WTF Is Happening With The IBC?
It's interesting listening to the thoughts and opinions about the current WSL tour from over the fence. There's often much justified hand-wringing about the direction and actions the WSL inflicts on the surfing community. So, in the spirit of misery loves company, we should take some time to get y'all up to speed with some of the happenings on the bodyboarding world tour.
The boogin' world ain't no stranger to the comings and goings and collapsing of governing bodies and world tours. Surfing has had three bodies since '76: IPS, ASP, and WSL, but we've had four since 96’, beginning with GOB , then the IBA, the APB, and now the IBC (you can play your own guessing game on what each acronym stands for in the comments if you're so inclined). Each tour has fluctuated through various formats and levels of public engagement.
The IBC is essentially a collaboration of contest organisers and promoters who have banded together to promote their contests under a banner of a world tour. If you can put on an event which satisfies the IBC’s criteria for prize money, safety procedures, and community support your event can become part of the “world tour” schedule. Which makes it kinda like the old ASP, but without the corporate QuikBongRip bankrolling.
Similarly to the WSL, the events rely largely on various governmental tourism bodies as the main sponsors of the events, with additional funds drawn from regional sponsors, and limited backing from a handful of bodyboard companies, as well as rider entry fees.
Dissimilarly to the WSL, it doesn’t have a philanthropic billionaire to underwrite its operational costs, and there's no second-tier tours or qualifying competitions. If you think you're good enough, you can pay the $250 (USD) membership to the IBC and a contest entry fee, then compete in a world tour event.
The world champion in the men's division is crowned from a riders top four results from a possible eight sanctioned contests. The reason only four results count is a concession to the fact that following a tour all around the world to all eight stops isn't a sustainable financial possibility for all but, say, the top five pro riders. The women’s division is smaller again with three contests deciding the world champ. The IBC also crowns junior men’s and women’s champions. Riders are seeded higher into later rounds based on their results from the previous year and current events as the year progresses.
The tour attracts many South American and European-based riders (where bodyboarding participation rates are on an upward trend), and a few US/Hawaiian riders. Outside of a handful of riders competing in the Maldives and the final event at El Fronton, Australian riders are largely absent, with many citing the cost of attending contests as the main barrier. This contrasts sharply with the early 2000’s when Aussie riders were the dominant force on the then IBA tour.
Last year’s tour had decent to good waves at each venue. The first two events were held on volcanic reefs in Chile (Antofagasta and Arica, with the Arica comp being a particular highlight because it always delivers cracking hollow waves, but more on that later) moving into beachbreaks in Brazil and Portugal, coral atoll reef at the Maldives Pro, the Moroccan Pro was cancelled in 2023 because of the devastating earthquake, and the final event was held at the heaving slab that is El Fronton in the Canary Islands.
However, a series of controversies dogged the tour throughout the year that have many questioning the credibility and longevity of the IBC.
Clouds of discontent started gathering midway through 2023 when the 2022 Female World Champion and head and shoulders best female rider in the world, Isabela Sousa, announced she would no longer compete in IBC events.
Isabela’s withdrawal stemmed from her belief that the women riders were not being given equal opportunity to compete in the best conditions at quality waves. Part of her statement reads (translated from Portuguese): “The world cup in any sport is where the best athletes come together in the best conditions, whether male or female. Frankly this is not the path I see the organisation taking with women and my fight with the technical part of the IBC has bought me consequences where I see no point in continuing to compete the tests of this organisation”.
What the “consequences” Sousa speaks of are unclear, however it's a big deal when your reigning world champion decides to no longer support your tour because she believes that women competitors aren't being valued.
Next came the Mike Stewart incident.
It's important to understand the unique place Mike Stewart has within the global bodyboarding community. He's competed in every version of elite competition since the first world bodyboarding championships in 1982, is a nine-times world champ, has sat as a riders representative or board member on all previous world tour organisations, sponsors events through his Science Bodyboards company, sometimes guest event commentator, and global boogin' ambassador. His nickname, used unironically, is 'The Godfather'. Mike Stewart is basically a sponging demigod.
Stewart, 60-years young, still competes in select world tour events. Throughout 2023, he'd surfed well enough in events to earn himself a seed into Round Four of the final event of the year at the Fronton Pro. However, the IBC ruled that because he'd failed to attend the competitor check in meeting on the 11th of October, he would be stripped of his place in the fourth round and would have to again surf from the first round trials if he wished to compete in the main event.
According to Mike's version of events, he'd been surfing in Indonesia and flight schedules left him unable to get him to the competitor pre-event check-in meeting. Stewart says he let the IBC know via email that he would be unable to make it in person, but he had his sponsored team rider and then current world tour leader Tanner McDaniel pay his entry fee and pick up his contest information package at the check-in meeting.
When he was bumped from the seeded rounds, Stewart subsequently withdrew from the competition, claiming “there’s no rule in the rule book that they can strip my ranking.”
In a passionate piece to camera on social media, Stewart states he took his position to ensure it doesn’t happen again to riders in the future and likened IBC officials to a “dictatorship regime” that are “completely unaccountable to anyone”.
The IBC responded with a statement citing sections of their official rule book for their actions which read:
Article 1.5.03 states “Failure to confirm intention to compete pursuant to 1.20.02 will result in loss of any seeding that competitor may have had going into the event.”
Article 1.6.03 said “Once a competitor is deemed to have entered an event, it will be assumed that they will compete at the event. Entrants are expected to confirm their attendance at an event check-in, details of which will be provided to all entrants prior to event commencement.”
In a separate email sent to all registered competitors regarding the competition check-in meeting, the IBC also stated: “Those competitors who do not attend without justification may be penalized in the competition and not receive their competitors kit”.
The public blowback against the IBC wasn't pretty. Even if the ambiguous rules applied could be judged to be technically right, the damage in terms of credibility in the global bodyboarding community to the IBC was significant.
Finally, as the Fronton contest got underway, information began to leak out that the only two riders left in world title contention, Frenchman Pierre-Louis Costes, who's a previous two-time world champ, and Tanner McDaniel, had not been paid their prize money for placing first ($5,000 USD) and second ($4,000 USD) respectively at Arica all the way back in May.
The media and public pressure only increased after McDaniel won his first world title. The IBC seemingly passed responsibility for the non-payments to the Arica event organisers who eventually released a lengthy statement on the 29th of December last year, shifting the blame on again to regional Chilean government who were the major financial backers of the event.
In the statement, the Arica event organisers claimed that they had initially been promised $140,000,000 Peso’s ($230,000 AUD) by the regional government, before that amount was reduced to $60,000,000 ($99,000 AUD). Then three days into the contest the funding was finally slashed further to $37,000,000 ($61,000 AUD).
After further negotiations with the Governor and the national government failed, the Arica contest organisers concluded: “The regional government played a trick on us, and with the event underway we had to continue and do our best for all, trusting it would be resolved, which did not happen. This has led to us being removed from the world tour and in a position to receive lawsuits for breach of contracts”.
At the time of writing, McDaniel and Costes remain unpaid and McDaniel has strongly indicated that he would not be competing in IBC tour events this year.
While acknowledging that trying to run a professional world tour for a niche activity in an economic time of post-COVID high inflation is an almost impossible task, it's also pertinent to note that if the best female rider, the best male and reigning world champion, and the sports greatest icon are seemingly unwilling to compete in your events, there are probably some serious issues that need addressing.
The IBC tour schedule this year is looking increasingly anaemic. In light of the no payment controversy of last year, Arica has been scrapped, and of the eight listed Pro Men's events, three are listed as 'To Be Confirmed', while on the women's side three of the six Pro Women's tour locations are also 'TBC'.
Given that the 2024 IBC tour will probably be missing three of its biggest draw cards in Sousa, Stewart, and McDaniel, the seeming fragility of its tour schedule this year and a waning sense of support and legitimacy in the wider bodyboarding community, it will be interesting to see how things shake out in the world of professional bodyboarding this year.
Perhaps it won't be long until we need to memorise another acronym?
// DAN DOBBIN