Take Pipeline out of the world title equation and what have you got?
I’ll start with this: I am an avid WSL fan.
I can’t get enough competitive surfing. I’m a groupie of the highest order. The old adage goes: the cursed punter would bet on two flies crawling up a wall.
I’m even worse. I’d spend half my Sunday watching four-person heats in Portuguese at a Brazilian two star if it’s all there is on offer.
Despite the bin-fire served up over the Covid period I still support the League.
I even run a fantasy comp with some mates. On the WSL platform (sorry Surfvival). It’s accompanied by a Whatsapp group chat. All the participants as one-eyed and easy-pleased as me.
I’ve come dead-last three years running. But that’s not the point.
The very fact micro-communities like this exist, dependent on the WSL ecosystem, is a sign that they’re still doing something right.
Usually at this time of year, coming into December, the chat would be running hot. A world title race on offer. Requalification dramas. The thrill of the finals.
As much as we’d consume any comp the WSL feeds us, there’s nothing like the excitement of the big league. And the Hawaii leg is the cherry on top.
But now, the chat is eerily quiet.
Only the odd clip being shared here and there. Why? Because there’s a Pipe-sized hole this Christmas.
Yes we still have Haleiwa.
But the egg nog-dipped crescendo of the Banzai Pipeline and the associated world title / Triple Crown drama is as much a part of my Yuletide routine as frenzied last minute shopping and annually-defrosted familial trauma.
I miss it.
Sure, I’m just one fan. The WSL has a bigger plan at play.
But I’m still allowed to feel robbed. In fact there’s no World Championship events at all between September 2021 and February ‘22 (give or take a day: Pipe waiting period starts on the 29th Jan)
That’s five months off air. Talk about a momentum killer.
I realise other sports run on similar seasons but if anything the year-round nature of the WSL season was it’s selling point. Now, instead of my pals discussing WSL-led narratives – Gabby’s dogged determination, Felipe’s recalcitrance, Wade’s litreage, Morgan’s hair – we’re left to fill the void. Do our own research. Ruminate as to why the WSL is like it is.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s a common feature in history.
When the proles aren’t busy they tend to turn on their masters. Give us this type of downtime and conspiracy theories thrive. Conjecture and opinion rule.
Erosion of trust in institutions is the natural result.
We hold the WSL up to the light. Tilt and rotate so that it is illuminated from every angle. Like a cheap Christmas decoration, we find some sparkle on the surface. But apply any real pressure, any real scrutiny, and it crumbles in our hand.
I get that a lot of the changes to the Tour have been positive.
But Pipe. December. World Title. Why you gotta go mess with that?
To quote Gabby himself on the changes to the format. “I don’t know about business. I don’t know how it works. They tried to do something different.”
But is different always better?
It’s a common theme among C Suite execs like Erik Logan. Move into a new organisation. Create change for change’s sake. September, according to the WSL, is a good month for waves at a variety of global surf spots.
But it effectively rules out the competition ever again finishing at Pipe.
Is it because in his time running the show Erik Logan has positioned the WSL as a media house where the audience themselves, not the surfers or the comps, have become the product?
Where all decisions are no longer based around the mantra of “World’s best surfers in the world’s best waves” but instead “How can we best market ourselves to potential advertisers?”
Is it because the WSL is being slowly hollowed out and commodified so that it is a more attractive, “safer” option for big spending corporates to waste their money on?
Turning a deadshit, dumbcunt but still unique sports outfit into a generic, compliant, corporate glory hole?
While at the same time forgetting about the tradition, the culture, the fans, that created it in the first place?
Or am I being too harsh?
Reading into it too much?
Most of what I’ve just said is, I’m sure, a load of shit.
But idle minds beget impure faults.
We wouldn’t be having this conversation if Pipe was about to start!