Like most international sports, professional surfing has been thrown into unprecedented territory by the global spread of COVID-19, with all events up until the end of May postponed or cancelled (we’re guessing the latter) and the Quiksilver Pro G-land set to be canned or held at a location other than G-Land. Chances are it’ll be canned. There’s a strong possibility that the Oi Rio Pro in late June and the Corona Open J-Bay will also have to be abandoned.
For fans of the sport, it’s a bummer. For the surfers involved at the CT and QS levels, it’s both a bummer and a source of genuine uncertainty.
Speaking to the recently requalified Connor O’Leary yesterday for an upcoming feature in the mag, he expressed both praise for the WSL for prioritising the health and safety of its athletes and doubt that the tour would roll on as normal any time soon.
‘At this point in time I’d be very surprised if come June they go “Yep, we’re on,”’ he said.
‘I just can’t see this whole pandemic getting better in three months’ time.’
For a guy who surfs competitively for a living, it’s a significant setback not to be able to chase the healthy prize purses on offer at each cancelled stop on tour, but at least Connor and his fellow CT surfers are protected by Article 18.04 of the WSL Rule Book.
‘We’re going to get last place prize money – which is still decent – for whatever events they cancel,’ Connor said.
‘It’s in the rule book. For someone like me, it means I don’t have to go get a job for a couple of months.’
As of 2020, an equal last place finish in a men’s CT event nets $10,000, while an equal last place finish in a women’s CT pays out $10,500. That means even if the WSL has to shelve the whole of the 2020 season, every male surfer on tour is going to take home a cool $110,000, while every female surfer will pocket $115,000. Considering they won’t have to fork out for the cost of travel, that’s a pretty good earner for a lot of surfers, but for guys like Italo, Gabby and John John, who routinely earn a couple of $100,000 winner’s cheques each year, it’s a fair hit to their annual income.
But it’s worse for the guys on the WQS, who have no safety net in place for the cancellation of events. No competitions mean no prize money, and with a lot of guys chasing the dream off their own back these days, that means no income. Like the CT, it also means no travel costs, which will be a significant saver, but when all your hopes and dreams are invested in making the world tour, that’s of little comfort.
What will also be interesting to see is, if this global pandemic lets up by the latter part of the year, how many events will the WSL need to run to declare both a world champ and a fresh batch of qualifiers. The last time an event of global significance impacted on the sport of surfing (9/11 back in 2001), CJ Hobgood was deemed world champ off the back of five events. To my eyes, there’s nothing in the WSL rule book that clarifies this point, but Connor thinks five might be the magic number.
‘I think anything less than five they can’t actually crown a world champion,’ Connor said.
‘So then it’s like, well if there isn’t five then I guess it’s a write-off year. I feel like it’s so up in the air at the moment and no one really knows the real situation. I guess we’ll find out more as the whole thing progresses in the next couple of months.’
Tracks reached out to Dave Prodan from the WSL for clarification on these points, but was yet to receive a response. More to come as information comes to light.