See you next year, Lemoore
As Gabriel Medina and Lakey Peterson stood victorious on the Lemoore dais, their silverware dazzling in the Central Valley sun, the big blue train sat idle in the background. Over three days, it had made 360 trips up the length of the pool.
It's the train, of course, that pulls the plow that creates the wave, making it the wavepool equivalent of wind over water; the first link in a chain of events that this weekend ended with the Freshwater Pro and everything that was written about it. Which, like last year, was a hell of a lot.
The general tenor of commentary, gathered from reading tens of articles and thousands of comments, gave the Freshwater Pro a conditional thumbs down. It's a great wave but boring to watch, the field was too big, the schedule hard to follow. Some commentary even presumed the Wozzle will can the tub for 2020 based on those criticisms. But that view completely overlooks the Wozzle's business model.
It's no secret that the WSL has been bleeding money on the CT, QS, and BWT - which they've just nixed - however, the one area of the company that's doing fine is wavepools. In 2016, the Wozzle bought a majority share in the Kelly Slater Wave Company (KSWC) and brought in "visionary leader" Nick Franklin to "focus on the growth and development of the business globally". Which means much more than just running a contest once a year.
In Australia, they hired ex-Surfing Australia CEO Andrew Stark to facilitate the roll out of KSWC tubs here in Australia. The planned Coolum sports centre is short odds for our first KSWC pool.
The weekend's contest was presented by Outerknown. It didn't have an umbrella sponsor, making it one of the three white-label contests this year - Margs and Tahiti being the other two. However, it didn't need a sponsor as just by sending that blue train down the pool it's showcasing a product - the waves themselves.
And in two days from now, once the banners have been removed and scaffolding disassembled, the blue train will again head down the pool and make waves for paying customers, people who've seen the vision, maybe don't care much for the contest format, but have always wanted to surf the wave. Maybe they'll pay for it themselves, or maybe the boss will pony up.
The Surf Ranch charges US$55,000 a day through the four month high season, and $33,000 through the low, plus there's all manner of VIP experience packages for sale. It's booked tight till 2021 making it the Wozzle's only assured cash cow.
Complaints about fairness and suitability carried weight when surfing's peak body was a not-for-profit, but now it's privately owned and spinning a business on the side they miss the big picture.
Maybe the Wozzle will heed some of the commentary, maybe sharpen up the format, but they won't miss an opportunity to display their golden goose to a global audience.
One way or another the CT will be at Lemoore, 2020.