Rumour: The WSL To Restructure The 2018 Tour
Less surfers, longer waiting periods and a wavepool event.
In recent days and weeks, the WSL has lost its CEO, Paul Speaker, and its presenting sponsor, Samsung. So, let’s play a game of what if? Is it time to be genuinely worried? Could a serious restructure of the tour be far behind?
Perhaps it’s exactly what pro surfing needs. Last week multiple well-placed (but unrelated) sources close to the WSL independently reported rumours of a potential tour restructuring in 2018. It was enough to perk our interest and consider it a valid topic of discussion.
What would a new era tour look like? Sources allege that the WSL is considering becoming a sleeker, more efficient, more surfer-friendly machine.
For starters, shedding the traditional two-week waiting period and adopting more of a Big Wave World Tour approach featuring extended windows where surfers would be on call and would react to “green light” scenarios when events were called “on.” Example: Teahupoo’s going to be 12 to 15 feet and glassy, time to book some airline tickets.
The number of surfers on the CT would be cut closer to 16 or 24 competitors to take better advantage of the swell opportunity and run an event in approximately two days. Basically, each event would be a “strike mission” to all of the locales when they’re at their best (not sure what that means for Rio?). In a sense, this concept would reinstate the “Dream Tour” mantra of putting the best surfers in the world’s best waves.
Also, with the acquisition of Kelly Slater’s Wave Company, and the current revamping of Kelly’s Wave, we’ve been told a trial competition is set to take place at the back half of 2017. With roughly 20 surfers invited, the current idea is to lock in a big broadcasting partner, stream the event live on television and throw a party with live bands, accommodation et al. They’re also building a left–one that Kelly (sort of) announced a few days ago–along with adding sections for airs and turns. The plan is to present a more contestable wave than the one that sent the internet into a tailspin at the end of 2015.
Currently, this is just a rumour that’s being circulated around Southern California lineups, and today the WSL confirmed as much, stating, “There are always rumours, Mr. Howard.” But, it sure makes sense on a lot of levels.
From a pure surfing level, it’d be epic. It gets rid of sleeper heats and means the loyal fan gets to watch more of John John vs. Gabs. And you get to watch them throw haymakers in quality conditions. No high tide, two-footers on the sand in Hossegor or blown out days at Bells. The boys and girls would only get the call when conditions fall into the “world class” category. That would be a hell of a lot more interesting show than waiting for 14 days for a couple average swells.
Given the fact that Samsung’s sponsorship has dried up and the WSL could probably benefit from some cost cutting measures, this plan also makes financial sense. With debate about the sustainability of the WSL model already rife in the surf industry, this plan could require half the infrastructure to produce the events, and because there’s no staff sitting around for two weeks, paid vacays in Tahiti are no longer a necessary expenditure. Each tour stop would get it into town, score the swell and disappear before anybody even knew they were there—much like the Rip Curl Search event in Mexico in 2006. Given that it takes an estimated $3 to $5 million to run one event right now, adopting the “strike mission” approach has the potential to cut large swaths of those expenses, including the webcast.
Obviously instituting something like this is like untangling a ball of yarn. How do you convince the surfer reps that cutting surfers from tour is a good thing? What happens to the QS? If the WSL was to restructure the CT, they’d also need to reexamine the QS and rethink the minor leagues. Who qualifies? How do they do it? But the fact is that since Peter Drouyn (a.k.a. Westerly Windina) invented the man-on-man heat the world tour concept has remained virtually unchanged. Maybe the rumours are just that, rumours. But maybe not. Is the WSL on the verge of making some incredibly brave decisions to ensure pro surfing hangs around for a few more generations?
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