THE World Surf League (WSL) has announced major updates and changes to its tours and competitions, as well as the cancellation of the 2020 Championship Tour (CT) season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With the health and safety of athletes, fans, employees, and the local communities remaining the organisation's top priorities, and considering the challenges of international travel currently, the WSL has officially cancelled the 2020 CT and Qualifying Series (QS) seasons - which feature South Coast products such as Culburra Beach quartet Owen, Tyler and Mikey Wright and Ty Watson, Gerroa pair Sally Fitzgibbons and Dean Bowen and Ulladulla's Aidan Lewand-Parsons.
"After careful consideration and extensive discussions with key stakeholders, we have made the decision to cancel the 2020 Championship Tour and Qualifying Series seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic," WSL CEO Erik Logan said.
"While we firmly believe surfing is among the sports best suited for a competition to be held safely during the age of unresolved COVID, we have huge respect for the ongoing concerns of many in our community as the world works to resolve this."
The 2021 tour will start in November 2020 in Maui, Hawaii for the women and in December 2020 in Oahu, Hawaii for the men - subject to the approval of the state of Hawaii and local government agencies, as well as effective protocols that allow for safe international travel.
The 2021 CT season will finish with 'The WSL Finals,' a new single-day world title event in September 2021.
The 2021 WSL Championship Tour key format changes include;
- 'The WSL Finals': The men's and women's world titles will be decided in a single-day event, 'The WSL Finals'. The top five women and top five men following the 10-event CT season will battle for their respective titles in a new surf-off format at one of the world's best waves.
- An equal number of women's and men's CT events: The 2021 CT will include 10 events each for both the women and the men, an equal number of events for the first time ever, with the women joining the men to surf at Teahupo'o, Tahiti, one of the world's most iconic and demanding waves, for the first time since 2006.
- Seasonality of the tour: In addition to the redesign of the CT, the schedule will be updated to create distinct seasons between the CT and the Challenger Series (CS). Starting in 2021, the CS will run from August through to December. The QS will run through to the end of June 2021 and determine who has qualified for the Challenger Series. Points from QS events that were completed in 2020 will carry over into 2021.
This evolution has been part of a multi-year discussion, and the final design is a collaboration between the athletes, partners, and the WSL.
"I'm really excited about these new format changes," said two-time WSL champion and Culburra Beach Boardrider Tyler Wright.
"As someone that has spent a lot of time out with injury and on the couch in the last few years as a professional spectator, I feel that change is good and needed.
"Having Tahiti come back on the schedule will be interesting and challenging.
"It will take us a few years to get our feet and positioning in.
"However, with the next generation of strong and talented women coming through I think we'll soon have Tahiti specialists."
The proposed 2021 CT will start in Hawaii (November 25 - December 6 and December 8-20), before heading to Portugal (February 18-28) Gold Coast (March 18-28), Bells Beach (April 1-11), Margaret River (April 16-26), Rio de Janeiro (May 20-29), California's Surf Ranch (June 10-13), Indonesia (June 20-29), South Africa (July 7-19), Tahiti (August 26 - September 6) and the WSL finals (September 8-16) - a with a location still to be determined.
The WSL also explained they are introducing a mid-season cut for the 2022 CT season.
By reducing the men's and women's fields from 36 and 18 to 24 and 12, respectively at the season's midway point, events can run within the most optimal swell cycles at locations like G-Land and J-Bay, as well as ensure that the stars of the sport meet head-to-head more frequently.
Given the challenges around COVID-19 and the transition year in 2021, the cut will not be implemented until the 2022 season, meaning all qualifiers for the 2020 CT season will get to surf a full season when the competition returns later this year.
Finally, WSL is introducing speciality events in Australia, the United States and Europe, called the 'WSL Countdown' - bringing world-class competitive surfing to fans during a time of restricted international travel.
In the US, Surf Ranch will host Rumble at the Ranch, a special mixed-gender team format event in August.
In Australia, the Australian Grand Slam will feature strike mission events at the Gold Coast and Margaret River over the months of September and October.
In France and Portugal, the Euro Surf Cup will feature regional CT stars in late September and early October.