Major WSL reboot like pennies from heaven for Rand-locked talent

Forget everything you know about the world tour because the WSL is about to be completely reformatted and South African riders are set to benefit.

South African WSL surfer, Shane Sykes shredding in Morocco in early 2020, before the Corona pandemic put the season on hold. Photo credit: WSL / Laurent Masurel.

The Covid-19 pandemic placing all sporting events in limbo until further notice has given the World Surf League (WSL) time to define and finalise changes that have been talked about for a long time.

In a historical announcement on Wednesday, April 29, WSL CEO Erik Logan outlined the new pathway to pro that will take effect in 2021. The proposed 12 month calendar will essentially be segmented into two defined calendar spaces for two premier showcases.

The first calendar segment belongs to the Challenger Series (CS), introduced in 2019 as the top tier 10 000 point series in the Qualifying Series (QS), crucial to ensuring the best surfers on the planet qualify for and compete on the elite Championship Tour (CT) where world champions are crowned. The second calendar segment brings out the big guns as it is dedicated to the CT, giving both tours their own limelight and allowing surfers to have clear and defined goals, focusing on one tour at a time.

Logan also announced the introduction of regional domestic tours that will afford local up-and-comers the opportunity to develop and grow in their own region, building their rankings and profiles at home before hitting the international CS. This is great news for Rand-locked South Africans (and the rest of the African continent) for whom the financial burden of traveling overseas on a weak currency is particularly challenging. Less traveling also helps the environment as it means fewer flights per year and an overall reduction in carbon emissions.

Surf Contest Director, Commentator and former WSL contender, Tasha Mentasti said the WSL’s proposed new regional domestic tour format was a very similar business model to what the City Surf Series has been doing since 2017 with their pilot event in 2016.

“I think it is a great platform for growing the local competitive pool and who knows, regions could run it in a 3 month period and have foreign athletes choosing to enter. I know that one of the big draw cards for international competitors to travel to South Africa is because the City Surf Series is the only multiple event series of international-rated QS contests that are held in the winter months which means quality waves and with that quality surfing, it is exciting to watch,” said Mentasti.

A young Adin Masencamp competing at a junior event in 2015. Photo credit: Jacqueline Herbst / Howzitjax / North Coast Courier

Valuable international ranking points scored on home shores in the City Surf Series gave Mikey February and Adin Masencamp the springboard they needed to help them get into top 100 entry events. February then went on to qualify for the 2018 CT with consecutive top three finishes in the QS10 000 Ballito Pro and QS10 000 US Open of Surfing while Masencamp peaked in the top 30 on the QS in 2019.

Mentashi also believes Africa to be the region that will pave the way forward in regards to creating more opportunities for judges and commentary to grow and forge careers in the local and international surfing industries if the WSL, Surfing South Africa and the sponsors share the same vision.

Salt Rock based WSL contender, Sophie Bell said a regional domestic tour would make her and her fellow South African surfers hungrier to do well when they travel overseas to other regions while at the same time improving the odds that the money they do spend traveling is worth it.

The proposed segmented calendar is good news for surfers who fail to requalify for the CT as they will no longer need to miss the next CT season while grinding it out on the QS to try reclaim their spot on the dream tour. The new format will enable them to requalify in the CS before the start of the next CT.

Inspired by the final heat of the 2019 season at the Billabong Pipe Masters that turned out to be an epic world title showdown in the water between Italo Ferreira and Gabriel Medina, and turned out to be the single most watched heat in the history of world surfing, the WSL has decided that going forward, the mens’ and womens’ world titles are to be decided in the water in a surf-off format on the final day of the tour. In the ultimate day of competition the top ten men and top ten women on the CT will battle it out in the water for the world title with the finals being a down to the wire head-to-head showdown between the two contenders who reach the mens’ and women’s finals respectively.

Two time world champion, Tyler Write and WSL surfers’ representative, Connor Coffin told the WSL they were stoked about the idea of a surf-off as it raises the intensity of being in a world title situation.

However, Mentasti cautions that to run a world tile show-down day on the last day of the tour window period is throwing big trust into elements (swell and wind) that organisers have no control over.

“It puts a lot of pressure on both athletes and technical staff. I guess we will have to wait until the next WSL statement to be made in July in regards to all of this,” she said.