Starting the Tour at Pipe? Puhhleeeaasse. Photo: WSL/Cestari
Major WSL Update: 2021 Tour Is ON, Hawaii Starts In Less Than A Month, Trestles To Decide World Champion
WSL announces December start, Sunset CT, two California additions, and a tentative plan for bringing back the World Championship Tour.
Over the last few weeks, there have been major rumblings from surfers on the World Surf League's Championship Tour, regarding the WSL's discussions around plans for the 2021 season.
Having had our own share of plans blow up in the COVID Era, there was no doubt that organizing a hundred-plus person caravan around the globe during the most complicated travel restrictions in modern history was never going to be easy.
"We started through a process of elimination, trying to focus on how to start, athletes' safety, community safety, and our staff's safety, and we landed in a good spot," says WSL CEO Erik Logan. "And we feel pretty confident that we're going to be able to stand this tour up and start off the first leg in about 25 days, which is amazing."
So what are those first legs? With extended stays in each country in mind, the tour smartly kicks off in Hawaii with three events: Maui (women only), Pipe (men only), and Sunset (both men and women), before heading to California for the Santa Cruz Open at Steamer Lane.
Dec 4 - 15 we'll see the women head to Honolua for the Maui Pro presented by Roxy. They’ll be the first CT surfing we’ve seen in almost 12 months.
December 8th opens the 12-day waiting period for the Billabong Pipe Masters presented by Hydro Flask.
January 19th, the CT returns to Sunset for the first time since 2003 for the men, and 2010 for the women.
Staying within the US, the WSL has added the Santa Cruz Open to the 2021 Tour (Feb 2-12).
From there, there will be a substantial six-week break before the tour reconvenes for the traditional three stops of the Australian leg, only this year shuffled around. Instead of starting at Snapper, then Bells, then WA, the Aus leg will go Bells, West Oz, Snapper. The Aussie leg will run from early-April through mid-May.
From there, the previously planned events remain tentative, with expectations that anything could happen between now and early next year.
Their effort to get the first two major legs planned and green-lit has been nothing short of a bureaucratic coup on the WSL's part, who have been feverishly working with local governments, the White House (god, we’d love to hear those stories), and tourism bureaus around the world to ensure safe and timely passage for their athletes and crew.
Yesterday, we sat down with Erik Logan for an exclusive interview about today's announcement of the 2021 Tour.
"We're thinking about the Tour's legs trying to minimize the amount of logistics that we have moving the Tour through a bunch of different countries.
"Our first leg that we've announced, we were able to do that through the extraordinary work of the Mayors' offices on Oahu and Maui, and the conversations we've had with Parks and Rec, environmental departments, even the White House now to ensure that our protocols are up to code to do this.
"We've effectively put in a six-week break before we get to Australia in early April, which allows us to deal with the current 14-day quarantine to get into Australia. Once we get the tour and athletes in, we'll start at Bells, then move to WA, and end at the Gold Coast in, what do they call it, "Magic May"?
"From there, the rest of the tour has existing dates on the calendar already that we're keeping. Brazil. J-Bay. G-Land. Tahiti."
"Now, to be clear, we aren't canceling Portugal—we're postponing it," Logan continued. "We're currently trying to figure out how to actually route properly back to Portugal."
"We feel really good about the first leg. We feel really good about the second leg [Australia]. And as we start moving through the pandemic, hopefully the vaccine comes out, and whatever's happening in terms of travel quarantines will allow us to be flexible for the back half of the tour."
"What we do know for sure is that we’re going to run a legitimate Championship Tour in 2021 and we are going to end at Trestles for The WSL Finals."
You read that right. In September, the top 5 men and women after Tahiti will surf a single-day event at Lowers—The WSL Finals at Lowers—with a prime south swell waiting period from September 8 - 17.
"It’s been a really difficult year for a lot of people around the world, and we’ve talked internally about not wasting this time," Logan continued. "Let's use this moment to be really innovative with professional surfing and let's take advantage of the opportunity we have and get some new places in. I think it's exciting to see a CT at Sunset. I think it's going to be really exciting to see Steamer Lane in February. We want to lean into the opportunity of next season’s challenge, to be innovative and creative and fresh and new. So all of that I think is going to make for a truly once in a lifetime season of professional surfing as we head to The Finals."
"The WSL Finals, we feel, is going to be the biggest day in the history of pro surfing—it’s set up to be that every single year. From our perspective, that is going to go down in history as a very important milestone moving our sport forward."
Much of the concerns around the tour have been around logistics, getting the surfers into and out of each country in a timely manner between legs. There were rumours the WSL was contracting private planes to ferry the entire tour to each leg, or that a few surfers might opt out of the tour entirely for fear it means significantly more time away from home without return breaks throughout the year.
"Traditionally, the surfers would just do their own travel and they would show up and they would just be there for the events," Logan explains. "We've asked for a more coordinated approach to their travel for the upcoming season. We're going to try and travel more closely as a unit—we have a centralized entity that's helping us book everybody together. That way we know if there's a problem of somebody getting into a country, we have a team of people that are focused on visas, immigration, all the different issues for our surfers, and that's been well underway for quite some time."
"Like the events we had in Australia this year, we'll be using much more local staff, local providers, and local people to stand up these events, so we can minimize the travel from Santa Monica or other parts of the world as far as our broadcast team goes. So you'll see far less travel from that side, and much more use of local talent, infrastructure, camera operators, and things of that nature. Which, based on what we previewed through the Countdown preseason events, is really beneficial in terms of leaning more into the local communities and those insights."
"It is a global pandemic and it continues to do whatever it's going to do. I think everybody's going to at least feel good that we're standing the tour up. And what happens on the other side, you know, I don't get too far ahead of myself. In 25 days we're turning the tour on at Honolua Bay. That'll just be a very, very big moment for our sport to get them back in the water."