The Inertia Gear Editor
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Erik Logan joins the Bells Beach broadcast.

The WSL’s Erik Logan joined the Bells Beach broadcast to chat about the future of the Tour. Photo: WSL//YouTube Screenshot.


The Inertia

While it wasn’t the cracking Bells Beach that everyone hoped for (yet) – there is some better-looking swell on the way – the Bells Beach broadcast from Winkipop had some true golden nuggets, including critical information around the polarizing mid-season cut. During heat 10 of the opening round, Erik Logan, CEO of the World Surf League joined Joe Turpel and Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew, and boy did he drop some knowledge on his vision for the future of the WSL. Rabbit, some of you may remember, spearheaded the WSL’s (then the ASP) “Dream Tour” format of traveling to the best waves around the world and using waiting periods to ensure ideal conditions, so it was fitting to have him on the broadcast to chat about all the changes going down at the WSL with E-Lo.

The conversation started out centered around the all-new Apple TV+ series Make or Break, but halfway through the heat, they transitioned to discuss changes in professional surfing, specifically the WSL Finals, Mid-Season Cut, and how they fit into the bigger picture image of the tour. To get the full scoop, I’d recommend going to the Day 2 Bells Beach broadcast, scrolling to 1:26:30, and letting ‘er rip. But in case you don’t have time for that, here are the SparkNotes.

WSL Tour Structures

Year-round surfing to watch? Needless to say I’m stoked. Photo: WSL//YouTube Screenshot.

The Mid-Season Cut has been hanging over the sport since the 2020 season was canceled. Changes, including the WSL Finals, were announced, but it’s taken a season and a half for them to be implemented. The full force of those adjustments go into effect this year – culling the men’s side down to 24 and the women’s side down to 12 competitors heading into the finals to create a playoff atmosphere and produce more high-powered athlete matchups, more often.

And while that’s exciting and all, it begs the question of what happens to the athletes who don’t make it and are relegated? Well, that’s where the Challenger Series comes in, acting as a step-down from the Championship Tour, but not a huge one, still featuring world-class surfers and waves all over the world. “We’ve spent a lot of time on the challenger series to ensure world-class venues,” said Erik Logan. The goal seems to be to create a second series of surfing competitions that fans will be excited to watch, that will be slightly offset from the Championship Tour, extending professional surfing’s season without putting more strain on the athletes.

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Logan believes the addition of the Challenger Series will allow the Qualifying Series to be more approachable and less of a massive undertaking for surfers around the world who have not quite yet “made it” in the way that the CT surfers have. The current QS grind is difficult; it involves lots of travel and a massive investment of time and money from competitors. Other than the dangling carrot of someday making it onto the CT, the QS doesn’t carry a ton of rewards. With the Challenger Series providing that sense of travel to the best waves in the world, the QS will be given the space it needs to be more of a regional event series, involving less of an investment for up-and-coming surfers. “Surfers won’t have to go chasing around the world to get points to qualify, they can stay in-region and that actually helps promote more participation. The big pressure point that we’re feeling right now is ‘the cut,’ but there’s actually layers beneath it that help organize the competition and help promote more surfing as it comes to fruition.”

Bettylou Sakura Johnson Haleiwa

Bettylou Sakura Johnson won the Haleiwa Challenger Series event this past year, setting her up for the CT, but as of now she’s below the cutline. Photo: Tony Heff/WSL.

“It’s really from the bottom up,” said Rabbit. “You’ve actually secured a pathway. Now, regional surfers without those big sponsorships don’t have to go to Chile for a QS 3000, or Costa Rica or Israel, they can stay home and qualify for the Challenger Series.”

According to Logan, the cut will have benefits for the fans as well. “With less surfers, we’ll be able to run an event on one swell cycle,” said Logan. Ironically, the opening and elimination rounds at Bells took place in subpar conditions to allow for a Bells Beach final in better conditions slated for later this week. With a smaller field, these worse-conditions days of competition won’t need to go down at all in the back half of the season, allowing for more exciting surfing. Lots of changes. It seems like there’s a bright future for professional surfing with exciting competitions and more opportunities for the athletes who make it all possible.

Like I said, the musings above are just my (long-winded) SparkNotes. To catch the full picture, go check out the Day Two broadcast, and scroll to 1:26:30, or click here.

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