Associate Editor
When an event like Cape Fear isn't among the top ticket items in big wave surfing, the dirty laundry comes out. Photo: Red Bull

When an event like Cape Fear isn’t among the top ticket items in big wave surfing, the dirty laundry comes out. Photo: Red Bull

The Inertia

If you enjoy the cringeworthy beauty of this world, you probably had a difficult time taking your eyes away from the screen during the Cape Fear event. And if you missed out, feast your eyes on the following fodder.

The event was nuts, to say the least. But after the dust and the hype settled a bit, the politics of it all began to generate a buzz. On Monday afternoon, Stab reported that the WSL made it clear among Big Wave World Tour athletes that if they surfed in Cape Fear, they wouldn’t be allowed to compete in the BWWT.

Mark Healey expressed his frustration with the WSL in a tweet, saying there should be no monopolies in big wave surfing until athletes are fairly compensated.

Albee Layer confided in Stab that he wished he had been allowed to compete in the event. And that the kind of exclusivity the WSL holds over its athletes makes sense for the World Championship Tour, but for the BWWT that runs two or three events in a given year with a fraction of the prize money, the same logic doesn’t apply.

Albee’s point is well taken. A number of the athletes that compete in the BWWT aren’t sponsored, and to hold opportunities to compete for more prize money and gain more exposure against them creates a damned-if-you-do damned-if-you-don’t scenario.


But what both Albee and Mark Healey are missing is that the only way for the athletes to be adequately compensated is for the BWWT to gain the legitimacy that events like Cape Fear undermine. In other words, a monopoly allows for surfers to get paid what they’re worth.

The logic is simple. The BWWT, just like the WCT, hopes to represent itself as the best surfers in the best waves – in this case big waves – period. That’s the product the WSL is selling to consumers. If the product that they offer is inferior, or easily replicable, it loses value. So, the only way athletes will get paid more is if the BWWT brings in more revenue, i.e. is the only series of events showcasing the world’s best talent in heavy waves.

That’s not to say that the WSL, title sponsors, or any similar organization unilaterally has the athletes’ best interests in mind. In all likelihood, these entities want to minimize costs and maximize profits. Therefore, in order for BWWT surfers to earn more, they’d need to organize collectively and bargain for more as the BWWT becomes more profitable in its own right.

But Cape Fear erodes the BWWT. Namely, because it showcased amazing talent in bone-crushing waves we couldn’t ignore. And all of this was outside the auspices of the WSL. It showed us someone else could organize events that are just as entertaining, if not more so.

The WSL wasn’t wrong to flex on this one, and hold an ultimatum over BWWT athletes heads.

It makes sense. They’re trying to professionalize big wave surfing. But Cape Fear was also a golden egg that could have supported these efforts. The fact that Red Bull would run an event in spite of the WSL proclamation is the sort of “fuck you” that makes you question the state of the Red Bull/WSL relationship. Remember, over a year and a half ago then-ASP threatened to fine Jordy Smith for wearing a Red Bull hat (his main sponsor) on the podium at the Hurley Pro at Lowers. Rumblings suggested things were particularly thorny after a failed deal wherein Monster Energy later became an official sponsor.


Someone at the WSL must be kicking themselves. If only they had the rights and the foresight to run the contest at Ours, they probably could’ve done a better job. I agree with that. The WSL has the infrastructure to do a quality live stream, heat analyzer is a useful tool to see the highlights you care most about, and the contest may have been able to reach a wider audience.

Still, Red Bull ran a kick ass event. Luck? Maybe. But you’d bet your ass someone at the WSL is calling someone at Red Bull with their tail between their legs to make amends. And if they’re not, maybe they should be.

Editor’s Note: We reached out to both Red Bull and the WSL for comment on this story. Red Bull declined to comment and WSL had not yet responded at time of press.



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