Everybody buckle your safety belts and strap on your inflatable life vests, because I am about to be openly critical of the WSL.
For the past week we have been fed non-stop hype about the monumental swell heading towards Chile, and the “historic” event that would surely go down at the Ceremonial Punta de Lobos. MSW have maintained that Punta de Lobos would probably see 12 to 15ft swell (25 to 30ft faces) filling in during the afternoon of the 30th, with the potential for 20ft sets (35 to 40ft faces) overnight and possibly into the second morning of the swell. Furthermore, due to the extremely long period of the swell, the morning of the 30th was expected to be somewhat inconsistent. In short, we were looking at a large, contestable swell that would peak this evening and tomorrow morning. Ideally, the early rounds would be run today, and the semis and final tomorrow.
The problem, of course, is that tomorrow happens to be the day of the WSL Big Wave Awards in Anaheim, California—an event that many of the Big Wave Tour competitors are planning to attend. Hoping to capitalise on this swell without sacrificing or rescheduling the Big Wave Awards, the WSL gave the green alert and called the Ceremonial Punta de Lobos event on this morning, rather than waiting for the peak of the swell.
The event’s start was originally scheduled for 10:00 am, but had to be pushed back an hour when the swell failed to fill in. By 11:00 only a few sets in the 10ft range had rolled through, forcing another delay until 3pm. Bear in mind that this is a seven-heat event needing around six hours to run.
But hold on just a minute. How can I even know any of this? Unless I am on the cliffs at Punta de Lobos (which I’m not…I’m en route to a particular beach break in Mainland Mexico that happens to love XXL swells), then there is no way I could be privy to this information, right? After all, the WSL doesn’t even have a website up providing live updates from the Ceremonial. In fact, the big “Green Alert” announcement on www.worldsurfleague.com was taken down this morning, leaving all of us big wave surf fans completely in the dark. Which is interesting, coming from an organisation that sends out daily emails announcing, “It’s On!” I guess they want us to take their word for it, because, although the WSL is live-streaming 2ft waves from the Oakley Pro Trestles today, and although they’ll have a live feed from the Big Wave Awards tomorrow night (“Dorian backdoors the stage, pulls in behind the podium, and comes out with the spit…I mean trophy”), we were quietly informed a couple days ago that there will be “no webcast of the Ceremonial at Punta de Lobos.”
Considering that this event is being held on three days’ notice, below big, inconvenient cliffs located in central Chile, I guess it’s kind of understandable that the WSL doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to webcast the event, right? Wrong. In fact, the local, grassroots surf crew at Via de Escape has been broadcasting live, on the internet, from Punta de Lobos since 9:00 am this morning. Sorry, let me rephrase that: “Was” broadcasting live. “Was” because, 10 minutes before noon, right before the event was to either start or potentially get cancelled, WSL representatives called in the local police and bullied Via de Escape into turning off their cameras.
That is the part that has us riled. Bad calls and skunk sessions are an acceptable part of the surfing experience—especially when you are trying to do something as difficult as run a contest. And while prioritising an awards banquet over a big wave contest might cause some to question the WSL’s commitment to actually riding big waves (rather than simply celebrating them), it’s not like you can just reschedule your rental of The Grove at the drop of a hat. Even the lack of a webcast, although sort of pathetic in this day and age (it is 2015, after all), is somewhat forgivable. After all, we aren’t exactly paying to watch, are we? (More on that in a moment.) But when a local crew steps up and fills the gap left by your own incompetence, broadcasting a “world tour” event that would otherwise not be seen by the world, in a town where Big Wave Tour competitor Ramon Navarro has been actively advocating for the rights of locals in the face of foreign development and gringo self-interests (as seen in The Fisherman’s Son), during a year in which the local South African big wave contingent pulled Dungeons from the BWT roster over concerns that the WSL doesn’t have the best interests of local communities at heart—well, claiming ownership of Punta de Lobos and taking an “If we aren’t broadcasting, then no one is” stance doesn’t exactly endear the WSL to its fans, does it?
On the heels of the announcement that WSL webcasts will be transitioning from YouTube to a new host at Neulion (the US-based digital streaming platform that is responsible for NHL and FIFA World Cup subscription packages), today’s shenanigans don’t exactly bode well for surf fans. The WSL denies any plans to monetise their webcasts, but Neulion’s properties are almost exclusively pay-per-view, and today’s debacle in Chile is an indication that the monopolisation of web rights is certainly a WSL priority. Last month, Dave Prodan, the vice president of communications at the WSL, stated that, “The WSL, from the beginning, has been about removing stop signs and putting out welcome mats. We have no plans to prevent our fans from watching the world’s best surfing.” Today has obviously proven otherwise.
So where exactly does this leave us? In the midst of a media blackout, it’s impossible to say. It appears that our only option is to take the WSL at its word. “It’s On!”