Surfing history was made May 5-6 when the World Surf League hosted its first event at a wave pool. The WSL Founders’ Cup of Surfing— a historic region-versus-region team event featuring a cross-section of the world’s best surfers — was held at Surf Ranch in Lemoore, Calif.
Five teams — the United States, Brazil, Australia, Europe and World — consisting of men’s and women’s surfers from the elite WSL Championship Tour competed at the man-made wave venue against a festival backdrop with food, music, beverages and art.
As SportsBusinessDaily.com noted, “artificial waves are a controversial notion in the surfing grassroots, but it is a revolution in the eyes of the growth-minded WSL front office.”
“This technology has captured the imagination of the global surfing community and created a number of new opportunities for the WSL,” Sophie Goldschmidt, WSL’s chief executive officer, said in a statement announcing the event. “The Founders’ Cup of Surfing [is] the organization’s first public event at the facility and we’re very excited to showcase the wave and the world’s best surfers through this unique team format.”
The Surf Ranch facility boasts what the WSL calls “the best man-made wave in history” — a 700-yard, high-performance, bi-directional wave featuring barrel and maneuver sections. Primarily existing as a testing facility, technology at the Lemoore site was developed under the guidance of 11-time WSL Champion Kelly Slater, as well as feedback from visiting WSL surfers. A private test event last September proved successful, paving the way for the Founders’ Cup of Surfing.
“I think everyone knew it was a game changer for surfing. But I have to say after seeing it live, I think it’s a game changer for sport presentation more broadly,” Goldschmidt told SportsBusinessDaily.com, which offered additional context on the magnitude of the event:
Surfing has always been challenged by its dependence on the unpredictable ocean to develop the standard revenue streams of sports. Events are booked for 10- [to] 14-day windows, and each day during those periods officials evaluate the water and weather conditions before running competitions, making it difficult for media partners and sponsors to plan. Tickets have never been sold before on the tour for that reason. However, the Surf Ranch expect[ed] to sell out 5,000 tickets for both Saturday and Sunday. The wave pool, acquired from Slater by WSL parent WSL Holdings Inc. in ‘16, allows for a precise schedule of events.
WSL expects to develop between five to seven additional wave pools through partnerships with local operators in key surfing markets over the next several years, with a 10-year plan calling for a broader rollout. They eventually want the wave pools to host regular tour stops and one-off events throughout the year, though Goldschmidt stressed they would not replace the ocean.
“The facility and the wave at Surf Ranch is amazing,” Australia’s Stephanie Gilmore, six-time WSL women’s champion, said in prior to competing in the Founders’ Cup. “It’s such a fun wave to surf and really high-performance. Having it come online to complement our ocean-based events in 2018 is really exciting.