It was announced last week that the U.S. Open at Huntington Beach will now be a World Tour stop for the women. Then yesterday, Biarritz, France, was added to the schedule, rounding out this year’s Tour de Mediocrity:
Bells Beach, Australia
Taranaki, New Zealand
Northern Beaches, Sydney, Australia
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Huntington Beach, California
A far cry from the golden age a few years back, when the females made their rounds through the diverse, world-class lineups of Teahupoo, Tavarua, Honolua, Hossegor, Sunset, and, interestingly, Malibu.
Honolua was struck from the schedule last year by Billabong and replaced with a higher-purse event in Rio in May. For Billabong, it just didn't make sense to have a girls' event at Honolua at the same time as the Men’s Pipe Masters. Reasonably (yet unfortunately), the low return on investment made the event not worth their while.
Then this year, perhaps coincidentally (perhaps not), two more events on the women's side--the Rip Curl Portugal event and the Rip Curl Search event, both of which ran the women’s competition simultaneously alongside the men's events in 2010--were scratched from the schedule following World Champ Steph Gilmore’s switch from Rip Curl to another sponsor.
Sponsorship issues have always plagued the Women's World Tour. For most surf brands, the competitive side of the sport often takes a subsidiary role to the mass-market lifestyle the brands promote. Often, if the brands don’t have a world-title contender on Tour, they’re not willing to make the massive investment required to run an event. For the World Tour surfers, the addition of another event--any event, at this point--is welcomed. But for the WQS surfers, many who have relied on the U.S. Open to earn valuable ratings points toward qualification, this isn’t an “addition” at all.
Here are some reactions from a few of the girls:
Coco Ho, World Tour No. 6
"Since we've lost so many events so far this year, I think it was a good idea. Although Huntington isn't premier, a few other waves on Tour deliver less than what HB can, so I'm excited we get the chance to put on a show in front of the crowds for more valuable points and prize money."
Malia Manuel, WQS surfer and 2008 U.S. Open champ
"Huntington was the event I was most looking forward to this year! And since I've gotten off to a bad start on the WQS, I was hoping to redeem some valuable points there! But I see the WCT girls need another event, so I think it actually was a good decision. Just not favorable for me personally."
Claire Bevilacqua, World Tour first alternate
"It's just another shitty wave on Tour, really. I would rather surf 48th Street in Newport, but it's good for the WCT girls because there are hardly any events."
Sage Erickson, WQS surfer
"I think that the US Open transforming into a Women's World Tour event is a massive indicator for great things to come in the sport. The US Open has the media coverage and support to bring the level of women's surfing to the next stage of recognition. We need this to attract sponsorship for future events to build the prestige tour like format that the men compete in. Sad loss for the QS competitors, but in the long run will be highly beneficial to all of us."
What do you think?