This morning the WSL announced that the 2020 Championship Tour remains on hold and that the sport would transform in 2021 with a completely revamped CT model.

The Covid-19 pandemic has continued to upend sporting organisations around the globe. Despite the great unknown of when the pandemic will run its course, sporting chiefs are manoeuvring to restart their respective codes.

In Australia, the NRL has aggressively built on the narrative of a May 28 start. AFL codes are kicking around dates, while the English Premier League is putting together a plan to kick off the season in the European summer.

The WSL last spoke to the public six weeks ago when they announced the Australian leg had been postponed and G-Land on hold.

Today in a video address, CEO Erik Logan placed the 2020 season on hold, postponing Rio and earmarking more news to come June 1 on whether the 2020 season would go ahead.

More interesting though was the announcement of sweeping changes to the 2021 season involving formats to the Championship Tour, the Challenger Series, and Qualifying series.

From 2021 both men’s and women’s World Titles will be decided in a single day and come down to the final heat on the last day of competition of the Championship Tour season.

The surf-off format evolution was first rumoured when former WSL CEO Sophie Goldschmidt proposed a World Title play-off in the Mentawais to round out the CT season. The leaked proposal saw the CT kicking off in February at Pipe and finishing at Teahupoo in September. The bottom 22 would be relegated to the QS and the top six surfers from each gender would compete in a “playoffs” style event in the Mentawai Islands.

In the WSL’s presser, two-time WSL Champion, Tyler Wright, said, “I feel like the new format raises the intensity of the entire World Title situation. The difference is that you get to win in the water, which is huge! It comes down to nobody else, and that kind of intensity, that kind of competitive pressure, raises the bar. It’s pretty exciting!”

“The world title being decided in the final, between two surfers in the running, is super exciting,” said WSL Surfer’s Representative, Conner Coffin. “I was glued to Pipe last year on the last day. So it’s a great moment for the sport and it’s exciting to think that from 2021 onwards that will always be how the world title is decided.”

With Covid-19 forcing the WSL to take stock of their business model and the surf industry continues to absorb the impact of the economic fallout the time was right for a change.

“Prior to COVID-19, we had been working hard on how we would evolve the Championship Tour, the path to the CT, and all our tours in 2022 and beyond. The more we worked on this transformation, the more we became excited and it became clear that our pause due to COVID really allowed us to see that now is the time to accelerate these changes,” said Logan.

“In addition to the redesign of the Championship Tour (CT), the schedule will be updated to create distinct seasons between the CT and the Challenger Series. This update will not only provide an enhanced showcase for the surfers but also allow those who fail to requalify through the CT the opportunity to perform on the Challenger Series and requalify for the elite CT the very next season as opposed to waiting an entire year.”

The stroke of genius in the WSL’s proposed changes is placing the Challenger Series before the CT season commences. The move gives CT surfers who have failed to make the cut off an opportunity to requalify with fellow rising stars and not miss a year chasing QS points.

The change may also entice more viewership as surf fans tune in to a feeder Tour. Meanwhile, a reimagined regional Qualifying Tour would make more financial sense to surfers chasing their dreams with more blue-collar surfers potentially able to compete against more heavily sponsored pros taking out the expense of international travel.

We’ll know June 1 whether the 2020 season will be abandoned completely. The longer the Tour is postponed the further likelihood it becomes untenable to have a legitimate men’s & women’s World Title. More details on the 2021 season format, location, and dates will be revealed then too.

Till then stay tuned.