WSL grow a pair and go to Indo for the play-offs.
Although the WSL are yet to release any formal statement, other surf sites are reporting that the sport’s governing body is set to make radical changes to the structure of professional surfing. Meanwhile, WSL insiders have been hinting at the major reshuffle for months.
If the rumours are true then the new look WSL will decide future world titles by taking the top four women and the top six men to Indonesia at the end of the season to compete in a play-offs style event.
Other suggested changes include a dramatically shorter WCT schedule and a season opening event in February in Hawaii, and also an even shorter WQS season run over three months between December and February.
The response from the WCT surfers to the new tour structure is as yet unclear, but the consensus is that the top - flight contenders will dig the changes while the lower ranked CT competitors may feel somewhat disenfranchised by the new system.
Although no current WCT surfers were available for comment, Tracks spoke to Kai Otton, who saw a host of changes to the tour during his decade-long career on the WCT.
When asked about the rumoured introduction of a top six, finals series in Indonesia, Otton sounded upbeat. “It sounds fun and exciting … I guess it just hurts a few egos if you’re not there … although if they only have one event in Indo, then I think you should be part of the finals group if you have a mathematical chance of winning the title with one event left. ”
When asked if such a scenario would create a situation where the top six is monopolised by an elite few, Otton was of the opinion that the top slots are way more wide open on tour now.
“ I feel like almost anyone on tour now could make the top six … when I was on tour early on it felt like the best surfers were also the most competitive guys – like Mick, Joel, Andy and Kelly. However now the most talented surfers aren’t necessarily the gnarliest competitors, which opens it up a bit.”
In terms of the impact on WQS surfers, Otton was a little more circumspect.
“ They are going to crucify some sponsorships if they’re less busy unless they can place more emphasis on the 10’000s … A shorter WQS season will make it easier to travel if they can get it better aligned though.”
As for Hawaii as the opening event to the season, Kai wasn’t opposed to the idea, but felt the crucial factor was hosting the event at the right time to optimise conditions.
“ I think Pipe has to be in the middle of Januray – Jan 15-31st. Pipe swells are generally way better then, instead of December when there’s so many north swells.”
Former WQS surfer, and tech entrepreneur, Chris Friend, discerned between his views as a businessman and a former pro surfer.
“My view is that the current tour calendar is a legacy and that the WSL definitely needed to experiment with the model to make it a much punchier and more packagable experience.”
“ The shorter tour might mean the end for a whole bunch of guys just surviving on the WQS tour. The career WQS surfer won’t exist, but it might attract a more dynamic group of surfers. Freesurfers who wouldn’t normally want to spend a whole year following the WQS might feel like it’s worth a shot for a three month stint.”
As the finer details are revealed over the next few days there will no doubt be blood on the ground and some serious online debate about what’s best for the WSL. Reading between the lines it would seem the WSL are gunning for a tour with fewer events, but more exciting settings and scenarios. On a business level this means less costs and hopefully more bang for their buck. The sort of strategy you might expect amidst reports they are struggling to make the financial model for pro surfing work.
Will it deliver? No one can deny that ‘mobile in Indo’ is an enchanting idea if that’s where it goes and as Chris Friend suggests a shorter, qualifying season might be tempting for some of the gifted freesurfers who shy away from the WQS grind. Would it bring Dane out of the cave or suck in someone like Albee Layer? Plenty of other possibles in this list.
A briefer CT tour will also mean more opportunities to see footage and photos of the world’s best in freesurfing contexts, but I guess that’s not what this is really about.
Whatever unfolds, it seems almost certain that our WSL world-view is about to be turned on its head.