Scared? You should be. Photo: @wavebristol
Would You Dare To Confront Your Mediocrity?
On wavepool surf skill assessments and the future.
What if your entire life leads you to a point in which all of your actions—the things you’ve been doing wrong, the things you’ve been doing right—are measured by a mighty creator who proceeds to seal your fate?
This, of course, is the concept behind the ‘License to Ride’ system at The Wave (pool) in Bristol, England—we’re here for thumping tubes, not bibles. Per an Instagram post:
We're excited to announce our 'Licence to Ride' sessions are being planned in. These will allow advanced surfers to come and be assessed by our Wavemakers for access to our more intense range of waves.
These larger, punchier and more powerful waves will provide a greater challenge and opportunity to really up your game. In an Olympic year where surfing is making it's debut, it has never been more exciting time to provide the whole range of waves which can take an absolute beginner through to an elite performer.
Ever since Adriano de Souza won the World Title (remember not remembering that?), the surf world has been left to ponder how wave pools will affect our culture. Will it be bad? Like, leaking hordes of chlorinated beginners who bring chaos to our cherished lineups bad? Will it be good? Like, one of your degenerate friends swindles their way into employment and you get the occasional Thursday night after-hours free sessions good?
Those very important questions, at the moment, remain unanswered.
However, The Wave’s License To Ride test could be hinting at a more immediate cultural consequence.
The first stage of the wave pool arms race has shown us that a lot of shit is possible — from proper slabs to perfect ramps to annoyingly long walls that do not at all lend themselves to entertaining surf competition.
The clear takeaway? We’ll have our options when it comes to wave type.
This LTR thing ain’t such a bad approach. There are few things in life more frustrating than watching another surfer botch the takeoff on a tube that could have been yours. The romantic part of my brain thinks that is the reason why The Wave would introduce this system. The rational part of my brain knows damn well it’s because they’d prefer not to be in the business of breaking people’s necks.
Either way, I like it. Except… except there’s one problem.
What if you fail the test?
Unlike real surfing, where you can mask your inadequacies with “alternative” surfboards and apathetic wave selection, wavepools allow you no place to hide. You’re fully exposed.
Let’s take a moment to consider the criteria. But let’s also make fun of it. According to The Wave’s site, to pass the LTR test you must be able to:
-Comfortably ride waves above 2.0m
Impossible. Waves are measured in feet.
-Paddle in large waves and strong currents
What about that German guy who tows Nazare?
What about Jamie Mitchell?
This just reads like you’re selling fins.
Like 2013 Filipe Toledo or 2020 Filipe Toledo?
Even the world’s best surfers couldn’t successfully negotiate certain sections of their contracts with Hurley.
-Demonstrate respectful surf etiquette
Politely getting more waves than everyone else is one of surfing’s most pure forms of art.
If you’ve committed any decent portion of your life to surfing, you should be able to pass this test with ease. You could go to Bristol and earn your license to tube.
However, it’s fairly likely that bigger, heavier waves will be available on-demand at pools in the coming years. And it’s not farfetched to think that a system like this will dictate your access to them — but with an upped criteria to compensate for the power of the waves.
Which is to say that someday, somewhere, you could be explicitly told that you are not good enough to surf a certain wave. For a passionate lifelong surfer, this could lead to an existential crisis.
So, what do you do?
Let me tell you in advance.
You return home, to the ocean, on a day significantly bigger or heavier than what you were denied access to in a pool. You pack the biggest closeout you can find and get your ass handed to you. And you come in smiling, better for it, never to return to a wave pool again.