Stab Magazine | A World Without The WSL

Live Now: How Surfers Get Paid — The Queens of Ascension


A World Without The WSL

Let us ponder their (hypothetical) grave! 

style // Sep 15, 2017
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Last week, a leak unveiled the World Surf League’s plan to drastically change the format they’ve been rolling with for a few decades (for the benefit of all parties involved, let’s choose to repress memories of that disgusting mid-year cut off thing). Not everyone loved the new format they’d proposed. A lot of people — including Bobby Martinez — seemed to hate it. But, drastic change is rarely met with a warm embrace.

And in a case like this, it’s fair to assume drastic change implies that something isn’t working. Successful ventures don’t switch formulas out of the blue; they reserve the banquet hall of Dana Point’s Ritz Carlton. When the ASP became the WSL, with a makeover and a wad of cash, the model was re-written. They’ve been burning money since, and finances have crept its way into the question. This, by the way, is the question:

Is bringing 36 surfers to 11 different waves, making them catch 2 good waves in 30-minute blocks for 8 different rounds of heats in varying conditions, and adding up their top 9 event results the most logical and entertaining way to figure out who the best surfer in the world is?

Probably not. Which is why it’s getting changed. It’s still too early to tell if the proposed changes will be better for surfing but, at the moment, a good portion of the jury is scowling. So, what if it doesn’t work? What if it all comes crashing down in a fiery blaze while Strider Wasilewski calls it from the channel? What would our World look like without a Surf League?

The two “sports” closest to surfing are skateboarding and snowboarding. Neither of them have any organization comparable to the WSL. Both of them seem to be progressing just fine — in terms of performance, that is. The snowboarding industry has been struggling lately, but that’s probably Al Gore’s fault.

Instead of a governing body, skating and snowboarding have a variety of competitive outlets that provide different aspects of the disciplines with a time and a place to shine. While the ability to crown a World Champ and give fans a tour to follow—with winners, losers, Jeep leaders and yellow jersey gimmicks to get behind—might be better than a surge of one-offs, I don’t think surfing would crumble without ’em.

Surfing can’t stop (won’t stop) growing. Interest? Skyrocketing. Participation? Moonrocketing. To think there would be no major surf events without the WSL is insane. Schemers would still scheme, and surfers would still show up to make a buck for a day at the beach. Surf companies would still find a place to mail million dollar checks, the world would continue twirling.

I think the loss of the WSL could, eventually (but maybe immediately) push surfing in a positive direction. And if neither the current nor proposed format is the most logical and entertaining way to institute competition in surfing, then what is?

Without the Whistle, a variety of events would try to come up with the answer. Sure, some would make you cringe. Some would be fucking great. (Hello, Red Bull Cape Fear!) But it would all allow for swift adaptations — there is no such thing as drastic change when there is no accepted norm. Without the League, and her contractual rights to prevent the world’s best surfers from entering alternative events, the options and opportunities are limitless—more creative and less constrictive. We could finally kill 12.13 point heat wins. We could finally kill boring.

There is, of course, the chance that somebody would try to mold sweep up the rubble of the WSL, mold it into something resemblant of its former self. I’d wish them luck. They’d need it.

At the end of the day, the WSL pumps a lot of money, a lot of energy and a lot of interest into the sport. It creates a lot of jobs and entertains hundreds of thousands of people. It’s the best we’ve got, and maybe the best we’ve ever had. 

However, the death of the league would be the birth of a more creative competitive era in surfing. As long as we still have Ronnie Blakey.



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