Scrapping the Big Wave Tour and launching Strike Missions
Last Friday the World Surf League (WSL) fired off a press release that they’d jettisoned the Big Wave Tour. The timing may have been unexpected but the news itself wasn’t.
While the WSL has shown a willingness to soak up costs on all their tours, they’ve justified it as part of the long game. “We are super motivated to create a successful and durable enterprise in the World Surf League.” Dirk Ziff told attendees while receiving the Waterman of the Year Award last year. “For this to be the case, we have to build a strong, consistently profitable business.”
Big wave surfing has the most mainstream potential, but it also presents the hardest logistics. Since the WSL acquired the Big Wave Tour in 2014, only 16 of 28 proposed contests have run. That’s a lot of time and money wasted on seeking permits, securing insurance, all the general carry on involved in organising a contest, never mind convincing sponsors to pony up the money for a contest that only has a 50% chance of running.
The BWT has been shrinking for five years - no doubt due to disappearing sponsors - peaking at seven proposed contests in 2015 and it’s lost a contest a year since, hence the change to the BWT isn’t overly surprising.
In place of a tour, the WSL will continue running two contests, Jaws and Nazare, though the latter will be a tow comp, but they’ll chase big swells anywhere around the globe. The WSL will “reimagine big wave events” - their term not ours - via a web series called Strike Mission that'll capture the behind the scenes moments and which will “deploy WSL camera teams into the eye of the storm in order to showcase big wave surfing beyond competitions.”
It’s this new series that requires discussion. Points of contention being where they’ll film and who will film it.
In 2013, the founder of the Big Wave Tour, Gary Linden, travelled to South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula with a view to holding a contest out there. One night of his stay was spent fronting an emotional meeting at Streaky Bay Town Hall, another was spent at Cactus where he was hosted by Ronnie Gates. Gates, the longtime owner of Point Sinclair, gave Linden one of his copies of ‘Cactus: Surfing journals from solitude’ a book by Christo Reid that epitomises surfing in the South Australian desert.
After meeting with the locals, Linden abandoned his goal to hold a big wave contest in South Australia. The reason the locals resisted was, of course, unwanted exposure. Much like surfers in Western Australia’s north west, who recently fought an approach by the Wozzle to run a contest on their coast, they know a contest will only increase exposure and in turn increase crowds.
But now that the WSL isn’t running a contest per se, what will become of Gary Linden’s goodwill gesture?
And that goes not just for South Oz, but elsewhere too. WSL contests are big targets, they need time to organise, plus various permits and whatnot, so there’s plenty of scope for locals to reject the incursion. Yet these “reimagined events” require just two people and no heads up. Considering the footage will be shown to the largest surf market available, where do they plan to film?
Every big wave spot has its own crew and, in Australia's regional areas especially, its own code of conduct. Can the wave be filmed? Can it be named? Who can film it? What can be shown?
Locals and regulars can answer all those questions. But how will big wave spots be presented when the Wozzles content creators bypass local regulations, or when they’re just plain ignorant of them? The Wozzle has already shown itself to be tone deaf to local etiquette so expecting it might abide by the nuances of regional surfers is wishful thinking.
Lastly, it’s not like these swells - at least where they’re allowed to be filmed - are happening in secret. There’s already a slew of existing photographers and videographers who make their livelihood from chasing swells, recording and editing them, then broadcasting it to the masses. Often they’re tapped into the local scenes so they understand accepted behaviours pertaining to the questions above.
It’s yet more superfluous content, further diminishing the work of existing videographers, and one more step towards the WSL trying to own everything in surfing.