Why Wilko thinks there has never been a better time to be a pro surfer.
“It’s pretty exciting to think that right now the wave pool has just become real, the Olympics thing is happening and the changes to the tour ... It’s the most exciting thing that’s ever happened in surfing.”
Tracks caught up with Wilko earlier in the week in Melbourne, where the current world number four had flown in to pick up a Holden Colorado and add a few customized features to his new wheels. With his quads still burning from runs at the Surf Ranch, Wilko spoke openly about the wave pool experience and confirmed that a complete restructure of the WSL is definitely going ahead. (Skip half way through if you want to read about Wilko’s views on the proposed changes to the tour)
What was the wave pool experience like?
It was so sick … the only thing was you pretty much couldn’t get a big score unless you got to the end. You went left and you went right and then left and then right and one of your lefts counted and one of your rights counted. And if you fell off on either of your first waves then on your second wave you had to get to the end, so you couldn’t try anything. If they had three or four opportunities and one counted that would be pretty nuts.
Was it difficult to guarantee each surfer more waves given the rate at which the pool could produce waves?
It wasn’t like it took long for the wave to load it was just that they only had one day to run the whole event; not starting too early and not jamming everything in.
The wave is so long that you take off, do three sick turns, get a long sick barrel; then get caught on a turn and then they can’t give you any more than a five.
Because you haven’t completed a wave?
Yeah; no matter how hard you ripped in if you didn’t finish it then you’re not getting over a seven. … I guess if you did crazy, crazy stuff they’d give you more.
What was the delay time between waves when you were surfing the event in the pool?
I think they were running every four minutes, but on the practice days we were doing every three minutes. That’s three minutes from the start of your wave and your wave goes for a minute; so you’ve got two minutes of waiting time till the next one. If you finish riding a wave, it’s like riding a wave from Snapper to Greenmount.
So the pool settles relatively quickly?
The pool settles pretty quickly; I think that just gives them less of the swishy effect if they wait longer. You wouldn’t want your gap between waves any shorter because you finish your wave and your taking deep breaths and trying to get your legs sorted by the time you take the next one. And that was only doing a left and a right and then a left, before the other guy started.
Does is it lend itself to progressive surfing? Is there enough push to project off the lip?
Yeah, it’s plenty powerful. The main problem with airs is that the right’s pretty strong offshore when the wind comes up and the last section’s pretty sucky, so they’re kind of stuck doing alley oops because you can't do an air reverse into the flats there; it’s just too gnarly. Then the left was sick for airs, but because it was onshore the barrel was so hard to make that barely anyone really finished a wave.
That’s classic the way local wind patterns actually affect the conditions in the pool?
Yeah, it’s pretty sick but the only problem is that the winds are the same every day in that area.
So are there other variables in the wave?
They have kind of two levels that they can put the pool on. They have a softer version that they can run and it’s not as fast and not as hollow through that middle bit. They were using it the next day when everybody got to surf. If they had the chance again they probably would have run the left on that level because the wind was stronger than they expected. So that just made it tough for the barrel on the left.
Do you think it will suit some surfers more than others?
I don’t think so; it’s not like you’re doing airs all along it; it’s not like Filipe will just flog everyone. You’re doing a carve, a finner then you gotta get going. Then the barrel’s sick but you’ve got to ride it well. The barrel's fast and you’ve gotta get deep. On John’s best one he got barreled and then instead of just staying in it he came out and did a big wrap and came back and just pulled back up under it and that was sick.
So you can choose to take different lines?
Yeah and then when you’re in it you can choose how deep you are going to be and it’s obviously more risky.
Is there variation between waves?
The wave does change a bit; there’s ones that are a bit bigger and ones that have a white-washy bit; ‘cause the pool has a slow back and forth deepness. So if it’s an inch deeper when the thing starts, the wave will be three or four inches taller, which changes everything and if it’s shallower it’s slabbier. It definitely changes a bit.
Do you think they have the capacity to crank it up to big, slabbing barrels?
Maybe not in that pool as it is, but I think they want to have it as a test pool and they’ll keep changing and trying different stuff. We went up a week earlier and there were engineers trying to figure out how to make the end section whitewash … it doesn’t really need to be any slabbier; the barell’s as thick as a chunky one at Rainbow Bay. It’s a pretty sick barrel. In the pit you’re on the foamball; it’s probably more powerful than Snapper.
Is it big enough top-to-bottom for someone like Jordy?
The right is, but the left was harder with the wind. The left was a bit chunkier, but some would go small and some would go a bit weird.
If they had a WCT contest at that pool would they have to construct a system, switch it around, to create an equal playing field – particularly if it was obvious that either the right or the left was favourable to a particular surfer or surfers?
I guess if the wind comes up then they just put it on the more turn-based wave and then I guess it doesn’t really favour anybody; so long as you have a few chances on it, it wouldn’t matter. If you got one shit one, which everyone probably will, then it wouldn’t matter.
So rather than four waves with your two highest counting, you’d probably want a minimum of six waves?
Yeah, that would just make it more exciting.
Ironically, at this point in the interview Wilko drives past the MCG (Melbourne’s soaring stadium which can hold 100 000 people) in his newly kitted out Holden Colorado.
I guess if someone buys a license for the pool and builds a stadium like the MCG that’s the sort of venue where surfing might be hosted one day?
Well, that’s the dream I guess.
Obviously at some point the WSL also have to sell their licenses for pools so that average Joe can go through the turnstiles?
I think that one (Kelly’s Ranch) they’re never going to open up to the general public. That’s just all for us.
So do you think The Ranch is where they will hold events? The WSL have already told Tracks and the New York Times about an event next year in May.
I don’t really know about his event. I’m sure that it’s not a CT though.
I heard that everyone on the WCT who wasn’t invited received an email apologizing for the fact that they weren’t invited?
Everyone who didn’t get invited was winging, so there was an email sent around explaining why. It just said the world champs plus the top seeds from the other countries represented on tour would be invited and Kanoa was there representing Japan because they had the Japanese Olympic Committee there.
If you didn’t get the invite you would have been upset?
Yeah’ but obviously there were going top be people that didn’t get the invite. It wasn’t a CT, it was a little test run. You’d obviously be sad but you can’t be angry at anyone.
What about the other changes to the tour that everyone is talking about – The shorter tour season, the Indo play-offs series, the season starting in Hawaii?
It’s pretty much happening I think… It won’t come into effect next year but the year after.
What are your thoughts on it?
It sounds pretty exciting I reckon. Obviously at the moment, the current system is probably the fairest way to crown a world champion, but it’s not the most exciting. Instead of two people just running away with the title race there is always going to be more people in contention. If you are coming into Chopes (Likely to be the last event in August before the Indo play-offs) and you need a big result, there’s going to be a lot of people who can make it into that top six.
Obviously to have a finals series that’s mobile in the Mentawaiis that can be held in one day when it’s cooking at HT’s or Macaronis is pretty exciting.
What we might expect if some of the world's best are unleashed on Lance's Right/HT's
How will the play-off series be structured?
I think it will be one heat between fifth and sixth and then the winner vs fourth and then the winner vs third and the next winner vs second and then they will surf against whoever finishes first in the ratings in a best of three heats to decide the world title. So if you finish first in the ratings the worst you can do is finish second in the title race.
Possibly even the surf off between second and the surviving surfer will be a best of three heats. So the person who finishes sixth can technically win the world title, but they will have to surf seven times that day and the only heat they can lose is one of the best of three world-title heats.
Did you have any objections to that structure for a play-off series?
The one thing that Ace and I were looking at with Kieran was if we could have two locations included in the play-offs somehow. Like one day at Macaronis and one day at HT’s. Then it doesn’t just suit one surfer. Like, say it’s at Roxy’s (rippable, air-friendly high performance Menatwai right) and Filipe’s done badly at Chopes and Hawaii and then just fucks everyone up.
How was that idea received?
It’s hard, because getting it done in one day would be ideal, but they’re still open to it if someone can come up with a perfect plan…They want it done in the one trip at least.
So you are behind the changes broadly speaking?
Everyone just thinks that the WSL is trying to screw us or something. I can't understand why so much of the initial media has been really negative.
I think if we get people watching surfing then that’s good. It’s been the same forever and they’ve done everything they can with it the way it is, so it’s just logical to do something different to try and get people interested.
Do you feel like the surfers have a say in their destiny? In regards to how the tour is re-shaped and run?
Not so much for the major model but that’s not really not up to us. We have a say in what contests are put on and what contests are taken off. But the business plan is up to them, that’s what they’re good at, we’re good at doing floaters and cutbacks and getting barreled. But I think that most of the surfers are pretty psyched on it.
Do you think there will be any changes to the number of surfers on the WCT?
No, I think they’re really excited about how many different countries are represented on tour.
It does seem like this year has been wide open and it’s almost as if anyone can be a threat in an event?
Yeah, seeing things like Kanoa taking down Mick. Frederico taking down John (Florence) in perfect waves. There’s like no heat you don’t want to watch.
How do you think the changes to the WQS ( shorter season from September to February) will affect the surfers on that tour?
It might make it easier for some guys because they will have more time to get a proper job. They will also have more time to free surf and work on their profiles.
That must also be one of the incentives for the CT guys; to have a shorter season (Feb – Aug/Sep), which gives them time to do trips and free surf or just be at home?
Yeah, well our time off now, you finish at Christmas and then you have January off and you pretty much just say I’m staying home and not going anywhere and then by February you are thinking about getting ready for Snapper.
Having a shorter season is one of the tings that has been brought up by the surfers in meetings in the past and it seems like they have listened to that. I didn’t really care about it that much but there were a lot of surfers who did. Particularly all the younger guys were really psyched on a shorter season.
So what will the running order look like on the CT?
I think it will be Pipe, Portugal, the Aussie leg, then France Brazil and the USA in some order after that and then finish on the Pacific leg of Fiji and Teahupoo. Going back to Europe twice is probably the only thing that’s a bit inefficient but they couldn’t do France when they were doing Portugal.
You don’t think they will weave a pool event into the CT?
I don’t know, but I think one event a year in the wave pool would be pretty good.
I guess if the WSL do sell multiple wave pool licenses there will be more events, whether they are CT’s or not?
I think then it would become a separate tour. It will be funny to see the first guys who are full time pool guys… I don’t think it will be easy for them to make the transition to the ocean.
It’s going to be interesting to see if a whole new culture and lingo evolves around the pools once more are built.
Yeah, well they were already calling our waves ‘runs’, not rides or waves at the pool, in the event last week.
Do you think it will become like a skateboarding run or snowboarding run where someone is trying to perform a pre-visualised or practiced sequence?
Yeah, but it’s still long enough and you’re never going to get one wave where everything is going to go perfectly because shits always going to go a little bit wrong and put you in a different spot. So you’re coming in to each turn at a slightly different angle.
What about the pool as a potential venue for the Japan Olympics?
If they put the Olympics in the pool that will be cool. I think that’s what the WSL wants and that’s why they had the Japanese Olympic committee at the specialty event last week.