Bells misses out on the 'bubble' approval. See you at the tennis!
It’s official – No Bells trophies will be hoisted above the head and swung like crazy in 2021. No roaring cliff-top crowd will have the chance to scream into the biting wind as the world’s best surfers swing through the bowl on rolling southern ocean swells. No points will be earned by the surfers in an event that has provided some of pro surfing’s finest moments over the decades.
This morning a WSL press release firmly stated that The Rip Curl Pro Bells has been canceled for the second consecutive year. Initially, there was still hope that Bells could be rescheduled after it lost its coveted Easter time slot to Newcastle for 2021, however, it's now clear that the complexities associated with COVID-19 have made running an event this year impossible.
The WSL stated that they were unable to secure a ‘pre-approved bubble’ in Victoria ahead of the event, which in turn created a series of potential risk factors. "It was an extremely difficult decision to cancel one of the most iconic events on the Championship Tour," said WSL Asia Pacific General Manager, Andrew Stark.
For surf fans, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, particularly when they can turn on their TV sets and watch balls being belted by the world’s best tennis players who are playing in the Australian Open at The Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. The tennis was not without its own COVID-related hiccups and perhaps the problems with the Australian Open influenced the Victorian Government’s decision-making about Bells.
Rip Curl’s Chief Brand and Marketing Officer, Neil Ridgway, was obviously disappointed about the decision but remained philosophical. “It is what it is. We don’t make the rules around Covid 19 restrictions, but we do abide by them. All over the world, we have people at home, surf shops closed, curfews, some contests on some contests off, pros not competing on and on - so this is just about going with the flow and trying to stay true to what we believe in, which is surfing. Perhaps we all should have gone down south with Curren and his Free Scrubber (Curren’s latest film) when it started! I can tell you one thing though: the Bell stays in Torquay where it rightfully belongs! Next year we hope to hear it ring again which is a very sweet sound and that will be a great day.”
Bad news is always better received if it’s offset by something more promising and the WSL took the opportunity to also announce a three-year commitment to the Rip Curl Pro Bells from 2022. This is certainly reassuring for fans of Bells and Pro Surfing.
There is often car-park speculation about the long-term, financial viability of the WSL – like how long will Dirk Ziff keep dipping into his pockets to keep this thing afloat. There is no doubt the WSL has taken a huge hit in the time of COVID, but the announcement of a three-year commitment to Bells sends a clear message that Captain Dirk and the starship WSL are in for the long haul.
In the short-term the WSL are still scrambling to pull off the Australian leg of the tour. The press release on Bells contained the following statement, which suggests everything is still very much in a state of flux. “The World Surf League is working closely with Australia's State Governments and continues to have conversations regarding the locations for the upcoming Australian leg of the Championship Tour (CT). We are currently discussing multiple options to be best prepared to get the CT back on and running. We will share more information in the coming days.”
The statement suggests there are a host of other OZ waves on their radar in addition to Margaret River and the Gold Coast, which are both still listed on the WSL events page with extended waiting periods (April 12 – May 26).
The underground murmurs also indicate that the WSL would love to run as many contests as possible in Oz and then wrap up the 2021 tour with a new-format ‘Finals Series’ event (featuring the top five men and top five women) at a location like Tahiti or Fiji.
Can the WSL pull-off a 2021 tour? If they do it still seems highly likely (despite the cancellation of Bells) that much of it will be run and won Down Under.