On Monday, the World Surf League announced that Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch in Lemoore will crack open its gates for the first time to the general public this May for a unique exhibition surf contest pitting region against region. The Founder’s Cup, according to a press release, will feature five teams – Brazil, Australia, Europe, USA, and World – each made up of men and women competing on the CT. “The competition will be hosted against a festival backdrop honoring the culture of surfing – food, music, beverage, art and special guests will all be on site for enjoyment,” reads the release.
It goes on: “The Founders’ Cup of Surfing will see the men and women competing alongside one another in the team format, a first for WSL events that will add a new dimension to surf competition. The teams will be made up of three men and two women from each region, and the five-person teams will compete against one another throughout the course of the two-day event.” Team captains will include Kelly Slater (USA), Stephanie Gilmore (AUS), Gabriel Medina (BRA), Johanne Defay (FRA), and Jordy Smith (ZAF). Curiously, no one is captaining Team Hawaii – which begs the question: will Hawaiians surf for Team USA or World?
Spectators will pay something, although the event page doesn’t say how much tickets will cost, and the WSL didn’t return our request for comment.
But quite possibly the most interesting thing about this contest is its subtext. With surfing’s Olympic debut on the horizon, it’s interesting that a league structured around individual surfers would suddenly be interested in organizing surfers in teams based on region, no? That goes double when you consider that in August 2016, ISA President Fernando Aguerre – who has been instrumental in surfing’s Olympic inclusion – explained that the International Olympic Committee was interested in manmade wave tech but that none had (at the time) had demonstrated its viability as an Olympic venue.
“The IOC is very interested on this – on seeing what happens with the evolution of manmade waves,” said Aguerre. “I think it wasn’t so much that they didn’t want it. It was that there was no facility that has hosted world championships, no facility that is a proven viable business model, and the IOC was not going to allow the building of a $30 million wave pool in Tokyo only to discover it’s too expensive to operate.”
Aguerre was emphatic that Olympic surfing would debut in the ocean. But a lot can happen in two years, especially, say, if this event proves successful.