Modern surfing is at one of the most interesting crossroads in its history at least since the shortboard revolution of the ’60s and ’70s. Maybe ever. For instance, surfers across the world are grappling with such things as the proliferation of wave pool technology (is it really surfing?), and what Olympic inclusion means for the sport. And like 2017 before it, 2018 will undoubtedly be an eventful step forward in such matters. As we collectively look ahead, here are five of the main stories we’ll be watching as they develop this year.
1. First WSL Contest in a wave pool
Late last year, WSL Commissioner Kieran Perrow announced some of the most significant changes to the men’s and women’s championship tour schedule in recent memory. Among them, the official word that Kelly Slater Wave Company’s Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California would play host to an official CT event in September 2018. The historic nature of the event can’t be overstated.
2. Olympic qualification scheme will be finalized
Surfing’s 2020 Olympic debut is slowly nearing, meaning fuzzy details are coming into focus. Recently, the ISA and WSL issued a joint press release shedding light on how athletes hoping to qualify for the Games will likely do so. This February, the proposal will be considered and voted upon by the IOC. No doubt additional details including national coaching staff hires and sponsorship deals will make headlines in 2018.
3. Yago Dora leads list of rookies to watch on this year’s CT
Both the men’s and women’s CT is getting some fresh blood. The men’s 2018 rookie class is a doozy – Yago Dora, who made the finals as a wildcard at the Oi Rio Pro, leads the charge. And then there’s Griffin Colapinto, who won the Vans Triple Crown this year and is the first Californian to do so.
On the women’s CT, 15-year-old Caroline Marks is officially the youngest surfer to qualify for the CT ever.
4. New wave pools planned for Florida, Virginia Beach, etc.
Last year, numerous new wave pool projects were announced – principally across the US and Australia. We’ll continue to watch as more new projects are undoubtedly announced this year. But two set to break ground stateside are of particular importance. The first, Kelly Slater Wave Co.’s Florida project has passed all of the necessary regulatory hurdles to begin construction. And, a development proposal that includes buy-in from popstar Pharell Williams is gaining traction in Virginia Beach. It’ll be the first public application of Wavegarden’s Cove technology if and when it opens.
5. The Kelly question
Last, is the question of Kelly Slater’s retirement. After a lackluster performance this year due (at least in part) to a foot injury, punctuated by a loss to Gabriel Medina at Pipe wherein Gabs used his priority to totally burn Kelly, it seems unlikely the GOAT will bow out. Still, at 45 going on 46 the question looms large. Kelly has neither confirmed or denied if and/or when he plans to retire from competition. But when he does, it will be a paradigm shift for the sport.