Has the world title race lost its mojo?
It’s been a bumper couple of weeks for the WSL, quite possibly the organisation’s most successful run of events since its official inception in 2015.
The Nazare Big Wave Challenge exceeded all expectations, Sunset has been firing for the Vans World Cup; Jaws was thrilling and the girls revelled in dreamy Honolua Bay, where Steph Gilmore went seven up. Not forgetting the world Longboarding Titles being held in Taiwan, further emphasising the geographical reach of the WSL – it has been a complete sensory overload for surf fans around the world.
The WSL have a done a good job of juggling the events; delivering a kaleidoscope of camera angles for the contests and not missing the opportunity to capture free-surfing 'moments' like Kai Lenny’s towed-in dismantling of Jaws. The commentary has been engaging, with welcome cameos from the likes of Chis Cote and Dave Kalama adding colour and insight to the webcasts. Anchorman Joe Turpel was even on hand to throw in a few live switches between Jaws and the Beachwear Maui Women’s Pro as the events went down simultaneously. Go Team.
However, amidst all the popping endorphins and hyperbolic phrases inspired by recent events is there a risk that the men’s world title has lost some of its buzz.
Alongside the women’s world title race one could argue that the men’s WCT is the premier competition hosted under the WSL banner.
By the time the first barrel is ridden at Pipe it will have been almost a month and a half since the MEO Rip Curl Pro. How many of you can even remember the details of the final? We’ve all read and heard enough to know that the Portugal event set the stage for a three-way world title race between Gabriel Medina, Julian Wilson and Filipe Toledo. Directly after Portugal the WSL and every other surf media agency released a series of scenarios (both mathematical and dramatic) relating to the world title race. However, the initial hype for a Pipe showdown seems to have lost a little lustre in the long break between WCT events. Perhaps there should be a camera crew assigned to follow each contender around to help sustain the human-interest aspect in their respective quests – Gabs hanging with Brazilian footballer, Naymar; Filipe fist-pumping while watching Pipe footage on loop and Julian changing nappies between coaching sessions with Andy King.
There’s no doubt that interest in the title race will be rebooted as we inch closer to the Pipe Masters and the qualification dramas are played out at Sunset, but is there a danger that it will be a long-awaited fizzer? Just as much as anyone, I want to see Pipe at its spectacular best and Julian and Toledo pushing Medina all the way. In case you have forgotten the scenarios.
If Gabriel Medina finishes 1st or 2nd at Pipeline he wins the World Title
If Gabriel Medina places 3rd at Pipeline, Julian Wilson and Filipe Toledo will need a 1st to win the World Title.
If Gabriel Medina finishes 5th or worse at Pipeline, Julian Wilson and Filipe Toledo will need to make the final to win the World Title.
However, if it the final act doesn’t turn out to be exciting it feels like a double let down because we have waited so long to see it unfold – not to mention the fact it is seriously at risk of being overshadowed by recent events.
Is that how you want your premiere event to be treated? The WSL it seems is well aware of the potential for a Pipe fizzer after a long contest hiatus. Last year they leaked a bunch of info about plans to reschedule the tour. The aim was to kick off with Pipe and conclude with a mobile event in Indo, held soon after the second last event. The chatter has gone a little quite on that front and while more changes are still likely, it seems they will be ushered in more slowly (next year’s schedule is very much the same) than initially expected, particularly given the fiasco that unfolded as result of the attempt to switch the Pipe date.
Irrespective of where the tour begins and ends the real issue from a fan’s perspective seems to be the long gap between the second last and last event.
Perhaps you enjoy the delayed gratification of a long-awaited world title result, but I personally would like to see things role a little quicker at the end of the season. It might be as simple as scheduling the penultimate (second last) event a little later. The end goal is to maintain the focus on the contenders for the crown, preserve the competitive tension and ensure that the Men’s world title race is treated with the reverence it warrants.