Sometimes watching surf contests puts me to sleep. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of competitive surfing and always keep up with the ratings, webcasts, and title races, yet I get the feeling sometimes that there is something fundamentally wrong with the existing system. During most World Championship Tour events, spectators are expected to remain engaged as competitors bob in the lineup for thirty-five minutes at a time, completely at the mercy of the ocean and Mother Nature.
As all surfers know, with the ocean and its unpredictable nature, it’s either on, or it’s off. Scoring perfect waves is an art that intrepid wave junkies invest endless hours, dollars, and time into. How can the ASP expect to consistently deliver when set waiting periods limit the chance of running heats in pumping surf?
Another aspect of the current WCT tour that leaves fans hungry for more is the sheer number of surfers on tour. At times it feels like not all the surfers on the top 45 should be there, and this poses a problem for those hoping to witness high caliber, progressive surfing. While waiting to watch the explosive act of Dane Reynolds, spectators may be forced to sit through hours of comparatively average surfing by lower ranked competitors. It seems that lovers of high octane competitive surfing may be in for a welcome change.
ESPN, kingpin of the sports broadcasting world have been in talks with the head honcho of modern surfing, Kelly Slater, brainstorming ideas for a new, alternate, and hopefully, fresh twist on the current system. Coined the “rebel tour” by the surf media , not much is known yet about the details, but some interesting rumors and whisperings have surfaced. Among the changes proposed include: a tighter tour allowing only16 surfers on at a time, eight events over a five-month season, and an individual event prize pool of $1.5 million. There are also rumors swirling involving increased involvement and funding from large corporations outside the surf industry.
According to an article on Australian surf website, stabmag.com, Kelly doesn’t plan on selling out completely. “I don’t want it be like NASCAR, with everyone all covered in sponsors,” Stab reports Kelly saying during a freesurf at Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa. While the extent of the impact on surfing’s commercial profile is uncertain, it seems some major players in the surf industry are behind the push. Bob Hurley, owner of Hurley International, recently put up $105,000 for the first place winner of the Hurley Pro WCT event at Lower Trestles and was heard on the live webcast endorsing bringing large companies like Sony and Toyota into the mix.
Increased prize money and funding, coupled with an ultra elite top 16, would surely revolutionize the sport and make surfing more palatable to the general public. Furthermore, the best surfers on earth would finally earn the big bucks they deserve. If golfers can make millions for swinging a club, surfers should be paid similarly for charging bone shattering second reef Pipeline. The one issue that remains involves the qualification system. Currently, the WCT tour consists of 45 competitors, and the qualifying tour, known as the WQS, consists of thousands of hungry upstarts. If a top 16 tour was implemented, what would happen to the remaining 29?
To some this new tour may seem elitist, only making the nearly impossible dream of making the big leagues that much harder. Local WQS competitors like Nat Young don’t know quite what to make of it all.
“I think It's a great idea if you are one of those 16 guys,” says Nat.
“The question is how do you get picked?” Nat’s right. How will the new breed of surfing top dogs be decided? It seems that details such as these have yet to be sorted out, but still, it seems that change is in the air, and to those frustrated with the current state of affairs, talk of the Super Tour is a welcome change.“ I think it would be cool,” says twenty one year old local WQS competitor Austin Smith Ford.“ The new elite tour would make things more prestigious. Get rid of the bottom half of guys who just seem to be scraping by, and consistently pit all the top guys against each other. I think it would make things more exciting and entertaining for sure”. Whatever happens, it seems that surfing is ready for a change. One can only hope that the future of the sport is decided by real surfers with noble intentions, not greedy company executives looking to exploit our classic and beautiful sport.