Good, but not great.
The WSL’s first foray into competitive aerial surfing went down last night (or yesterday in France, to be exact) and it was, overall, a decent enough showing. Nothing mind-blowing, but it had its moments. Let’s break it down.
First of all, it’s clear aerial surfing is close to Josh Kerr’s heart. His passion for the discipline shone through every time he was interviewed and it’s hard to hate on that. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that without an aerial legend like Kerrsy steering the ship the event wouldn’t have attracted the calibre of talent it did. It mightn’t have even got off the ground.
Speaking of talent, the list of competitors the WSL announced for the event a month ago was a little different to those on hand for the day. Sure, Chippa, Griffin, Albee and Mason were there as promised, but where was Noa Deane and Filipe? Those two names alone had me excited to watch it, especially with Toledo also hunting a world title and Noa telling the WSL to get fucked a few years back. But alas, neither of them showed. The reasons are pretty obvious—why in his right mind would Filipe risk injury for a measly 20K when glory is so close at hand? And Noa, well, who knows? Point is, from a viewer’s perspective, it’s a bummer to get your hopes up only to have them disappointed. I hope the WSL don’t make a habit of putting out froth-inducing lists of ‘confirmed’ surfers when their participation is tentative at best.
Another bummer was the fact that the WSL didn’t send out a notification to let people know the event was on. Or at least I didn’t get one. Hence why I missed the qualifying heats and only just tuned-in in time for the final. If the whole business model of the WSL is built around attracting viewers, shouldn’t they be onto this? (And yeah, I checked the settings on my phone—notifications from the WSL app were definitely switched to ‘On’).
So how was the surfing and the waves and the actual goings-on in the water? Again, good but not great. The waves were typical French beachie conditions—shifty and imperfect, changing with the tide and switching from offshore to onshore throughout the day. No all-time ramps but plenty of opportunity for guys who know what they’re doing to take to the sky. And take to the sky they did, but were our perceptions altered because of it? Were our jaws left grazed and bloodied from scraping along the ground? Hardly. And that might be the problem with the whole thing. In 2018 we’re accustomed to seeing the best punts in the world taking place on Instagram and in clips and very occasionally in ‘CT heats involving John John or Toledo. So what are the chances of someone doing something groundbreaking in a limited amount of time in shit waves in France? Not out of the question, but definitely slim. There were alley-oops and some cool grabs and more air-reverses than a Kolohe Andino clip circa 2012, but really the standard was just okay. Amazing probably if you were there in person, and not a bad way to spend an hour staring at a screen, but nowhere near as phenomenal as the commentary team tried to make it feel.
In the end some guys bombed and some didn’t, and the original field of eighteen surfers was carved down to a six-man final. Neither Jordy or Italo made it, but Yago and Griffin were there to represent the ‘CT guys while a motley crew of Jack Freestone, Matt Meola, grom boy wonder Eithan Osborne and a-fully-recovered-from-open-heart-surgery Kalani David made up the rest. One hour, two best airs. Yago got off to a quick start and did a slob-grab air-reverse followed by an indy-grab air-reverse. Both silky and seemingly effortless, neither of them any better than the airs he’s done on the ‘CT. Everyone else just raced to no avail or threw down shit they didn’t even come close to landing. An hour seemed like it was going to be way too long. Then Freestone and Colapinto clicked into gear in the last twenty minutes, with the former greasing a full-rotation alley-oop while the latter did one of his crazy boned-out air-reverses. Things got mildly interesting as the clock wound down. You could see Freestone’s and Colapinto’s competitive instincts take over as they tried to find a way to overtake Yago. The other three might as well have not been there. Then the hooter sounded and Yago won and in truth he always looked like he was going to, because he was composed and competitive and clearly has one of the best strike rates in the world when it comes to airs.
So was the whole thing a success? Well, it certainly wasn’t a failure. But with the announcement that 2019 will see a full-blown Airborne series come into effect, my fear is that it won’t attract the viewers the WSL hopes it will. If the much hypothesised theory that the only people who can bear to watch surfing all day are surfers is true, then it’s probably even more likely that the only people who can bear to watch guys race down the line and try airs for hours are air guys themselves—but I hope I’m wrong.