While attending the Corona Open JBay, there was much excitement throughout the event. Absolutely perfect surf, a fairly constant threat of sharks, the women surfing for the first time in 18-years, and Facebookgate – the meltdown of the online feed and subsequent ire that raged through the ether.
WSL CEO Sophie Goldschmidt was worried though. I was finally set up for a meeting, and five minutes before we were set to begin our discussion she rushed off to deliver the WSL Facebook apology via Twitter.
Our conversation was reignited a few days later. Rumours have been flying around about a Tokyo-based wave ranch, built to coincide with the Olympics and host the event there. Chatting to Sophie about it and that is exactly what was confirmed, but noted that there is some concern given a facility has not been tested on that scale yet. Plus, Sophie discussed paywalling live events, the FB live feed craziness, her first year in office and more. Dig in.
Hi Sophie. Great to finally chat. What did you think about JBay, and the rest of South Africa?
It was amazing. I had pretty high expectations because I had watched previous contests. I had a great time in South Africa, and got to meet with a lot of different folk, and got a greater appreciation for the surfing culture in South Africa, as well as to understand the opportunity we all have to further grow the sport there.
How has your first year been working for the WSL?
It has been a lot of fun. A lot of hard work, and I have learned a huge amount. I think I’m clear in my mind about the opportunities we have, and areas that we need to work on.
The way I’ve been welcomed, the different stakeholders, and the people that I’ve met – it has all been a real pleasure, and there is such passion behind surfing.
The open-mindedness and purpose driven approach is even stronger than I expected, and is a special attribute to the sport. It has been great and I can’t wait to see what sort of progress we can make in the years to come.
The Facebook transition has been a bit problematic. Where do you see this going?
Yes. Our team was monitoring the feedback closely and when you make changes, you’re never going to please everyone, and you do tend to hear more from the people who aren’t happy. The happy ones tend to not comment so much, and it’s the same across any topic.
I think that Facebook is a fantastic partner for us. It is the biggest media platform by far in the world, we want to be able to grow the sport, and to be able to work with it.
Clearly the issues we encountered at Jbay were unacceptable. And we need to do everything we can to ensure that that does not happen again
Also, it’s really more important for us is to not have it behind a paywall, and to make sure that our fans can access it for free.
I think that Facebook is a great product and a great way for our fans to interact with our content. Clearly the issues we encountered at Jbay were unacceptable. And we need to do everything we can to ensure that that does not happen again, because it is not the experience we would want for our fans. While it was only a small minority who had issues, and most people could view it fine, it’s still not the service we want to be delivering.
Can you tell me about plans for the Toyko wave ranch? How far along is it?
So it's very much a work-in-progress. We’re still in the early stages and we’re working very hard with partners on the ground to build a wave facility in Toyko that hopefully might be ready in time for the Olympics, but it’s a big challenge.
We have various plans in place and are working with the various authorities, so yes, we still are on track to build and test a facility there in time for the Olympics, but there’s a long way to go.
Is it being built with the Olympics in mind? And what do they make of the ISA’s IOC’s decision to hold the Olympics in the ocean. Tsurigasaki Beach.
Yes we hope so, I mean we respect their decision to hold the event in the ocean, and it’s understandable, because the facility hasn't been built or tested yet, but if that is the case then we hope they would consider hosting either practice sessions or showcase surfs, or even the Olympics themselves in the wave facility.
We know that it will ultimately determine the best surfer in the fairest way and allow it to be a great experience for fans and also more importantly, for broadcast.
We hope they would consider hosting either practice sessions or showcase surfs, or even the Olympics themselves in the wave facility
However, it is speculative at the moment. We have to build and test it, and we will do whatever we can to do that, and then we hope at that point they would consider it.
The ocean is a fundamental part of the sport, and we’re obviously supportive of events in the ocean. We’ll see how we get on with the development, but we’re confident that we will get it built in time.
How do you feel about the USA Olympic team opting to use Waco in Texas rather than the WSL/Slater pool?
I think that everyone has their own choice. A lot of the CT surfers have spent a lot of time up at Surf Ranch and I know they have had fantastic experiences, and I’m sure they’ll continue to use it, but we’re very supportive of these other facilities. I haven’t had a chance to go the Waco pool as yet, but I’ve heard only positive things about it.
It’s very different to Surf Ranch, it has different high-performance characteristics, and was built with different objectives in mind, but it is a great option for certain aspects of surf training, and obviously the US Olympic Committee and team can train wherever they want.
The more people that are surfing, they more wave systems there are out there, the more people who have the opportunities to surf, the better I think it is for everyone.
What is your vision for the WSL in the next five years?
We want to build on the very strong base that we have with professional surfing. I think we all feel that the sport is on a very positive tipping point, and there’s a chance that we could take surfing to a whole new level, in the right way, and balancing out very much with holding onto the values and special culture of the sport.
We’re such a purpose-led sport, and ocean conservation and those challenges are very much more top of mind
We’re such a purpose-led sport, and ocean conservation and those challenges are very much more top of mind, and we have the ability to make a real impact in that area. I think that our vision for the next five years is very bright and I think we will see significant growth in the sport, going to new markets and being showcased in a new way both at the ocean and in wave systems.
Thank you Sophie, and thanks for the informative chat.
It’s a pleasure.