Every new surf clip claims to change the game, but the World Surf League used the lockdown to drop an edit that did.
The World Surf League dropped a little ‘edit’ over the weekend. The edit announced an overhaul to the Championship Tour, demonstrating willingness to take one on the head and paddle back out after coronavirus forced the 2020 season cancelation. For spectacle, nothing beats a roaring, down-to-the-wire championship won in head-to-head competition during the final heat of the season. Formerly, many title campaigns culminated with a whimper as the champion earned the title weeks before the Pipe Masters while sitting on the sand as a rival lost. With the championship already decided, the Pipe Masters became an historically iconic piece of surf pageantry. Neutering the Pipe Masters hurt the sport and the WSL.
Rather than continue praying each year to the surf idols that the championship remain up-for grabs through Pipeline, the WSL took matters into their own hands and redesigned the flawed system. The 2021 men’s and women’s champions will be decided via a one day, winner-take-all event called The WSL Finals. Similar to the UEFA Champions League, the new format pits the season’s best surfers against one another in a tournament-style contest for the highest stakes. The new format represents a clever, opportunistic effort to improve the professional surfing product by aligning the competitive climax of the season with the final contest.
The format ratchets up the stakes in each preliminary heat while advantaging the surfer who has been in top form all year with an automatic place in the final. Imagine the first place surfer frothing all day over perfect conditions as someone like Julian Wilson catches fire in the first preliminary heat and builds steam through two more heats and into a testy final. The format improvement dictates that the last day of the season will never lack drama.
For that theoretical improvement to fully bear out, there are two pieces that must still fall into place. First, the World Surf League has to nail the finals day location. The home stretch of the new schedule, from June through August, boasts great potential. The final three contests of the season take place at G-Land, J-Bay, and Teahupo’o, respectively. The waves dictate the drama in surfing, so the second requisite is Mother Nature delivering a swell to maximize the new format.
Ahead of this update, speculation swirled around the future of the WSL. Some even theorized that local contests could steal some swagger by hosting regional contests or circuits. Not to be outdone, the WSL is planning a “WSL Countdown” preseason exhibition series. In August, there will be a “Rumble at the Ranch” mixed-gender team event. In September and October, there will be a Euro Surf Cup in France and Portugal, while the Australian Grand Slam will also take place. The soft-restart for competitive surfing aims to keep surfers and sponsors working while satiating the bored masses. In another two-for-one deal, the regional exhibitions offer a blueprint in the event that further contingencies become necessary due to the coronavirus. Every new surf clip claims to change the game, but the World Surf League used the lockdown to drop an edit that did.