WSL in danger of being left behind by the children of the Revolution
The time is right for a change and never has it been more apparent than at the recent Surf Ranch competition. It is not nice to continually bemoan a situation due to a global pandemic. Still, specific issues need to be unpacked and examined as objectively as possible.
The reports from the Surf Ranch are mainly negative. Apart from the nadir of watching risk-averse safety runs across the gleaming pool, there was just nothing in the event that was exciting, that was provocative, or that was dramatic. Watching Kanoa watching Tatiana surfing does not make for compelling viewing.
Further than that, it seems that right now the WSL is fast approaching a point where they are utterly deaf to the fans. They believe that their approach to professional surfing is so brilliant that the fans must love them for it.
It is a mix of complacency and condescension that sees them carry on regardless without listening to the fans, to the screaming, pleading supporters, asking for something different. There will be a tipping point, and sure it has been exacerbated by the restrictions of C-19, they are quite simply not doing enough.
There is still time to do something radical and to actually reinvent. The whole world has been turned on its head, and everyone is changing their games radically. Different formats are happening, online competitions are going on. There are clip countdown competitions, and there are some smart surfers who are presenting the competitive side of the sport in so many different ways right now.
There are video competitions, online champs, and other ways that surfers are battling it out, and these events are getting dramatic media exposure and engagement. Three Virtual Adaptive Surfing Events are happening right now, and Snapt is in full swing. The online Surf Web Series is finishing off in South Africa tomorrow before moving on to Chile and then to Japan. People are winning competitions online, earning prizemoney. Trophies are being couriered in the post, and downloadable certificates are being emailed to winners.
There is more to come.
Some of the ideas that are bubbling under are very dynamic. Some people are going to soon announce new competitive formats, new systems. Not a rebel tour, just a different way to harness the beast that competitive surfing is.
Right now, surfers getting involved in these contests and challenges are seeing their profiles going through the roof on social media. Event sponsors are getting way more return on investment than actual events at the beach. Previous event budgets are being examined quizzically. Media reports and engagement levels have recalibrated. There is currently a whole disruptor vibe going on in surfing. Surf tournaments are actually happening on cellphones as opposed to being viewed on them.
Instagram live waves and surfing split-screen interviews are being done at the beach among top surfers, on their mobiles. Waves are being judged by official judges on WhatsApp, and surfers are closer together than ever in a time of social distancing.
The sport has changed, the number of surfers has fundamentally grown, and the way that surfers spend money has changed. The methods that they consume content has changed. Their perspectives on what surfing is, and what is represented, and how pro surfing fits into our brave new world, has changed completely. A pandemic has created a revolution in our sport. You just have to look around, go to the beach, do an internet search when you want to buy your next surf item, to see the change. We are living in a time of flux, of positive upheaval. We are the change right now. It is quite staggering how much change has happened, for the positive, in such a short period of time.
How does the WSL react to all of this?
We get the Surf Ranch, a somewhat torpid form of competitive surfing. In comparison to the current surfing groupthink, the wave pool concept is like dinosaurs waddling around in a splash pool.
The fans don’t like it, that’s obvious, but the fact that the WSL doesn’t listen to their fans is just ungrateful. The Surf Ranch is not part of the vanguard, of the almost anarchistic approach to surfing currently underway. It is instead a formulaic and vapid approach to competitive surfing that sits outside of where the masses want to see surfing right now.
The WSL has brought very little in a world swirling with change. The 2021 end of year Surf Off idea is crap, the cut from 36 to 24 the following year is good. And that’s it.
Will the WSL throw caution to the wind, astound us with some new adaptions, and allow something innovative like communication between surfers and coaches and spotters?
Wouldn’t it be great for fans to have access to a conversation between Twiggy and a spotter as a 50-foot set approaches him at Jaws? It’ll delve into the minds of the surfers. If Formula 1 can do it, and totally fascinate viewers with the gritty reality of on-the-spot comms, why can’t surfing do it? If a 4-wave 8-foot set is approaching John John at Supers and he needs 9-points with 30 seconds to go, what would the conversation be like between the coach and surfer?
It might have been made illegal when Ken rigged up Layne Beachley with walkie-talkie comms at JBay 20 years ago, but times have changed. So much. Will the WSL rise to the challenge?
Or will they roll onto their backs, put their legs in the air, and present us with another round of Lawn Patrol?