The nip and tuck the WSL desperately needs.
While sports like rugby and cricket, for example, have always had the same basic gaming rules (15 men trying to get a ball over a line, 11 men trying to get a ball over a line) they have also evolved drastically over the last three decades to keep up with market demands and sports fan preferences.
Limited overs tournaments and T20 in cricket. Sevens Rugby, which everyone loves, and rule changes with regards to substitutes, Television Match Officials, and many other little changes to the games that are designed to help sustain public interest. For is that not what professional sport is all about? Entertaining the existing fans, attracting more of them to the game, and keeping them enthralled once they arrive?
In my opinion, the sport of professional surfing could do with some changes. Three of them, to be exact.
1. Extended waiting periods and fewer events.
As was clearly evident in the recent Quiksilver and Roxy events at Snapper Rocks, and possibly at Bells as well, it is becoming clear that a longer waiting period for Championship Tour events would be a massive boon to the tour. For the WSL juggernaut to set up shop in front of a dream tour surf venue and be subject to 11 days of pitiful conditions and then a day of slightly less pitiful waves to finish the event is a shame to our sport and a shame to what the WSL are nobly trying to achieve. The Goldie needed more days to finish, and even more days to run into the epic swell lurking at the end of the waiting period. Bells looks set to suffer a similar affliction. To surf Snapper during a cyclone as opposed to during a tiny wind swell is the sort of thing that could make our sport so much greater. The Superbank in full cry is a natural phenomenon, and having the world’s best riding it would garner incredible mainstream attention. Bells at eight-to-ten foot would do the same.
Consequently the webcast stats would go through the roof, and on perfect waves the performance levels of the top surfers in the world would be stratospheric. Amongst all the ridiculous superlatives I’m spouting forth, the WSL would also gain real credibility, and that cannot be valued.
The counter argument is that there would not be enough space in a calendar year to have events with suitably extended waiting periods, but there is an answer! Lose the lowest rung events! Pipe, Chopes, Fiji and JBay would remain, but would Rio? Would France and Portugal remain? Is there a place for Margaret River in the mix? Why not drop four events, leaving seven events with extended waiting periods? There would be fewer sponsorless contests for the WSL to underwrite as well, thus making it a triple win scenario.
2. Fewer surfers on the Championship Tour
When there are fewer contests on the tour, those remaining events will become oh so important! Building on this theory, there should also be fewer surfers battling it out in amongst the perfect waves of a legit “Dream Tour”.
The number that comes to mind is the Top 16, as in years gone by. With that amount of surfers, the surf package is easily digestible and each and every competitor stands out amongst the pack again, instead of getting swallowed up in the media scrummage that only looks at the tallest poppy on the day. Surfers become heroes again! Surfers hang with rock stars! Unmarried surfers get groupie opportunities!
Without wishing to belittle the lower rung Championship Tour surfers who have battled hard to get where they are, it is time for the WSL to trim down, to lose the dead wood, and to only have the heroes on the world tour. Imagine the tension at cut-off? Imagine the sponsorship wars to have a particular surfer riding for you. The drama, the celebrations and the passion, the anger and judge abuse, the board-breaking, hired car door-kicking angst of it all? We want this.
3. Losers rounds are for losers
Finally, to truly make the sport exciting and dramatic, to create these heroes and to extract the best performances possible from professional surfers, there needs to be no losers rounds, and no other non-elimination performance rounds. With sixteen surfers and sudden death, an event consists of 15 heats, plus any celebrity heats or air shows. That’s a two-day event, and over an extended waiting period, the chance of a good two-day swell is very likely.
It’s an assumption, based on what happens on the beach during an event, but it would be logical to assume that the online numbers drop significantly when there is a losers round on the webcast. On the beach everyone goes to get lunch, to grab a beer, to meet a mate. No one watches losers. Why not just get rid of them and get on with the show? Get to a winner! That’s what we want.
One thing the WSL has shown since their entrance is the ability to make big, bold decisions. Some of these decisions might have been a little bit off, but many of them have been to the advancement of the sport. They are not shy when it comes to changes big or small, and when these changes are made they are put into practice without reserve. Would they pause to consider these options? Would they listen to well-intended advice? Therein lies the rub.