Another year on the World Tour has wrapped up and the WSL has a new CEO set for 2018’s fresh start. Technically, she’s an “outsider” coming into the industry, and maybe her outside thinking will be just the thing that saves the sport altogether. So, on the heels of another Pipe Masters, John John’s second title, and another year on Tour, this is my open letter to Sophie Goldschmidt. As a surf fan, I see about five things that irk me every competition. Some of them probably won’t fall anywhere on Goldschmidt’s to-do list between now and the Tour’s return to the Gold Coast in March, but I say let the airing of grievances begin anyway.
1. Great surfers are cool, great surf is better.
The 2017 title has just been decided in unimpressive conditions at Pipe. I watched the event with some real competition rats; the sort of people who wake up at three in the morning to watch a QS1000 — and while the competition itself was a thriller to the last buzzer, there wasn’t actually that much excitement. Why was it so boring? It’s not because the JJF/Medina rivalry isn’t interesting, it’s because the only thing we really want to see is the best surfers on the best waves. If we have to choose one or the other, the surfers won’t win. Real surf fans don’t care if it’s a CT or QS, just as long as there are pumping waves on tap. It’s even fair to say non-surf fans would be far more interested in a great, big, perfectly shaped wave than a great surfer. Just scroll through social media, find any Nazare video, and look at its share count.
During the 2017 WSL season, events missed out on epic swells by a few days or were called off only to have the waves arrive soon after. I understand a WSL competition is a heavy machine to move, but if the cash-starved Big Wave World Tour athletes and crew can fly to a contest on the other side of the globe on a day’s notice, I assume CT events can have a bit more flexibility also. If your goal is to reach a wider audience, Championship Tour events deserve championship caliber waves. Let’s make that happen.
2. Show us the judges
The WSL has some serious trust issues with its viewers. Every other contest brings a wave, a score, a decision that has the surf press and online comments sections going off the rails. It is getting harder and harder to understand what the judges are doing and even more difficult to trust the people who make these calls. To restore faith in the judging system, fans need to know the judges, recognize them, hell, be able to Google them.
I believe it when the broadcast team tells us the judges are all great surfers, but some things you just have to see with your own eyes. Judges we don’t know means judging we don’t trust.
3. Change and/or clarify the judging criteria.
Speed, power, and flow are magic words. These ingredients plus a good claim add up to a favorable score. It’s as simple as two former world champions in the commentary booth not being able to explain how one surfer in a heat gets an 8.93. Judges, I don’t know who you are, but I do know you’re not Barton Lynch or Martin Potter. And if they don’t understand the judging, then fans sure as hell can’t. So please, choose some sort of criteria that makes sense, score each maneuver individually, have a scale for claims, maybe even adopt the scale used to judge gymnastics. Whatever, it is, a change in judging criteria must happen because those of us watching have no idea how a wave is supposed to be scored.
4. Make contests shorter
A day and a half of good swell and long surf contests don’t mix. Often, days go by with no competition. Sometimes we get three heats before the competition is called off. And let’s be real, Round 2 sucks. My least favorite solution for all this is cutting down the number of competitors, but something has to be done.
Why not overlapping heats? It’s full of action, no waves go wasted, and it saves time, plenty of time.
A full round with overlapping heat takes four hours instead of the normal six, cutting out nearly a whole day of competition by the end of it all.
5. Change the priority laws
Everybody has an opinion about it, but it sure doesn’t look good when one surfer drops in on another in the middle of a heat. It doesn’t make sense to me that the greatest sin in surfing and the first thing every one of us was taught not to do is a legit competitive tactic. Surely, priority rules have changed surfing competitions for the better, but that should stop the moment a surfer is up and riding a wave. We shouldn’t have to have a moral debate every time this happens.