The walls have ears that hear pretty damn well.
Not every media outlet is as well connected to the World Surf League as the New York Times and Tracks, so most of the speculation about what the future looks like for the world tour has come out of the closed door meeting that WSL management held with tour surfers in California in September.
And guess what? Unlike in politics, where leakers distort the facts to suit their own agendas, the surfers at the pointy end appear to have drunk the Cool Aid, sworn the oath of secrecy, then wandered out the door Tweeting the truth, and nothing but. More or less.
Of course, not every leaker was as upfront as Wilko, who good-naturedly blabbed everything to Tracks while speeding through Melbourne in his new ride, and nor did everyone have it right in the detail, but Tracks has learnt that the WSL will next month announce a massive restructuring of both men’s and women’s world tours, beginning in 2019. So, just as 2014 was a transition year for the WSL Mk 1, 2018 will be a transition to WSL Mk 2.
This, along with a five-year commitment to the Bells Beach Pro, inked just last month with the Victorian government, and a shorter commitment to Margaret River, indicates that there will be few fundamental changes to the Australian tour, and more importantly, that Dirk Ziff and his inner sanctum of management are prepared to dig deeper into their cash reserves in the belief that the business model is structurally sound, just in need of a bit of a trim.
The word from inside the tent is that the surfers closest to the trim-line were the least enthusiastic about the new world order, but that it has been enthusiastically received by those in or nipping at the heels of the top ten. Unsurprisingly, the plan’s biggest booster was Dirk Ziff’s business partner Kelly Slater. With a cameo at the Pipe Masters very likely to be his sayonara to the tour, and a major tour event slated for his Lemoore Surf Ranch next May, who knows what role the GOAT will play in the restructured WSL going forward?
But back to the known world. Other than the addition of the Surf Ranch event in May (which may be a specialty one-off to test the format for addition to the tour in 2019), the 2018 world tour will be little-changed, although where possible QS 6000s and above will be bracketed between September and end of year, in preparation for the restructuring.
From 2019, as per the substance of most of the leaks, the WSL world tour will start at Pipeline in early February before (and this seems strange) going to Portugal ahead of the Australian leg. The sequence of events to follow remains unclear (perhaps even, as we publish, undecided) but will include Brazil, Fiji, Tahiti, Jeffreys Bay, Trestles, Surf Ranch and France before heading to Indonesia for the “playoffs” in September.
Again, the structure of the playoffs, in which the top six surfers in the rankings battle it out for the title, seems to be a work in progress, but will most likely involve a couple of charter boats in the Ments. And this is where the new order is most susceptible to criticism. Wouldn’t it be better to hold back the playoffs for the glassy and less crowded days of late October and early November, thus allowing the European leg to be held in optimal autumn conditions? Well yeah, but here’s the thing: that would cut across the high QS season, when failing pros can go hard for requalification.
So why is it so important to give the tour surfers a better opportunity to requalify? Well, WSL has so far denied it, and low-end tour surfers would have already bleated it if there’d been as much as a hint, but surely it’s because the size of the tour is to be reduced.
For that to be confirmed we’ll just have to wait and see what July appointee CEO Sophie Goldschmidt and August appointee Chief Strategist Joe Carr reveal to the New York Times next month.