the same objectives, and it continues to this day and the line gets blurred from time to time. The ASP World Tour cannot be the marketing wing of the industry….But I knew that people were watching and taking note of the fact that we were retooling the whole thing. We were sanding it down, we were fixing the dings, we were taking the whole thing down into a new Bugs model ready to surf again.”

That’s not to say that today’s WSL is the marketing wing of the industry—they don’t enjoy nearly the widespread support Rabbit did—but in their pursuit of producing a slick media package, in their drive to become the NFL of surfing, they may have lost sight in the fact that surfers still really just want to see shit go down in epic, all-time conditions, and going back to the same old spots just isn’t that interesting.

2017 World Surf League (WSL) Men’s Championship Tour:
Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast – March 14 – 25, 2017
Drug Aware Margaret River Pro – March 29 – April 9, 2017
Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach – April 12 – 24, 2017
Rio Pro – May 9 – 20, 2017
Fiji Pro – June 4 – 16, 2017
Corona Open J-Bay – July 12 – 23, 2017
Billabong Pro Teahupo’o – August 11 – 22, 2017
Hurley Pro at Trestles – September 6 – 17, 2017
Quiksilver Pro France – October 3 – 14, 2017
Meo Rip Curl Pro Portugal – October 17 – 28, 2017
Billabong Pipe Masters – December 8 – 20, 2017

2017 World Surf League (WSL) Women’s Championship Tour:
Roxy Pro Gold Coast – March 14 – 25, 2017
Drug Aware Margaret River Pro – March 29 – April 9, 2017
Rip Curl Women’s Pro Bells Beach – April 12 – 24, 2017
Rio Women’s Pro – May 9 – 20, 2017
Fiji Women’s Pro – May 28 – June 2, 2017
Vans US Open of Surfing – July 31 – August 6, 2017
Swatch Trestles Women’s Pro – September 6 – 17, 2017
Cascais Women’s Pro – September 21 – October 1, 2017
Roxy Pro France  – October 3 – 14, 2017
Maui Women’s Pro – November 25 – December 6, 2017

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