This Is A Blueprint For Future WSL Success

by stab June 19, 2020 5 min read

This is a blueprint for future WSL success.  

Over several years watching and attending WSL events, I’ve constantly asked myself how things could be improved. I’ve chatted about it with many surfers on tour, fans, and multiple times with Pat O’Connell, to hear all of their perspectives.

The sport of surfing is unlike any other. They’ve tried before, but you can’t box it in and copy another league formula out there. It’s not easy to make sweeping changes while also paying respect to the tradition of pro surfing. That is something the WSL can’t afford to screw up. Surfing has a rich history that should be celebrated and upheld. We need a system where our World Champion is undeniable, and a feeder system that puts the best surfers in position to battle for that World Title.

The WSL is releasing its new format soon. I don’t know what that format will look like, but here are a few of the questions I pondered when visualizing ideas for a better system:

-How can we compact the Championship Tour to create a “Surfing Season,” while still providing year-round entertainment for all surf fans?

-How do we trim down the total time it takes to run a CT event, while ensuring we get to watch our favorite surfers log a similar amount of water time?

-How can we tee up meaningful competition at world-class locations, that are too unreliable for a 10-14 day waiting period? Think: Skeleton Bay, Soupbowl, Gnaraloo, North Point, Desert Point, Padang Padang, Nias, P-Pass, Rincon, Mundaka, Puerto Escondido… the list goes on. 

-Can we rid ourselves of that boring “Seeding Round,” and loser-free heats with zero stakes?

This is a skeleton for what I believe is a significant upgrade to the current system, while holding some of our greatest traditions in place. It also has a lot of room for adaptability. That may be changing the numbers around for any of the tours, adjusting throwaway results, or how Wildcards are selected. I’m all for putting our collective minds together to keep pushing improvements and progression.


The WSL would be comprised of three tiers:

Tier 1

The Championship Tour

Top 16 men, Top 12 women

8 events, all count toward crowing a World Champion

Season dates: July 1st-December 20th

Tier 2

The Challenger Series

Top 64 men, Top 32 women

Trials are held before each event, allowing for an additional way to surf into the main event

10 events, top 6 count toward crowning a CS Champion and qualifying for the CT

Season dates: November 1-June 15

Tier 3

The Regional Series

Misc. surfers and events

Highest rankings feed into Challenger Series

Season dates: November 1- October 15


How the tours would work:

Championship Tour

-The Championship Tour will now have a condensed season beginning as early as July 1st, and ending by December 20th.

-Women and Men will join each other at the first 7 stops.

-The schedule will not be held in a specific order by location, or have waiting periods. Calls will be made on when to go to each location based on swell and conditions, similar to the Big Wave Tour.

-The only event tied to a specific order will be the final event of each year. That will be held at Pipeline for the Men, and Honolua for the Women.

-Five of the eight events will be mainstays on the schedule:

Pipeline (Men) / Honolua (Women)

Jeffreys Bay




-Two additional events will be rotated in from previous tour locations

-There will be one new or unique tour location each year (Ex: the old Rip Curl Search events).

-All Men’s heats will be man-on-man, with an elimination in every heat, utilizing the overlapping format in Round 1 and the Quarterfinals. It will be 15 heats total.

-Women will also have an elimination in every heat. Round 1 will be woman-on-women (overlapping format), Round 2 will consist of two, 3-women heats, with 3rd place being eliminated. It will be 11 heats total.

Ratings and World Champion:

-The Top 8 from the Men, and Top 6 from the Women will qualify for the following year’s CT. The bottom 8 Men and 6 Women will have equal opportunity to re-qualify for the very next season through the Challenger Series.

-One Injury Wildcard will be available for the Men, and one for the Women. It will be up to the discretion of the WSL if this goes towards a CT injury, or is used on an additional qualifier from the Challenger Series.

-The first seven CT events count towards points and seeding. There are no throwaways.

-The fans will get the chance to watch a World Champion get crowned on the final day of surfing of the year, every year, at Pipeline (or Honolua).

-Only the top 6 men, and top 4 women in the ratings will have an opportunity to win the title at the final event. Each seed will have a value placed on it to give an advantage to the ratings leader, on down to the lowest seed.


Challenger Series

-The Challenger Series will be elevated to match WCT events of the past. They will be held in quality conditions, at world-class waves, with waiting periods. These will be premium events that no longer live in the CT’s shadow (especially because most current CT surfers will be forced to compete in these events).

-There will be a trials day before each event allowing for wildcards and locals to surf their way into the main event.

-The Challenger Series will overlap only the final CT event of the year at Pipeline, kicking off November 1st, at Vans Triple Crown of Surfing venues: Haleiwa and Sunset. 

-The Top 6 on the Men’s CT and Top 4 on the Women’s CT will have already auto-qualified and will have the option to surf in the Triple Crown, or skip it and prepare for their World Title showdowns.

-The Challenger Series season will end at the US Open of Surfing, June 15th, two weeks before the start of the Championship Tour season.

-Men and Women will be held at the same locations, with additional waiting period extensions as necessary.

-Prize money and broadcast will be elevated.

-Locations will shift yearly, with certain locations being annual Challenger Series mainstays, such as:



Huntington Beach


-The Challenger Series will be able to take advantage of legacy CT venues during years when those locations are held out of rotation for the current CT season. Places such as:




Margaret River





Ratings and Re-qualification:

-Six of the best 10 results from the CS season will count towards CT qualification, putting emphasis on those who make finals and win events, over consistent mediocrity.

-The top 7 men and top 5 women will qualify for CT. With the potential for an additional spot if the Injury Wildcard for the CT is not utilized.

-Men ranked 8-32 will hold their place on the Challenger Series. 8 slots will come from the CT non-qualifiers. The remaining 24 slots will come from the Regional Series and Wildcards (which CS surfers can also elect to surf in).

-Women ranked 6-14 will hold their place on the Challenger Series. 6 slots will come from the CT non-qualifiers. The remaining 12 slots will come from the Regional Series and Wildcards.


Regional Series:

-The regional series will take over the old version of QS events.

-By keeping surfers in their specific region, it will lessen the burden of travel costs for everyone involved, create a feeder system for surfers to elevate onto a global stage, and allow the WSL to target sponsorship dollars from smaller, or locally specific brands.

-Challenger Series surfers can elect to compete in the Regional Series, Championship Tour Competitors can not.

-The regions would be:

North America/Hawaii 

South/Central America



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