It was during Tuesday’s championship game between world number one Gabriel Medina and fellow Brazilian Filipe Toledo that a six to two meter tall shark was seen breaking through the competition area.
“A shark has come through the side of the lineup and is between six and eight feet tall, so we’ll search the lineup and make sure it’s gone,” said World Surf League (WSL) competition chief Jessie Miley. Dyer said during the live broadcast of the WSL Rip Curl Finals in Lower Trestles, California.
The event was called off with 18 minutes left in the match as tour officials scrambled to clear the lineup and make sure the athletes were out of harm’s way. Mick Fanning, the retired Australian three-time world champion, was in the comment booth alongside Kelly Slater at the time and jokingly recalled his own heartbreaking encounter with a shark during a 2015 tour competition at Jeffreys Bay in South Africa. “They’re probably looking for my phone number just to enlighten me,” Fanning said of the finalists when they were pulled out of the water.
The shark sighting added to the intensity of what was already a historic day in the surfing world. Under a new format introduced several months ago, men and women ranked in the top five at the end of the WSL season qualified for the one-day tournament at San Clemente’s Lower Trestles, a popular West Coast surf destination where they break. high performance waves. on a cobblestone background, to decide the world champions. And while the exciting new format was part of the WSL’s attempt to capitalize on the post-Olympic surge of fan interest in the sport, it is not without controversy.
In previous years, the WSL champions were decided based on the points accumulated in the tour events during the season. This is how Kelly Slater claimed her record 11 world titles and how Medina had won her two previous championships in 2014 and 2018. By all accounts, both Medina and fellow world No.1 Carissa Moore would have already been crowned champions under the old format. . Medina, in particular, had a phenomenal season, reaching the final of the event in the first three stops of the Men’s Championship Tour. He then won the Rip Curl Narrabeen Classic and the Rip Curl Rottnest Search in Australia to take an insurmountable lead over his competition in qualifying.
Talking with him New York Times Earlier this week, Medina questioned the legitimacy of the new one-day format for the WSL finals. “I don’t like it because I don’t think it’s fair. You spend your life, a year, and now the last event in September, are you going to decide the whole year? ” he said.
Medina won his third world title on Tuesday, defeating Toledo in the best-of-three matchup using an arsenal of progressive aerial maneuvers that included an impressive backflip that secured him the second round when the judges awarded him a 9.03 (out of a possible 10). . Shortly thereafter, Hawaiian Carissa Moore won her fifth world title over Brazilian Tatiana Weston-Webb in the women’s final to close out one of the most impressive seasons in the history of professional surfing, a season in which she also won the first gold medal. olympic for surfing. in Tokyo 2020.
“I don’t think I could have asked for anything more or written it better,” Moore said during his post-game interview.
Beyond changes in the way the organization crowns champions, the WSL has also redesigned its courses by combining men’s and women’s events for the first time and expanding its league into a three-tier competition designed to channel surfers from the United States. regional qualifying tours for the newly formed. Challengers Series, where surfers can qualify for a spot on the championship tour. The WSL also made changes to the venues to the championship tour schedule, including introducing a midseason cut that will reduce the field to 24 men and 12 women (compared to 36 and 18 respectively). By revising the structure of its tour to emphasize suspense and excitement, the WSL hopes to attract a broader audience that can generate millions of dollars in sales and endorsement revenue and avoid potentially facing a fate similar to that of its predecessors. .
Like the ocean, the popularity of surfing has waned and risen in recent decades. The International Professional Surfers (IPS) was the world governing body for professional surfing between 1976 and 1982, replaced by the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) in 1983. With the help of surf brands such as Billabong and Quicksilver, ASP consolidated surfing . competitive structure and world tour. However, as shorts and surf brands fell out of favor as fashion statements and went bankrupt, the ASP faced imminent ruin.
In 2010, a group of investors backed by billionaire Dirk Ziff took over the ASP and gave it the necessary infusion, reportedly in the range of $ 25 million. In 2015, the ASP rebranded itself WSL, implemented equal pay for men and women in 2019, and underwent several rounds of recruitment over the years until it was decided by current CEO Erik Logan, former president of Oprah. Winfrey Network, who joined WSL. that same year. During the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced the cancellation of the 2020 season, Logan had the opportunity to reshape the tour, which he took full advantage of. The WSL combined the men’s and women’s tours, moved the season-ending Banzai Pipeline event on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, to the start of the season, added a play-off-style touring finale, and even introduced a reality show inspired by the UFC called ‘The Ultimate Surfer’.
“I have known [UFC president] Dana White for a while, ”Logan said during an appearance on The Lineup surf podcast. “Dana has had the job of taking over this sports league, so to speak, and trying to get notoriety and recognition.”
White joined the series as an executive producer and has been promoting the show since it debuted on ABC on August 23. Logan expects ‘The Ultimate Surfer’ to become as pivotal to the WSL as it was to the success of the UFC in 2005, although it’s worth noting that ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ continues to face declining viewership ratings and has not produced a Championship-level fighter since UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman won in 2015. Thus, the WSL is unlikely to attract a new audience or enter the mainstream by aspiring to mimic an irrelevant relic of reality. shows like ‘The Ultimate Fighter’. In fact, side projects like this can alienate the surfing community from the WSL.
While the WSL will continue to be driven by inspiration, securing deals like Apple TV + ‘s six-part documentary series about the 2021 WSL championship tour along the way, the organization will also have to navigate the potentially choppy waters that lie ahead. looming.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism