WSL Longboard Tour up and running
There weren’t many point waves on offer for the inaugural Noosa Longboard Open, but the WSL made its own point about the future of pro longboarding. Phil Jarratt reports.
World tour longboarding returned to Noosa last week with a whimper rather than a bang, when the remnants of the three-week-long Oma swell finally disappeared just as the Noosa Longboard Open got underway. But in the afterglow of the temporary beach bar on Noosa’s Main Beach a couple of hours after the finals, you could have been forgiven for thinking that we had just witnessed the greatest Pipe Masters final in history, or perhaps Julian’s winning Quik Pro barrel at Kirra. And, in its own backwoodsy way, the Noosa Open had made surfing history.
In competition surfing, of course – you have to take the bad with the good – but it was interesting to see Sunday’s finals decided in pretty ordinary beach breaks at Castaways, on the open beach swell magnets a few kilometres south of town. The last time that happened was 20 years ago when Joel Tudor took out the Noosa Pro at the 1999 Breaka Festival of Surfing in onshore puffers (and Midget Farrelly recreated his 1964 world title win) which goes to show that class will always win out. And that was certainly the case as the tide at Castaways held up just long enough for the men’s and women’s finals to conclude in quite contestable conditions.
However, putting my local hat on, I think we would have seen quite different results if finals day had been held at First Point in the kind of waves we’d been enjoying for weeks. True masters of the point, Josh Constable and Harrison Roach bowed out in the quarters and semis respectively, despite putting in beautiful performances on their logs in fickle conditions that favoured performance boards. In Harry’s case, he would have won any heat in the event with his two excellent scores, except the one where Florida’s Justin Quintal defied gravity on his forehand on lefts that seemed to run for only him. Not since CJ Nelson have I seen a surfer who can only be described as a heavyweight in a field of flyweights work the nose so deftly and critically.
Semi-finalist Harrison Roach (WSL/Jack Barrip)
I thought Justin Quintal might have already peaked with his superhuman effort to beat Harrison Roach, but he pulled out all the stops to beat reigning world champion Steven Sawyer in what was essentially a battle between the far ends of the World Surf League judging criteria. South African Sawyer represents the performance end of the spectrum, whereas Quintal is the quintessential (sorry) stylemaster. Stevie surfs fast and furious and is undoubtedly fun to watch, but me, I’ll take style any day of the week.
And it was style that won the day in the women’s final too, with Brazil’s Chloe Calmon really showing finesse on the longer-running lefts while Hawaii’s former world and Noosa champ Honolua Blomfield struggled to find her rhythm.
Women's winner Chloe Calmon (WSL/Jack Barrip)
What reverberated throughout the Noosa event – the first stop on a new-look, four-stop WSL world longboard tour – was that Noosa was providing the evidence that this actually was a new approach to competitive surfing’s poor cousin, not just paying it lip service. New tour director Devon Howard (we don’t call them commissioners any more, apparently) briefed website commentators beforehand – I know this because I called a few heats for them – that there could be no direct reference to a “new look” or a “new approach” because that might be construed as an admission that there was something wrong with what they had been doing in the past.
This is a classic piece of WSL backroom logic, but guess what? Noosa was the first look at a new approach, and not only did the hundred-plus surfers who competed get that, they loved it! Yes, WSL, you can come out of your hidey-hole and take a bow!
You’re also not allowed to say that the goalposts have shifted, but of course they have, and everyone knows that too. You can still get rewarded for tail turns and bunny hops, but the style and flow traditionalists are getting much more bang for their buck. And following in the wake of the early adopters, like the aforementioned Constable (who won an ASP world title in 2006) and Roach (who hasn’t competed in anything but logger events in nearly a decade) they will come in their droves to the open-entry tour events in Spain and New York this northern summer.
Winner's Justin Quintal and Chloe Calmon (WSL/Jack Barrip)
One of the main reasons for this resurgence is that the surfers know and trust Devon Howard, a great competitor in his own right, who followed the same path from high performance to a greater appreciation of longboarding’s roots. Intelligent, articulate and sincere, Howard was a calming, reassuring presence in Noosa, and I’m sure his wise counsel will guide the fate of the new tour.
As for the future of the Noosa event, WSL regional boss Andrew Stark assured me they’re in for three years, so if Uncle Dirk can get Brother Buffett to perform at the beach bar next year, we’ll love the WSL forever.
// PHIL JARRATT