Aside from Medina's freak double-grab backflip during Round Two (and his 10-earning combo in Round 4), the Oi Rio Pro was a total snooze fest. So like any good (see: insufferable) armchair pro-surfing critic, during the most boring round of the event, I started thinking about the great many changes I'd make to the current 'CT format if I had they keys to the WSL kingdom. Most of my ideas were standard: nix non-elimination rounds, replace Bells with Kelly's Wave, force Dane back on Tour. But if I really had any pulling power over there, I'd add a big-wave venue to the schedule. Mavs, Jaws, Puerto Escondido, Todos Santos, The Right, Waimea¬–it doesn't really matter where the event takes place. Just as long as the waves are incredibly scary.
My reasoning? First, it'd be entertaining. In fact, it'd be roughly one thousand times more entertaining than watching Davey Cathels, Julian Wilson, and Deivid Silva duke it out in waves that could lull a baby to sleep. Can you imagine anything more fascinating than watching Wilko knife a 25-foot drop on a 10'0" out at Mavericks, his wild mane exploding out of his hooded 5/4? Or how about a string bean Kanoa Igarashi freefalling into the west bowl at Jaws, while out the back, John John scratches into the kind of wave normally reserved for only the Dorians and Golds of the world. If the WSL is jonesing for higher viewership numbers (which is the sole reason it exists, remember?), I'm telling you, throw some inflation vests on Kolohe Andino and Jordy Smith and send them out at Punta de Lobos or Waimea.
When I first considered this idea, I was worried for a hot second that I'd become a calloused spectator, so bored by competitive surfing that I'd send out fair-weathered 'CT guys to fumble around on big-wave guns and dodge 30-foot closeout sets all for the sake of entertainment. But then I talked to Josh Kerr, the Californian/Australian ‘CT-er with a penchant for huge waves, and I asked if he thought this idea was slightly sadistic. He said it wasn't an unreasonable concept. In fact, he told me, most guys would charge if the schedule included a big-wave event.
"I'm sure half the guys on tour have never ridden a 10'0"–especially the younger guys," says Kerr. "A lot of them would really enjoy it. When Fiji got really big at the Volcom Fiji Pro in 2012 [when Cloudbreak was a super-sized, 20-foot monster], no one was prepared in the way of equipment and safety stuff. But if we were specifically going to a big-wave spot to ride huge waves, everyone would be prepared and trained. I'd just like to see everyone give it a shot, because I think a lot of guys would surprise themselves."
Adding a big-wave venue (or hell, why not two or three?) to the Tour could also, hypothetically, produce a more versatile victor at the end of the season. Or at least it would be a start. Despite what the WSL has been peddling for years, the 'CT schedule isn't structured to yield a world champ who performs well in all types of waves (they just got lucky with Slater for 11 years). Take a look at the current roster of events: Snapper, Bells, Margaret's, Rio, Fiji, J-Bay, Teahupoo, Lowers, Hossegor, Supertubos, Pipe. While all these venues produce world-class surf on their best days (well, except Rio), this lineup still excludes the types of waves that help define modern surfing—mainly big waves.
Albee Layer (one of the most outspoken WSL critics in the business) is in full support of the idea. Not just because it would be entertaining, but also because it would help validate the legitimacy of top 34. "There absolutely should be a big-wave spot or two on tour," Albee told me. "If these guys are called the best surfers in the world, then they need to be the most well-rounded surfers—not just the best in 2 to 8-foot waves."
Is it fair that these guys are deemed the best competitive surfers in the world without having to prove their mettle in huge waves? "No, it's not," says Layer. "Surfers who get paid that much money to surf should be physically and mentally prepared to challenge the ocean in its most dynamic state and should surf well in a variety of conditions. One of the worst decisions ever made in the history of competitive surfing was calling off the Volcom Fiji Pro in 2012. Tour guys should be ready for big days like that, because that’s a part of the sport and that's what people want to see."
It’s hard to argue with Layer on this point. John John or Wiggoly Dantas or Ace Buchan charging XXL waves is absolutely something I want to see. Every year.
Of course, logistically speaking, adding a big-wave event could be a massive pain in the ass for everyone involved in the planning and preparation. For one, huge swells are unpredictable and incompatible with the standard 10-day waiting period that limits normal events. Plus, large swells rarely last longer than a day, so the event structure would have to compensate for this time restraint.
But the WSL knows how to deal with the logistical challenges of running a big-wave event, especially after this last winter. The Pe'ahi Challenge was a huge success, and way more exciting to watch than any ‘CT event. Especially the Oi Rio Pro.
Will the WSL realistically ever take this idea and run with it? Who knows. I would, but I'm not the one with the keys.