WSL Makes Massive Announcement: No 2020 World Champs, Huge CT Restructure For 2021 and Beyond

17 Jul 2020 7 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

Kelly Slater at the 2018 Pipe Masters, the event that will no longer mark the end of the Championship Tour season. Photo: WSL/Cestari

Kelly Slater at the 2018 Pipe Masters, the event that will no longer mark the end of the Championship Tour season. Photo: WSL/Cestari

COASTALWATCH | NICK CARROLL

The World Surf League will not produce world champions in 2020.

Instead, the WSL plans to re-set the entire tour over two years to a February-September CT schedule, with a one day title showdown between the top five men and women, at a location that’s yet to be determined.

These are the two major chunks of an announcement released by WSL this morning, after months of brain-storming and argy-bargy behind the scenes of the COVID-19 tour meltdown.

First, the easy one. “2020 is dead,” WSL commish Pat O’Connell told Coastalwatch. “I think we’d all like to see the back of this year.”

All seedings from the end of 2019 will carry forward into next season, making it a clean start for every surfer involved.

Now the tricky one.

The WSL plans to commence the 2021 season THIS YEAR: with the men’s and women’s Hawaii CTs at Pipeline and Honolua Bay in Nov/Dec being the first events of the season.

2021 will then roll into nine more CTs, beginning in Portugal in February, running through the traditional Australian three legs, Rio, and the Surf Ranch, and climaxing with G-Land, J-Bay and Teahupoo. Men and women will compete in all nine.

The top five of both genders will then be taken to a “world-class” location to sort out the world championships, in a one-day format tilted toward the higher seeds and culminating in a best-of-three shootout.

The WSL says they’re “leaving their options open” about the shoot-out’s location.

The CT format will further warp into 2022, when the WSL hopes to start the tour with a Pipe event in February. They also plan to introduce a mid-season “Cut” after five CTs, reducing seed numbers for the final five from 36 men and 18 women to 24 and 12.

Pat says the cut concept was motivated by a desire to focus competition down into a shorter time frame. “We did the numbers and almost all the CTs have been taking between five and six days to run through,” he told us. “That’s with 54 surfers. With 36, it’s two or three days, and if you have two or three days you know you can get really good waves the whole event.”

“THE RESPONSE WAS A LITTLE BIT ALL OVER THE PLACE...THAT’S WHY WE HELD BACK THE CUT TILL 2022.”


This CT evolution pretty much mirrors the WSL’s original change agenda from late 2017, which foundered on a series of permitting mis-steps and other partnership snafus. Pat believes the WSL has learned from that experience, and that the organisation has used the down-time to work on managing such stuff more effectively: “I’m not involved in all the partnership conversations, but I’m confident that’s all going to be OK.”

The CT’s qualifying process will also evolve, perhaps even more dramatically than the CT. From 2021 onward, it will focus on a series of Challenger events — the QS majors — to be held worldwide in the CT gap between September and December.

The WSL is hoping the series will peak in Hawaii at the Triple Crown, with all three current events, including a reconfigured Pipe, becoming a three-banger Challenger showdown.

Lesser QS events will run in the background all year long.

Internally, the CTs will undergo minor changes in the 2021 season, with some seedings adjustments to spread the rookie-superstar load more evenly. But for those who’d been hoping to see non-elimination heats get the boot, sorry — the second chance round will remain. It’s a little bit of sugar for the surfers, some of whom had to be convinced that any change was needed, and many of whom were super dubious about the idea of the Cut. “The response was a little bit all over the place,” says Pat. “That’s why we held back the Cut till 2022.”

Otherwise, costs will remain an ongoing focus, with no increases in prizemoney and a smaller WSL travel team. The broadcast will stay the same, though more regional talent may be used in commentary.

Whether or not this all works, Pat freely admits they won’t truly know until it’s actually happening. “Without watching the wheels turn, we can’t really tell where the bumps will be. Actually doing it is how you figure out if something needs more work. But it’s engineered to give everyone a goal. If you’re a CT guy and you drop off, you can go straight into the work of re-qualifying. And if you’re trying to qualify, you have a tour to focus on.”

Of course that assumes COVID-19 will let any of it happen at all. “We’re not blind to what’s happening,” says Pat. “We’re putting out our best picture of how we see this playing out. But we’ll be flexible.”

Queen Steph – Honolua Bay too will be the season opener from 2021 out. Photo: WSL/Sloane

Queen Steph – Honolua Bay too will be the season opener from 2021 out. Photo: WSL/Sloane

The Details:

– 2020 is cancelled — CT and QS.
– 2021 CT season starts this December in Hawaii, with Honolua (women) and Pipe (men).
– Beyond that, all CTs become double headers — women will surf Teahupoo for the first time in over a decade, and G-Land for the first time ever. (See proposed schedule below.)
– ’21 world champs elected via a five-person, one-day surf-off, with the lower seeds competing for a chance to face the top two, and a title deciding best-of-three-heats finale (see system below).
– 2022 focuses on a February to September CT. It also brings in the “Cut”, evicting 12 men and six women from the CT at the mid-season point, five events in.
– QS focuses on a September to December Challenger Series to decide qulaifiers for the following season.

2021 Championship Tour Season*:
* All events and dates subject to change due to applicable COVID-19 related restrictions, including global travel restrictions

Shiseido Maui Pro presented by ROXY: Maui, Hawaii November 25 - December 6, 2020
Billabong Pipe Masters: Oahu, Hawaii December 8 - 20, 2020
MEO Pro Portugal: Peniche, Portugal February 18 - 28, 2021
Corona Open Gold Coast presented by Billabong: Queensland, Australia March 18 - 28, 2021
Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach: Victoria, Australia April 1 - 11, 2021
Margaret River Pro: Western Australia, Australia April 16 - 26, 2021
Oi Rio Pro presented by Corona: Saquarema, Brasil May 20 - 29, 2021
Surf Ranch Pro: California, USA June 10 - 13, 2021
Quiksilver Pro G-Land: Indonesia June 20 - 29, 2021
Corona Open J-Bay: South Africa July 7 - 19, 2021
Outerknown Tahiti Pro: Teahupo’o, Tahiti August 26 - September 6, 2021
The WSL Finals: Location TBD September 8 - 16, 2021

How the finals will run:

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