Nick Carroll On: Embrace The Artifice!

21 Nov 2017 32 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

Modern professional surfing's biggest star and world champion performing on a man-made wave in the foreground, Californian trees in the background – but the changes to the sport of surfing a wave pool offers is far more than aesthetic. Photo: WSL/Rowland

Modern professional surfing's biggest star and world champion performing on a man-made wave in the foreground, Californian trees in the background – but the changes to the sport of surfing a wave pool offers is far more than aesthetic. Photo: WSL/Rowland

A CT at the Ranch could change the whole game – if they let it.

So a couple of weeks ago, along with a few other select (ha!) surf media types, I was invited to spend a day at the WSL Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California – site of 2018’s newest CT event.

I would totally love to tell you all about this day, and about the experience of riding the pool of pools. Sadly, I can’t. I am under an embargo. In order to accept the invitation, I had to sign a document that bars me from describing my experience in the pool until January, 2018.

This is kind of like torture for a journalist – because, as far as I know, no independent account of it has been published anywhere. And because, holy shit, you NEED an independent account. What you’ve seen on the clips doesn’t come anywhere near explaining this thing.

SEE ALSO: Swell Blog – Wave Height Hits Peak For Gold Coast

Ah shit, don’t worry. Sean Doherty and Vaughan Blakey  and I will be passing our torment on to you all soon enough.

Meanwhile, I guess you are gonna have to trust me when I say a CT in the pool could mean the biggest shift in pro surfing for 40 years.

It offers the WSL brainstrust a chance to throw out a pile of redundancies in the CT format – stuff that’s built up over the years, and stubbornly stuck around, despite all the professionalism of the event teams and the supposed sharp-end skills of the surfers.

To understand what I mean, you’ve gotta get your head around that pool and what it does to our idea of surfing; not in some cheesy, metaphysical way, ie. “there’s no Soul, bro!” but in a very real and practical fashion.

The whole structure of modern pro surfing has been built around the unpredictability of the sea. It’s full of margins for error, designed to protect the competitors from this devilish detail – losers’ rounds, wave priority, best-two-waves, interference rules, blah blah blah. Even the throwaway results in a CT year are margins for error. The trade-off has been the possibility of the wave as spectacle, which is epic every five years when Teahupoo is 12 feet or whatever.

But these built-in margins for error are too big. They’re the biggest in pro sport by far. They dull the hard edge of competition. They give the surfers and the judging panel too many easy outs. Half the time the panel chucks a 10, for instance, they’re really scoring the wave.

The pool is completely artificial. But that’s its genius. It flips the equation on its head.

To wit: there is no wave selection in the pool.

There is no paddling.

There is no duck diving.

There is no negotiation of a line-up.

There are no tidal changes.

There are no changes to the bottom contour.

There are tiny variabilities in wave quality, but these variabilities are so small as to be pretty much irrelevant.

And critically, there is no competition for the wave. The wave is made at a precise time and in a precise order or series. You sit there, turn and catch it. There’s just you and it.

So – everything in the current format that caters to the ocean and its unpredictable hand in proceedings can be stripped away. Gone.

There’s no need for no-bump heats like the current rounds one and four, where people get another go because of the stupid ocean. There’s no need for interference, priority and the epically tricksy games that’ve sprung up around it, games that when played well in the past, have resulted in world titles.

There’s no need for possibly the lamest rule in the book: the one around re-starting a heat as a result of nobody catching a wave.

There’s no need for man-on-man. There’s no need for “heats” at all, in fact. The brainstrust will probably stick to it, they way they apparently did at the Future Classic event back in September, but they don’t have to. They could ride the whole thing out like ski racing or half-pipe snowboarding or gymnastics or golf: everyone gets a turn till they’re tested to failure.

There’s gonna be a need to transcend the old 0-10 scoring range – because when all the heat is on the surfer’s pure performance level, judging it is gonna take a little bit more than 0-10. Again, the brainstrust will probably stick to it, but down the track, they’ll have to gear it up. They may not have a choice.

The WSL has suddenly found serious confidence in this device. So much so that they’re jumping the gun a tiny bit – going to CT level with it a year earlier than they’d originally planned. It’s easy to understand why. Let’s face it: this is the first new thing in pro surfing forever, and it’s all theirs. If it’s gonna work, you might as well find out now.

I hope the brainstrust shows that confidence. Embrace the artifice! Show no mercy! Design a system that leaves nothing to chance, that puts the acid on everybody from the first moment of competition to the last.

Make the competition the spectacle. Let’s see what we’re really watching.

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