Surfscene: Pro surfing's new direction
WHERE is the future of professional surfing heading?
Well, after last week's hugely successful launch of Kelly Slater's Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California, one could say "Wave Pools!”.
Unlike other outside sporting events such as footy, tennis and golf, surfing events are dependent on natural forces like swell and quality waves.
But Kelly Slater may have just crushed that with the first competition held in perfect waves that would have made the last event at Trestles look pretty ordinary.
Initially, the Japanese had turned down an offer to replicate a Kelly Wave Pool for the 2020 Olympics as they have favoured the ocean. Of course Fukushima and the radiation fallout from the nuclear reactor has nothing to do with it.
However, after Kelly's wizardry of the wave machine, perhaps the Japanese Government, Council, IOC & ISA will reconsider. It's essential that the first ever Surfing Olympics is held in good, if not pumping, waves.
After all, it will live or die by its success. Otherwise, average surf will diminish the gold aspect for the inaugural winner.
The viability of continuing surfing in the Olympics needs a successful inaugural event to carry on for Paris 2024, and Los Angeles 2028, as Japan is a trial event for Surfing to be included as an ongoing Olympic sport. My French sources say that Paris will build a number of wave pools for their Olympics and you'd have to surmise that Kelly's wave pool will be part of the Los Angeles Games.
Right now, professional surfing is at a crossroads with some dramatic changes being proposed.
News that the World Surf League will create a whole new tour by streamlining the circuit has been met with mixed reaction. The proposal put forward at a competitors' meeting at Trestles has the new tour kicking-off in Hawaii in February and winding up at Teahupoo, Tahiti in September.
And then, the top six of the world ratings would battle it out in the Mentawai's for the world title. Rumours are that the WQS qualifying series will be shortened, finishing in Hawaii during the Triple Crown.
An unnamed pro said the proposed change would be elitist, but isn't the world tour made up of the best champions, the surfing elite?
Resistance to change will be met by the reality of how long the world tour can be sustained without the big bucks, big company advertising and the cost of free-to-air live webcasts.
It's no secret the WSL is carrying a tsunami of debt, and is fortunate that the sole owner/benefactor continues to bankroll the tour, but how long can that last?
Hence, new progressive ideas to change and ultimately clear the way are paramount to its survival.
Sorry to say, but the good old days when surfing corporations were the big-time sponsors are all but over as most have been taken over by financial institutions.
Professional surfing will need to change to survive.
At the recreational level, there are more surfers now than ever that will sustain smaller companies and a variety of products.
The surfing experience of chasing waves and fulfilling the adventurous lifestyle will never die.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-establishment nor anti-contest, I'm simply taking a look from the outside and wondering what the future holds.
Will it be more of the same? Somehow, I don't think so as change is coming.
Wave pools, World Series surfing events, Surfing Olympics, new designs, products, ways to surf and equipment will keep surfing on track as long as it's sustainable in keeping with the push to keep the oceans clean and free of toxic waste.
It's a brave new world. Bottom line is - surfing is about having fun.
We all love our champions and role models that inspire. Maintaining core elements, protecting the ocean environment, and the pursuit of sports excellence will keep the ride alive and enjoyable for all.