Reflections before the pool
This Friday the train embarks on the World Surf League's biggest play since it formed five years ago - the Surf Ranch Pro.
For three days the blue train will drag the hull down the pool and back again for 396 ridable waves, and by the end we'll have an idea whether their grand experiment has worked or not. We'll also have a sense of how the CT will work in years to come
The WSL gave the pool a dry run during the Founder's Cup and it emboldened them enough to pull the trigger on a fully fledged CT. Since then, CEO Sophie Goldschmidt has begun using plurals: "We expect to have more," said Soph about pool events, "But the number and how many and how that fits into our schedule is yet to be determined."
Pool events are an ideal fit for the WSL's appeal to middle America. By removing natural obstacles - flat spells etc - they can be run to schedule with designated stop and start times plus the all important messages from the sponsors in between waves. Ostensibly this architecture allows for mainstream consumption, though its popularity is still untested.
The number of pool events - which Soph declaims as "wave system events" - will be decided by how popular the Surf Ranch Pro is. Can it sustain an audience through all three days and 396 waves? If it can, the next question is how many events would people watch per year..?
But for now, let's concentrate on the first question, and it's worth asking because this is the first event of its kind. Sure, Allentown was 33-years ago but they didn't have webcasts in '85 - eyeballs are the modern metric.
To maintain interest the audience is gonna have to shift their expectations; erase any thoughts of caprice or chance because they're all surfing exactly the same wave. Even further: they all know exactly how that wave will break.
Interviewed this week, Griffin Colapinto told the WSL that he has every wave choreographed: "I have a full-blown plan for each wave," said Griff about the Surf Ranch Pro. Pressed by the interviewer if that plan includes how he'll approach each individual section, Griff answered in the affirmative: "Yes. 100 percent."
It's already figured out.
Competitive surfing is fantastic theatre when a surfer performs in concert with the conditions, when they make good decisions, see things others can't sense. But irrespective of how well they've surfed the 'success' of their performance relies on good waves. A meagre 4,000 concurrent viewers watching the recent Teahupoo final is testament to that.
The WSL are banking that they can alter this equation. It's been nearly three years since we've seen the pool, the fascination has worn off, so the Surf Ranch Pro will be carried on the quality of surfing alone. For the very first time the waves just won't come into it. The doomsayers are many, yet skating and snowboarding run with this static equation and it hasn't failed those sports.
The big unknown here is how important the ocean and all its vagaries - it's flat spells and perfect double ups - is important to us. Hell, even just looking at a coastline during the webcast. If the audience can shove that aside for three days then the Surf Ranch Pro will be a succes, and if it is a success the next question is how many wave system events Sophie will roll out for the CT.