Nick Carroll On: Change The Format, Change The Sport

10 Sep 2017 4

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

Koa Smith enjoying the Mentawais, the possible location of the World Title surf-off.

Koa Smith enjoying the Mentawais, the possible location of the World Title surf-off.

COASTALWATCH | NICK CARROLL FEATURE

CHANGE THE FORMAT, CHANGE THE SPORT

The WSL finally sheds the old ASP. Part one in yet another wacky series!

Man! In pro surfing these days, things happen in September.

Maybe not surf at a CT. Poor Trestles! But … things.

Last year it was an expensive and slightly odd three days at the Ritz-Carlton Salt Creek, just a few miles north of Trestles, where the last cards of the WSL’s Plan A were played out and some hints of Plan B were fielded.

Little did most WSL crew know at the time that Samsung, its big name corporate partner, had already decided to pull the plug. When Samsung informed the WSL of its decision a few weeks later in October, it spelled the end of Plan A, and the departure of Plan A’s architect, former WSL CEO Paul Speaker.

Fast forward to this year, and the September meetings — their content, conduct, really everything — already seem like a revealing look into some massive changes in thinking on the part of the tour’s owners.

Put simply, they’re chucking out the last shards of the old ASP, and re-inventing the sport.

Surfers and event partners have had an entirely new tour structure laid before them: starting on US soil (Hawaii) in February, playing out through the Northern Hemisphere summer, and peaking in September, well away from most major US sporting finales. It’s a tighter, shorter and more focused tour, with reduced CT event numbers, and a dramatic Showdown-style world championship decider, featuring just a handful of top guns and held in a remote, killer-surf location. The showdown, with its elite participation and climax-driven format, has one-off pay per view written all over it.

It’s the kind of sweeping change that’s as notable for what it leaves behind as for what it looks to create.

With it, the WSL drops a generation of rusted-on thinking about the tour.

The Championship Tour’s been around since 1992, when the ASP first broached a two tier system — qualifying and world title. Over the next 20 years, it was tweaked, re-loaded, money-pumped, and re-fit to suit variously the pros and their increasingly wealthy surf industry backers. Different surfer numbers, new locations, re-written judging criteria, yeah. But actual format change? For the ASP, faced with its many different masters and without a bank balance to call its own, that was a bridge too far.

Plenty of us observers expected some sort of dramatic changes back in 2013, on the advent of Zosea and their assumption of tour rights. Surely this dated format, with its clunky waiting periods and tedious no-loser rounds and ill-timed flat spells, couldn’t survive? Yet while Speaker and co came in on the apparent boil, nothing really happened. For all the aggression and grand-vision talk, for all the broadcast improvements and new event set-ups and vast amounts of underwriting expenditure, the whole thing remained pretty much exactly the same as it’d been since 1992.

Why have they waited so long? I don’t know. Maybe inertia. Maybe just uncertainty. It makes you wonder if back then they really knew what they’d bought.

In any case, the WSL has spent innumerable millions trying to do what the ASP used to do, only a bit better. And you know what they say about the definition of insanity.

With these meetings it seems as if the WSL has cleared its collective mind about that.

These changes were presented nicely enough to the audiences, but there was no question who’s in charge. Not the surfers; they’re split over the proposed changes, and in any case, they’re not voting partners in this game the way they were under the ASP.

Not the event partners; they’re not a voting bloc either. Some will be stoked about the new look, some won’t. All who can will get on board. They know who’s paying the big bills.

Nope, this is team WSL, and prompted by the failure of Plan A, they’re playing hardball. They’re backing the KSWC wave generator to the hilt. They’re focusing on Northern Hemi summer sports markets. They’re not even scared of saying goodbye to the CT’s holiest of holies: a December Pipe world title. Think about what that’s meant to pro surfing over the past generation! Putting it aside takes both a rock solid alternative vision and a fair bit of faith.

Whatever happens, you can be damn sure of one thing: Change the format and you change the sport. Once this nouveau tour comes into play, pro surfing will look very different, very quickly.

Next week: Who’s behind this operation?

Revisit The Lead-up:

Part A, That's It For Plan A
> Part B, Now For The Controversy 
Part C, Ideas For The WSL


Tags: nick carroll , wsl , surfing , world surf league , format (create Alert from these tags)

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