On This Day: The First Championship Tour Contest Is Run
Exactly thirty years ago today, at, say, 3 o'clock in the arvo, Richie Collins was pulled from the water at Bells Beach. The colourful American - fond of dayglo wetsuits, mohawk haircuts, and paddling gloves - was writhing in pain due to a pinched nerve, and not only could he no longer surf, but he had to get carted off the beach and into an ambulance.
The situation was alarming, not least because it was during a contest, in fact during the final of a contest - the 1992 Coca Cola/ Rip Curl Classic at Bells Beach. There were just ten minutes left on the clock, Collins was ahead on the scoreboard yet he left his opponent Martin Potter alone in the lineup. The surf was two-ish feet, high tide, and inconsistent.
Wrote Gary Dunne in a Tracks article titled 'A Weird One':
"Pottz has the lineup to himself. He needs one score of 9.6 or better to win, or two better than 8 [scores were decided on best three waves]. He doesn't even get a wave! And for the umpteenth time this contest, a set comes through seconds after the hooter, just too late to give a potential victor a last chance."
The hooter blows as Collins' ambulance blasts towards Geelong Hospital.
Richie Collins' win is notable for two reasons. The first being the only time since Rod Brooks designed the trophies in 1968 that a victor couldn't ring the bell on the podium.
The second reason is that the contest was the very first in the newly split world tour. Officially, it was the very first Championship Tour event - there being no distinction between CT and QS prior to '92.
Devised the year prior by then-ASP CEO Graham Cassidy and longtime statistican Al Hunt, the new system split pro surfing into two tours: the CT, comprised of 44 men and 22 women, and everyone else on the QS building points towards advancement.
One of the goals, as Al Hunt told Swellnet, was to decrease the load of trials events, which was the traditional way of leap-frogging into the main event for surfers outside the Top 16. The participant numbers at trials events had swelled during the 1980s and whittling the hundreds of hopefuls down to 16 had become a cumbersome task. All of which sounds familiar to modern ears.
The plan, as it was unveiled in late-1991, was a two-tier world tour, however Cassidy and Hunt met objection from administrators and surfers alike. Ultimately, the ASP won out - with some concessions made - and the two-tier sytem prevailed for the better part of thirty years.
It's timely to celebrate this anniversary as pro surfing now splits from two tours into three: the old Championship Tour and Qualifying Series, with a new tour, the Challenger Series (CS) wedged between them.
Unlike the original split, this one isn't as neat, the pathways leading from one tour to the other aren't as defined, yet it's borne of the same dynamic: the need to streamline an ever-growing sport.