The World Surf League (WSL) just released its Challenger Series (CS) schedule for the 2023 season. The schedule features the following six events:
- Boost Mobile Gold Coast Pro presented by GWM (Queensland, Australia): May 6 – 13, 2023
- GWM Sydney Surf Pro Presented by Bonsoy (New South Wales, Australia): May 17 – 24, 2023
- Ballito Pro Presented by O’Neill (KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa): July 2 – 9, 2023
- US Open of Surfing presented by Pacifico (Huntington Beach, USA): July 29 – August 6
- EDP Vissla Pro Ericeira presented by Estrella Galicia (Ericeira, Portugal): October 1 – 8, 2023
- Corona Saquarema Pro (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil): October 14 – 21, 2023
The six-event 2023 CS schedule is essentially a replica of 2022, except for one glaring omission: Haleiwa.
It’s a curious decision by the WSL after the huge success of Haleiwa capping off the CS in 2022. John John Florence came back from injury and mopped up the competition in pumping right handers, scoring a perfect 10 in the final and suddenly making the Challenger Series can’t-miss TV.
However, Haleiwa will not get a chance to repeat that success in 2023. The event has been changed to a regional QS to create more opportunity for the Hawaii/Tahiti Nui region surfers.
“The main piece of feedback I’ve received from the surfers is around making the whole qualification pathway really strong – including at the regional level,” WSL Chief of Sport Jessi Miley-Dyer told The Inertia. “It’s important to us that we also ensure (the surfers from the Hawaii/Tahiti Nui region) have a strong regional pathway and some really good opportunities to compete on the championship tour.”
To put things in perspective, looking at the current WSL Qualifying Series schedule prior to the addition of Haleiwa, the Hawaii/Tahiti Nui region currently has three events (and only two for women). When you contrast that to the other regions you can see the disparity that led to the aforementioned surfer feedback.
Including all the tentatively scheduled events, the South American region has 13 QS events, North America has nine, Australia/Oceania has seven, Europe has six, Asia four, and Africa just two.
There were reports that the Haleiwa event was rumored to be axed (or downgraded) due to difficulty in securing sponsorships. The fact that Vans recently pulled out of their nearly decade-long title sponsorship of the US Open only added fuel to the rumors.
However, this is a claim that Miley-Dyer was quick to refute as “just not true.”
“I can’t speak to what has been reported on (some other) website, but we’ve had great partners and continue to do so for 2023,” said Miley-Dyer.
So with a nearly identical schedule as 2022, it begs the question, is this the schedule we’ll see every year? What factors are considered when selecting where to hold these CS events?
“It’s important that we have a mixture of our regions, to make a tour that stands alone, and to have a really competitive product,” said Miley-Dyer. “When you think about things that make events great, in Brazil we have this amazing history, especially recently with the energy of the crowds that come to watch our surfers. It makes sense to qualify our surfers somewhere like that where we have this energy and synergy with the local community.”
“We’re always looking at new competition locations,” added Miley-Dyer. “Narrabeen is a new one. That’s a pretty good example of ways that we’re continuing to look at spots that have been important to pro surfing.”
Aside from the schedule, there will be other key changes to the CS in 2023 that include:
- Less surfers so events can take advantage of swell windows: Men’s field will drop from 96 to 80, women’s field will drop from 64 to 48.
- CT surfers who made the mid-season cut are not required to compete on the CS (CT surfers had to compete in two events in the past; this accounts for much of the reduction in the number of athlete slots per event).
- The 12 men and seven women who don’t make the CT cut will automatically qualify for all Challenger Series events.
The WSL announced the creation of the CS in 2019 with a new emphasis on enhancing the qualification pathway. In the announcement press release, WSL Senior Manager of Tours and Competition Travis Logie said the following:
“This new level of event and competition will provide greater opportunity for elite qualification, visibility for the next generation of surfers, and a marketing platform for our regional partners. The changes are also intended to allow a greater number of regional surfers to develop through the WSL Qualifying Tour system…”
When we asked Miley-Dyer if the goals that were laid out in 2019 have been accomplished through the first three seasons of the CS, she confidently affirmed they had been.
“Molly (Picklum), Leo (Fioravanti), and Joao (Chianca) are great examples,” said Miley Dyer. “They didn’t make the cut, they went back to the Challenger, had another chance to rethink their heat strategies and the way they’re going to approach the CT. They’ve come back for this year doing the best they’ve ever done”
“The other piece that is important to us, you look at someone like Rio Waida, the first Indonesian to qualify, Ramzi (Boukhiam), our first Moroccan to ever qualify,” added Miley Dyer. “These are surfers who are breaking in through the new structure.”
Miley Dyer makes a good point. It’s likely no fluke that the introduction of the CS has coincided with breakthrough moments for surfers from non-traditional competitive surfing nations like Indonesia and Morocco.
And while you can argue that the waves to close the CS in Saquarema likely won’t compare to what we saw at Haleiwa in 2022, the drama of qualifying surfers for the Championship Tour in Brazil’s surf capital will undoubtedly create the energized environment the WSL is looking for.