If you suddenly tuned back into the World Surf Tour or the Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour as its now branded. You would find it as unrecognizable as the name itself.
The guy leading the rankings after four events, is a goofy footer who came 18th in the previous year and 23rd the year before. Not to take away from Matt Wilkinson’s performance – you don’t come away with two wins at traditionally natural footer dominated events without skills but it feels like more than that.
For the last ten years the top ten have been dominated by the same cast of names, Slater, Fanning, Taj and Parko. Between the four of them, they account for eight of the ten world titles in that period and have placed in the top 5 ranked surfers 73% of the time. Meaning that almost every year, at least 3 of them would be in the top 5. That is competitive domination and it is a domination, that is fast disappearing along with its protagonists.
Fanning despite looking sharp, is now on indefinite leave – it remains to be seen if he fully returns. Taj has called it a day with Fiji his last event. Which leaves Parko and Slater still on the tour. Of the two, only Parko is in a somewhat acceptable 10th position, while the bald headed wizard currently sits 35th … 35th!! It has only been 5 years since he won the tour in 2011 but with placing’s of 2nd, 2nd, 4th and 9th it appears Kelly’s interest is declining in line with the increase in his other ventures. At this rate, Kelly will be retiring simply because he doesn’t qualify for the tour.
With firstly Medina and then de Souza breaking the stranglehold, we are now seeing a complete change of the guard and if I had to be honest, the new guard, while technically proficient just don’t bring that sharpness and competitive hunger of the old crew. The type of cold determination or fire and brimstone of will that challenges you to deny them a trophy. The tour now feels more like a free surfing love-in, where guys meander through events on emotional cruise control. A ho hum grind interspersed with the odd brilliance. It needs the Medinas and the John John’s of the tour to pick up the gauntlet and drive competitive surfing forward in the same ruthless way as their predecessors.
The event conditions certainly haven’t helped and until Medina did the first back flip in competition, Rio was fast becoming a foot note to Kelly’s wave pool footage.
Speaking of which – how long till a KS Wavesco event features on the Tour?
Its an interesting proposition. Flawless mechanical perfection on tap, no waiting periods, no event access issues, no slow heats, no dependency on anything other than athletes and the power needed to generate waves. Each wave identical and affording each competitor the same canvas to shine, only limited by their ability and creativity. Chuck in a guaranteed wild card for the King and what’s not to like?
From a commercial sense – its perfect. Tour stops in large, untapped population centers like Boston, Johannesburg, London and Beijing. Day long events, in large stadia plastered with advertising media that serve up short, action packed consumable chunks of high performance pro-surfing for the masses. The entire event format would probably change to a scoring system akin to half pipe or skate bowl, where each competitor gets 3 waves. The winner/s are then crowned at the end of the day.
Perhaps I’m a romantic but surfing without an ocean, where local knowledge and wave sense count for nothing, is not surfing. Sure its not a level playing field, the best surfers don’t always get the best waves and they don’t always win but that’s surfing. Its not perfect and its not predictable, it is as variable as the tide and wind that creates it. It’s also that imperfection that brings intensity. The intensity of not knowing the result or outcome, of not knowing if there is a bigger or better wave behind the first one or if that section/barrel is make-able. Its the type of intensity that has defined the best heats of the last few seasons. Slater and then Owen at Fiji, Slater vs John John and then Slater vs Medina at Chopes, Mick vs Parko at J-Bay and Slater vs JJ and Medina vs Julian at Pipe. The winners have been the surfers who could master that intensity best. Its not something you are going to find in an inland water skate park with its predefined corners and 30 sec barrels. You need natural perfection blended with a bit of moody cantankerousness. Where its as much about the surfers skill, as their ability to woo and coerce the ocean to their will.
Which at its heart is what surfing has always been, the relationship between you and the ocean. Without the ocean, its surfing without soul… which some might argue, competitive surfing sold a long time ago…
What do you think? Is the Slater wave pool competition surfing’s savior or its death knell?
Has spent over 30 years of his middle aged life trying to spend more time in the ocean. Likes to surf, bodysurf, free dive and pretend he enjoys chasing big waves.