Speak the devil's name and he shall appear, or at least that's how it feels here at Surf Bunker in regards to the WSL (or Worst Surf League as they have recently been referred to over staff beers in the office). Until now we've managed to keep that opinion contained to fleeting mentions within pieces which deal with separate issues, such as their attempts to remove the ocean from professional surfing, however, this morning I awoke to some news that can't be ignored.
It was business as usual for competition time, rising early without disturbing the girlfriend too much and hoping to catch the last few heats or at least begin the near-impossible task of navigating the site to the (admittedly beautiful) Heat Analyzer tab without ruining the suspense that competitive sport should always deliver. Avoiding the wave of disappointment that sweeps over you when, taking the Saquarema comp for example, a picture of Felipe Toledo sitting on the shoulders of a million Brazilians ruins what would otherwise be an exciting day of high-level professional surfing. Watching comps at a time when I can afford to without ruining my career, relationship or both simultaneously is something I've become quite skilled at with a tactic I have coined 'Squinting Just The Right Amount To See The Surfers Names But Not The Scores, Pictures or Headlines'. They could easily fix this with a button at the top of the main page that skips straight to a replay of the previous day or an alternate Heat Analyzer page without the scores plastered everywhere, and I could obviously refine the name of my technique a little, but I digress.
Today, this was not an issue for me, as through my intentionally tiny peepers I realised the main headline contained no names but simply a sentence that made my heart sink; 'The WSL Live Event Broadcast Transition to Facebook'.
First of all, I want to make sure that one thing is clear; I'm not here to bash Facebook in any way. It helps me keep in touch with my family on the other side of the world, keep tabs on how much better my friends/schoolmates/younger sister are at life than myself and covertly brag about the few successes I am lucky enough to enjoy. As well as this, the memes/cat videos/shitty comedy should go without saying. In fact, after typing these sentences I realise I actually f*cking love it. All hail King Zucks and his band of merry information-peddling men.
The only organisation in question here is the WSL, and the move of their live broadcast from their site to the 'book' is simply the last straw in a string of seriously concerning decisions that I believe are killing professional surfing… or at the very least paving the way for someone much richer and more organised than myself to start an alternative tour!
Hosting the WSL on Facebook is a terrible idea for many reasons, including but not limited to internet speed issues for so many of the fans around the globe. Facebook live streaming simply isn't as reliable as the Youtube platform they have been using, both in my own experience and as backed up by professional opinions I found whilst researching the issue today… I had to have a dictionary on hand as these people are the ones that nerds call nerds, but it's certainly a thing. You can say goodbye to reliable streaming in Australia, South America, Africa and parts of Europe if this trend continues, and South East Asia is pretty much done for. Only North America (surprise, surprise), the very intelligent and beautiful people in the north-west of Europe and the Japanese are looking good, and even the quality will be reduced. Of course, this is only my opinion, however it does seem to be backed up by the tech-savvy among us and if you would like to confirm that your part of the world is indeed going to feel serious effects of the move, please refer to the below map of Internet Speeds by Country as calculated in late 2015.
Other good points are outlined in the overwhelmingly negative feedback you can find from other fans in the comments attached to their announcement, however, it really hinges on one issue; not everybody wants to be on Facebook. The WSL explains that if you don't have an account, "you will simply need to sign-up with your email to watch live event content", but, as one fan highlighted (after re-activating her account for the sole purpose of expressing this opinion), many professionals in her industry (education) among others are basically forced off the platform due to privacy issues.
In addition to this, it really feels as if, for the very first time, we're being forced to jump through hoops to watch our beloved sport, possibly readying the masses for more of the same such as the dreaded move to pay-per-view events. If you think that's a stretch of the imagination, perhaps ask the WSL's Chief Strategy Officer Joe Carr, who has been with our great sport for a little under a year after moving over from the Head of International Business and Content role, as well as Senior Vice President of the UFC…
Yep, that's correct! The same Ultimate Fighting Championship that has single-handedly re-invigorated the pay-per-view business model, helped to bring together the McGregor/Mayweather fight (the second most viewed pay-per-view event in history) and now pretty much works exclusively with this model. In fact, as Stab pointed out a while ago, Joe was pivotal in orchestrating the UFC Fight Pass model where you pay a monthly or yearly fee for access to all of their events worldwide… an extremely convenient model for a sport that has a fixed number of events per year globally such as MMA, tennis or say… surfing?
It feels weird to admit, but perhaps Bobby Martinez saw something coming in 2011 that no-one else was… am I really about to say this... smart enough to realise at the time.
I'm writing this not simply to vent about the shortcomings of the WSL, nor to express my fears regarding its future. Neither am I here to say the Facebook move is the worst idea yet in a string of f*ck-ups; I don't want to mention the cancellation of the Margaret River stop this year, moving away from the most diverse array of competition lineups at any event on tour due to the online whinging of two competitors, despite being more than happy to run JBay again, where there has literally been an encounter MID-HEAT with an aggressive species of shark, as well as a heat put on hold in following years while we watched drone footage of another man in a grey suit persuing the lineup. Although I guess I just did. I'd rather not mention that it's very convenient to move that competition from a low-population area such as South-West Australia to somewhere like Uluwatu, where there are less logistical overheads, more potential 'fans' (read; non-surfers to spend money at the event, purchase 'official competitors' jerseys' which are never worn in competition) not to mention the fact that an ORCA reportedly once cleared the lineup and the water quality is terrible at best at this supposedly much safer location. Although I guess I just did it again. I also believe that if they wanted a lengthy, cookie-cutter left hand barrel on the tour they could make an attempt to secure a more desirable location such as the little wave known as Cloubreak in Fiji… oh, wait.
I would DEFINITELY like to mention the divisive nature of having surfers 'represent' a geographical area, be it their hometown/state/country depending on how much Californians will understand the reference. The Brazilians, Australians, Europeans and lone South African representing their countries, whilst North American competitors represent areas as specific as 'North Shore of Oahu' instead of Hawaii or simply the USA. The flag of the surfer's home 'country' is now represented on their competition rashie in case you hadn't noticed, which I see as an unnecessary attempt to involve non-surfers in the sports under the guise of patriotism. The Founders Cup at Slater's 'World-Famous' Fake Wave is a great example of this, where the teams consisted of 'continental, co-ed teams' such as Brazil, USA, Australia and Europe. In case you weren't aware, only one of these is a continent, and three are countries. The fifth team was simply called 'Team World', and whilst I understand the need to combine forces such as Jordy, Michel and Bianca this team also included Kanoa Igarashi representing JAPAN despite being born in the USA and Paige Hareb who is from New Zealand… which is in Oceania… the same continent as Australia.
I would also like to mention the inclusion of a wave pool in the same professional surfing sphere as real surfing. Let's face it, reading and understanding waves and the ocean as a whole, paddling and paddle battles, duck diving, line-up markers and the unpredictability of the ocean are all huge parts of surfing in general and certainly play a major role in the competitive landscape. Wave pool surfing is simply a different sport, and should be treated as such. I'm sure no-one will mind if we have a surfing World Champ from somewhere with surf as well as a Wavepool World Champ from Dubai, or Greece or Austria or any of the other places in the world where people aren't lucky enough to have access to quality, if any, surf. Please stop trying to convince the world that these are the same thing, before we have a kid with the same number of titles as the legendary Tom Carroll who has never done a duck dive, or possibly can't swim that well. It's not the same thing.
I would also like to mention the proposed plans for a brand new format for the world tour to come into effect soon, although I'm not sure whether I'm allowed to talk about that here just yet and quite frankly I'm sick of bitching and whinging and working myself up. Basically, they're trying to turn the tour into the NBA or NHL, which works great for team sports but is fucked for an individual tour in a freestyle-based, extreme sport such as surfing. Simply more pandering to the North American market, which is not only a bad move financially but also for the international nature of the sport.
Now all I would like to do is go back to the Heat Analyzer I hold so dear and finally catch a bit of this stupidly named yet extremely exciting Keramas comp that got us into this rant… which segues perfectly into my last point. The surfing displayed in competition right now is utterly mind-blowing. Never before has there been such progression, power surfing, barrel riding and competition IQ displayed by each and every member of both the men's and women's tours. Running in the background of my manic researching and aggressive typing over the last few hours has been some absolutely mind-blowing displays of acrobatics, skill, patience, pure force and determination as well as the unrivalled sportsmanship we take for granted by these athletes. The surfing is better than ever before. The locations are amazing until the fish scare us away from them. The commentators are great (Ronnie Blakey) or extremely qualified (Pottz) or hilarious (everyone else). Therefore the only thing that truly jeopardises the integrity of the sport at the moment is the governing body itself.
In the words of Noa Deane that have played in my head on repeat all day, F*ck the WSL.
PS. WSL, if you're going to use Uluwatu as an event stop, regardless of whether its a good idea or your athletes appreciate performing literally back to back events (3 days) and forfeiting even more of their rare time off, I hope you have a crew down there reinforcing the stairs and viewing platforms on the cliff. Unless it's been done since I boycotted attending that circus a few years ago, its gonna need some serious attention and you're surely able to spend some money on the location if you hope to make money there as well...
Editors Note: This is an opinion piece and should be treated as such. It may just echo all of our opinions in the office, it may not, but it probably does. As an awesome footnote, upon firing this article live, I have been watching the WSL 'Heat Analyser' from the fourth round at the Bali comp. Perfect Waves. In Jordys after heat interview, he let it stip they would not be going on to surf the finals due to a wedding at the resort. My reaction... you can imagine. Enough said.