Could the Tour Live Without Stephanie Gilmore?

Craig Jarvis

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Updated 683d ago

Hawaiian Carissa Moore is the new world champ, and it's her third title on the Samsung Galaxy WSL Championship Tour. In second place is Courtney Conlogue and third, Sally Fitzgibbons. It was a great year on the tour for the women, and the girls’ commissioner Jessi Miley-Dyer really went the extra mile to ensure that the surfers get their fair share of the tour as a whole - amazing venues, great events, good prize-money and an air of happy expectation, as if more is around the corner.

The WSL can be proud. Still, what was missing?

The WSL would be a lesser place without this smile.

The WSL would be a lesser place without this smile.

© 2017 - Kirsten / WSL

What was missing was six time World Champion, Stephanie Gilmore. Sidelined with an injury back in Australia whilst free surfing during the Margaret River Drug Aware Pro, Gilmore has missed every event from then on, as the injury niggled and tweaked and refused to loosen, to heal up.
Her non-qualification leaves only one option for her retuning to the Championship Tour in 2016: The Injury Wildcard.
Her presence and her smiling face has been much missed this year on the tour, although I’m sure Carissa didn’t miss her as much as her absence left the door wide open for a world title.

Stephanie is obviously not that pleased about missing out on the lion’s share of events throughout the year’s competition. As a result, her non-qualification leaves only one option for her retuning to the Championship Tour in 2016: The Injury Wildcard.

While the WSL has evolved enormously to a place where they really cherish and look after their athletes, the Wildcard is always going to be a tricky one.

Honolua Bay is one of Steph's favourite waves.

Honolua Bay is one of Steph's favourite waves.

© 2017 - Laurent Masurel / WSL

It was a long time ago and under different management, but who could forget the Rob Machado incident when he failed to secure the wildcard in Hawaii 2001 for the 2002 season. In a move which ended Rob’s career, the WSL (then ASP) and the surfers chose Shane Dorian for the wildcard in what could only be described as a travesty. While Shane can’t be blamed, (except for the fact that he wore a leg-brace into the meeting) and the incident is nearly 15 years old, it does have significance. The WSL can do what they want.

She has the same appeal as Slater, and without her the Women’s tour would have a huge void in it that cannot easily be filled. When questioned on the criteria for awarding the injury wildcard, WSL VP for Communications Dave Prodan replied by-the-book. “WSL Wildcards are allocated at the discretion of the Commissioner’s Office,” said Prodan. “Their decision takes into account severity of injury and performance history.”

So, on paper, Steph looks like a shoo-in. With six world titles, and being out of the water for most of the year means she fills both the criteria to breaking point. However, without wishing to cast shadows anywhere, the WSL do have an option here. They make the decisions, and there are many forces in play.

On a media level, Steph’s non-inclusion would be a big blow to the Women’s tour. She is by far the leader, the tour’s paradigm-shifter, and without her the tour will consist of a select group of intelligent, and eloquent, but ultimately interchangeable surfers who all offer much the same in marketing terms. Steph offers much more. She has that certain magic, that special aura which elevates her above being merely a surfer to being a sportsperson that appeals to the mainstream. She has the same appeal as Slater, and without her the Women’s tour would have a huge void that cannot easily be filled.

© 2017 - Laurent Masurel / WSL

On a more realistic level, there is the Roxy quandary. With the metamorphosis and downscaling of Quiksilver, is Steph going to still be on the books, or will she fall aside like Dane Reynolds and all the others who have ended up on the floor after a few big culls? Steph is in the marquee category, and her Is this possibly a turning point where she turns her back on the Championship Tour and chooses a different path in her life?paycheck, or the absence of such, would make a big difference to a faltering bottom line.

Thirdly, there is the Steph level. Everyone loves Steph and she is popular and nice, cool and intelligent, but what does she want to do? Does she possibly want a change? Is this possibly a turning point where she turns her back on the Championship Tour and chooses a different path in her life? Free surfer? Traveller? Does she just want to chill and sit and watch the tide roll in?

Either way, the Women’s Championship Tour will be a strange place without Steph. It’ll be like the men’s tour without Kelly. There’ll be something missing, and Steph will be talked about in revered tones.

We will know shortly. In Dave Prodan’s words, “Wildcard will be allocated following completion of 2015 season.”

Which is now...