It was during Tuesday’s championship match between world number 1 Gabriel Medina and fellow Brazilian Filipe Toledo that a six to eight foot shark was spotted entering the competition area.
“A shark has pierced the side of the roster and it’s about six to eight feet tall, so we’re going to look for the roster and make sure it’s gone,” said Jessie Miley-Dyer, competition manager for the roster. World Surfing League (WSL). said during the live broadcast of the WSL Rip Curl Finals in Lower Trestles, Calif.
The event was suspended 18 minutes from the end of the game as tour officials scrambled to clear the roster and ensure the athletes were out of danger. Mick Fanning, the three-time retired Australian World Champion, was in the comments booth alongside Kelly Slater at the time and jokingly recalled his own heartbreaking encounter with a shark during a 2015 touring competition in Jeffreys Bay in South Africa. “They’re probably looking for my phone number just to enlighten me,” Fanning said of the finalists as they stepped out of the water.
The shark sighting added to the intensity of what was already a historic day in the world of surfing. In a new format introduced several months ago, the top five ranked men and women at the end of the WSL season have qualified for the one-day tournament at Lower Trestles in San Clemente, a popular surfing destination. from the west coast where high performance waves crash. on a cobblestone background, to decide between the world champions. And while the exciting new format was part of the WSL’s attempt to capitalize on the surge of post-Olympic fan interest in the sport, it is not without controversy.
In previous years, the WSL champions were determined on the points accumulated from circuit events throughout the season. This is how Kelly Slater won her record 11 world titles and how Medina had won her previous two championships in 2014 and 2018. The general opinion is that Medina and her compatriot world No.1 Carissa Moore have already been crowned champions. in the old format. . Medina, in particular, has had a phenomenal season, reaching the event finals in the first three stages of the men’s championship. He went on to win the Rip Curl Narrabeen Classic and the Rip Curl Rottnest Search in Australia to take an insurmountable lead over his competitors in the standings.
Speaking to the New York Times earlier this week, Medina questioned the legitimacy of the new one-day format for the WSL Finals. “I don’t like it because I don’t think it’s fair. You spend your life, a year, and now the last event in September, are you going to decide all year? he said.
Medina won her third world title on Tuesday, beating Toledo in the best-of-three match using an arsenal of progressive aerial maneuvers that included a superb backflip that secured her the second inning when the judges awarded her a 9.03 (on 10 possible). Soon after, Hawaiian Carissa Moore won her fifth world title against Brazilian Tatiana Weston-Webb in the women’s final to close one of the most impressive seasons in professional surfing history – a season that has left her behind. also won the first ever Olympic gold medal for surfing. in Tokyo 2020.
“I don’t think I could have asked for anything more or written it better,” Moore said in his post-game interview.
Beyond changes in the way the organization crowns champions, the WSL has also redesigned its circuits by combining for the first time men’s and women’s events and expanding its league to a three-tier competition designed to channel surfers. from regional qualifying circuits to the new challengers series, where surfers can then qualify for a spot on the championship circuit. The WSL has also made changes to the championship tour schedule venues, including the introduction of a mid-season cut that will reduce the field to 24 men and 12 women (down from 36 and 18 respectively). By overhauling its touring structure to emphasize suspense and excitement, the WSL hopes to attract a larger audience that can generate millions of dollars in revenue from sales and sponsorship and save it from suffering the same fate as its predecessors.
Much like the ocean, the popularity of surfing has fluctuated over the past few decades. The International Professional Surfers (IPS) was the original global governing body for professional surfing between 1976 and 1982, replaced by the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) in 1983. With the help of surf brands such as Billabong and Quicksilver, the ASP has cemented competitive structure and world touring. However, as the swim and board shorts brands fell out of favor as fashion statements and filed for bankruptcy, ASP faced looming disaster.
In 2010, a group of investors backed by billionaire Dirk Ziff took over ASP and gave it a needed brew, apparently in the order of $ 25 million. In 2015, the ASP was renamed WSL, implemented equal pay for men and women in 2019, and underwent several rounds of recruiting over the years until it settled on the ‘current CEO Erik Logan, former network chairman Oprah Winfrey, who joined the WSL. that same year. During the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced the cancellation of the 2020 season, Logan had the opportunity to reshape the tour, which he took full advantage of. The WSL combined the men’s and women’s touring, moved the Banzai Pipeline end-of-season event to the north coast of Oahu, Hawaii at the start of the season, added a play-off style tour finale, and even introduced a UFC-inspired reality show called ‘The Ultimate Surfer’.
“I knew [UFC president] Dana White for a while, ”Logan said during an appearance on The Lineup surf podcast. “Dana had this job of taking this sports league, if you will, and trying to get some notoriety and recognition.”
White joined the series as an executive producer and has been promoting it since its ABC debut on August 23. Logan is hoping “The Ultimate Surfer” will become as crucial to the WSL as it is to UFC success in 2005, but it should be noted that “The Ultimate Fighter” continues to face declining odds and has not. Championship-level fighter product since UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman won in 2015. Therefore, the WSL is unlikely to attract a new audience or enter the mainstream aspiring to emulate a irrelevant reality TV relic such as “The Ultimate Fighter”. In fact, side projects like this can arguably alienate the core surfing community from the WSL.
As the WSL will continue to ride the wave of inspiration, making deals like Apple TV + ‘s six-part documentary series on the 2021 WSL Championship tour, the organization will also have to navigate potentially choppy waters. .