Paul Speaker is stepping down from his post as the World Surf League’s CEO after a five-year run that saw huge changes in the broadcast quality and big wave competition among several other of what Speaker calls “firsts” for the competitive sport of surfing.
The WSL broke the news on Wednesday in a letter from Speaker published on their website.
“It has been a pleasure and a privilege to oversee the transformation of professional surfing into the globally-recognized sport it is today,” wrote Speaker, who will remain co-owner of the league. His tenure will come to a close at the end of January; co-owner Dirk Ziff will take the helm as interim CEO until a replacement is named.
Under Speaker’s direction, the league has evolved much since its earliest transformation: dropping the league’s clunky old handle, Association of Surfing Professionals, and adopting the more straightforward World Surf League. Last year, the WSL acquired a promising upstart — none other than the Kelly Slater Wave Company, the potential of which in pro surfing cannot be underestimated.
That acquisition signals, “a remarkable inflection point in the League’s history and we are ready for a new leader who can guide the organization to even greater accomplishments,” he wrote.
Speaker took over in 2013 when his company, ZoSea Media Holdings, acquired the league, thought to be deeply in debt at the time, and its media rights for nothing. Prior to that, the ASP’s ownership hadn’t changed in three decades.
Under Speaker, the broadcasts and live event productions have grown sleeker and in some respects more akin to mainstream sporting events, an undeniable change, though not one welcomed by every surf fan. Speaker, was a marketing director for the NFL from 1995 to 1998.
In Speaker’s words, the WSL has seen a “remarkable increase in fan engagement” as well “the introduction of the sport to a new group of non-endemic corporate partners,” a nod to advertisers like Samsung and Jeep coming aboard. The league’s app now has over 2 million downloads.
Beginning in 2014 with the purchase of the Big Wave World Tour, the league ushered in a new era of comps in huge surf. To its credit, it has given female competitors the opportunity to compete at Peahi, an addition many fans hope to see extended considerably. The league also added Nazaré and Puerto Escondido as BWWT destinations, though Mavericks was lost from the schedule.
Despite what may be Speaker’s bragging rights about improvements to Championship Tour and some BWWT broadcasts, not all big wave events are produced for viewers. In a sport with few competitions, the absence of those broadcasts can be felt.
Speaker mentions that under his leadership the league introduced a “pension plan” for the surfers and achieved “prize-purse parity between” male and female competitors.
He wrote that the role has been “an incredible honor for me. It has also been an awesome task that has required long hours, heavy travel and family sacrifice.”