With four more rookies joining the Tour in 2010, as well as major changes to the structure, schedule, and prize money, plenty of exciting things are happening on the ASP Women’s World Tour. We caught up with ASP Women's World Tour Manager Brooke Farris to get the inside scoop on what's happened in 2009 and what to expect in the coming year.
We know the Men's Tour is shifting to a one-world ranking with a mid-year re-seeding, will the Women's Tour see similar changes?
BROOKE: We won't have any mid-year rotation, ours will purely be a glass ceiling where the girls surfing the 'QS can't break through until the end of the year, but we'll still have the one-world rating system. The girls will be able to say where they stand in the world, rather than it being a two-tier system. So No. 1 on the 'QS—as long as she's not on the World Tour—will be 18th in the world.
Since you began working for the ASP several years ago, what major changes have you seen on the Women's Tour?
We've had new events added to the schedule, we've had an increase in prize money, and now we've got the female vote back on the Board—so a surfer representative for the girls will actually have voting powers. I've seen an incredible overhaul of the names and faces you see on the World Tour now compared to when I first started. There's a lot of fresh, new blood on the Tour. Of course, we've lost some of the greats that have really made women's surfing what it is, but it's great to see that the girls coming on Tour now are seeing what the previous generation did and are appreciating that and trying to take women's surfing one step further.
Last year, a handful of events were lost mid-season due to sponsors pulling out, do you think that will happen again this year?
I don't like to think it will happen. I try to be an optimist as much as I can. But this year we're starting off the year with eight confirmed events and one tentative—due to a license agreement not being signed. And the Portugal Rip Curl event is another event that, although it's not new, is new in the sense that it will be a combined event [men and women] and has a secure license for years to come. I think women's surfing has a lot of momentum at the moment, so we're just trying to capitalize on that.
Is the ASP open to non-endemic sponsorship for events?
I think we already see that with the Women's Tour in that we have independent licensees for the event in Peru, the Sydney event that Layne Beachley has, and the New Zealand event. We do have a far bigger presence of independent licensees on the Women's Tour compared to the Men's Tour, which is pretty much supported by the Big Three. It's fantastic for them, but they spend a lot of money on those events, so if we're not combined with them we need to find ourselves some stand-alone sponsors.
It seems that every event on the Women's WQS is tentative right now. What's going on there?
That's because they haven't paid the license fees to secure themselves on the schedule, but hopefully that will all happen in the next couple of weeks, and then it looks like we'll have a fantastic leg in Europe for the girls and some really high-rated events. There's definitely a rebuilding process happening with the Qualifying Series. I don't think we need to be aiming for 200 events like the men's 'QS, but instead look at building something that directly reflects the Women's World Tour—eight to 10 events with better prize purses, making it more worthwhile for the girls to travel and compete, while also giving them the opportunity to explore other interests outside of surfing.
Is that something that the Women's side of the Tour is concerned with: allowing the girls to pursue other facets of their careers?
I think women professional surfers need to have time to service their sponsors—sponsors like to have them do photo shoots and trips and articles in surfing mags to really promote the lifestyle. The schedule allows the girls to do that, but there's also girls picking up on their studies and continuing their education while on Tour. Having a succinct Tour and a clear schedule at the beginning of the year so they can plan their year is certainly something that we aim for.
Last year, the ASP put out a press kit for the Women's Tour—which was basically a Look Book featuring modeling photos of the girls—how was that received?
The purpose of that was to introduce the new faces on the Tour and sort of repackage it as "The Life." It's a lifestyle and they are incredibly fortunate to have it, but they're also competitive beasts, and when they put on a rash vest you don't want to be the person opposite them in the water. I think it's really intriguing and incredibly unique that the best women surfers in the world travel from coast to coast and they're friends and they sit next to each other on a plane, but then they hop in the water and every one of them wants to win an ASP World Title.
The total prize purse for women has increased from $85K in 2008, to $90K in 2009, to $100K this season. Will it continue to rise?
Yeah, we got it up to $100,000 and the goal is to step it up another $10,000 next year. It's good for the girls to start the year off with more prize money on the table, and of course it's pushing up our richest event, which Layne Beachley has had at $100,000 for four years, and she's going to step it up again. She's not to be outdone—she's happy to see that the level has risen to where she's set it for the past four years, but she has to take it one step further.
With the new crop of rookies, do you think the Tour will be different in years to come? Do you think people's perception of the Tour is changing?
It definitely changes the dynamic of the Tour. Everyone has noticed that the performances the girls are putting forward. It feels like more and more often now we're saying, "Wow. That was the best day in women's surfing. That's an absolute milestone." And more people are also saying that—just general spectators that have been around the sport for a long time. But also, as soon as they come out of the water, when they're facing the media, they're extremely well spoken, they're positive, and they're becoming amazing role models.
Overall, do you think the Women's Tour is in a good place?
I do, but I also think it can be in a better place. I guess that's why every day when I get up I think about what we need to achieve and what the next steps are. Ideally, I'd like to see ten 100-percent secure events, and then after that it's increasing the prize money and making sure the athletes are taken care of, getting them as much media exposure as we can. There's a lot of room for growth in the sport.
What's the one thing that would help the Women's Tour most?
The key thing would be promotion and reaching out to non-endemics and the non-core magazines and creating a stronger following for the girls. That will enable us to tap into other sponsorship markets and find the financial support to prop up what's there, as well as continue to grow.