Growing Pains: The WSL is a confused teenager that doesn’t know what it wants to be.
I have always found the nature of surfing and the surfers a mysterious reality. Always on the move, with their hearts beating to the rhythm of the swells, living outside the mainstream, aware and living in the moment.
I remember watching my first live stream of a WCT event (back when the ASP was the shit) and it felt like I had a window to this enticing lifestyle. Where these athletes are traveling around the world, exploring different cultures and most importantly, having fun. Ultimately it felt like a statement against the establishment. It was refreshing. The quality of the broadcasting wasn’t top notch and every live stream was organized by the sponsoring brand with their own commentators; I kinda liked it like that. No censorship. You can ask Jake “The Snake” Patterson.
For several years I have been a hardcore fan of surfing and all its products. You name it; fashion, music, or lifestyle, I was committed. Recently, I went through a major change in my life and I had to step back from my hardcore stance. I was able to appreciate the sport from a different point of view and to be fair to myself and all the hardcore fans, I am disappointed at where the sport is heading and the mainstream sport “wannabe” it is becoming.
Clearly the focus of the WSL is the creation of content, sale of advertising and broadcasting partnerships as a way to promote and develop the sport globally. The recent promotion of CEO Erick Logan, President of WSL Content, Media, and Studios is just a tiny example of the WSL agenda. Even before that, the hiring and inclusion of accomplished executives from other sports organizations like NBA or NFL, like Sophie Goldschimtz, Pri Shumate or Sarah Swanson illustrates the road map that the WSL is intending to follow. To be more precise, the WSL is trying to be like the NBA or NFL. Nothing against those leagues or sports; it’s just that surfing is totally a different monster.
So now the sport is changing and adapting to fit the broadcasting criteria, “Let’s make heats more entertaining and lets implement rules that will provide a heat full of action for the viewer.” I get it, watching a surfing heat is so hard to understand and so boring for the average Joe that it is pointless to try and make it into something that it is not.
For example, how boring was it to watch one stop of the tour on Kelly’s wave pool, or how fucked up was Gabe Medina interference to Caio Ibelli on Pipe? It was legal according to the rule book, but it was against all that we are looking for. The Best Surfer.
As I fan, I would have liked to see what Ibelli was capable of in that last minute. The point of Medinas strategy is the perfect example of why this WSL journey is going in the wrong direction and it desperately needs to go back to its roots. The WSL’s solution is to implement a rule that regulates the rule they first instated.
If you didn’t watch the Pipe Masters click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyoQkP6IN-A
Gabriel Medina interfering Caio Ibelli (Source: www.surfertoday.com)
The WSL is acting like a confused teenager that does not know who they want to be and they are chasing this role model that is not compatible with their nature. As the supreme ruling organization of the sport, the WSL needs to dramatically shift their course and stop trying to make this sport viewer friendly because they are stripping the soul of surfing.
By now you know what my position is on this issue and how disappointed I am with this organization.
Is it reasonable that with so many world class waves, every year we have to endure more or less the same stops in the tour? No! So, start decentralizing the sport. We have had enough of Bells, Gold Coast, Brazil, France, Portugal… but we have not had enough of Hawaii. The last stop of the tour is special because we will never have enough of it, and it should stay.
Just to mention a few gems…What about Mexico, Peru, Chile, Japan, China, Indonesia and the thousand unexplored waves in the African continent? You might say that infrastructure might be an issue in those locations, but I say that it will not. We do not need all the circus and noise that the WSL has become; let´s keep it simple.
We need good waves, good surfers and to be able to watch it from wherever.
Finally, I think that the WSL should focus their content creation endeavor on what surrounds surfing. What I mean is that the rich and pristine nature of these beautiful locations deserve the spotlight too. Let’s bring back the sleeping in tents, the dawn patrols, the search events in Mexico, Chile and Indo, The Bobby Martinez, the event in New York, take us to explore the cultures with our favorite surfers and ultimately, make these surfers relatable through your marketing.
Stop selling the sport as a White rich kid sport because it ain’t anymore. Remember that the best surfers in the world didn’t come from wealth, they were hungry.
So as much as you claim that the new management of the WSL is going to take the sport to another level, for me it is the same cookie cutter executive with the same agenda.
We will still be waking up early, searching for the best waves and connecting with nature.