Big video cameras with three-letter acronyms reading HBO, NBC, CNN, etc., focused their lenses on WSL CEO Sophie Goldschmidt and the panel of Founders' Cup Team Captains in their respective national team jerseys at Kelly Slater's Surf Ranch in Lemoore, CA this afternoon for an opening-day press conference. Stephanie Gilmore, Adriano de Souza, Johanne Defay, Jordy Smith and Kelly Slater sat in a row next to Goldschmidt, readying themselves for a barrage of questions. There were a few of surfing's endemic reporters present in the sweltering heat, too.
Goldschmidt greeted us all and opened with promises of having access to the best waves “on cue” and all the conveniences of holding a surf contest in a controlled environment. "The Olympics are on the horizon too," she said, "the network and TV coverage from around the world is unprecedented. We've never had a demand like this."
Sitting here listening to Goldschmidt, it became very apparent of just how historical this event might be for the tiny world of surfing. With the potential to turn on a world-class wave at any moment, the WSL might just gain new audiences of land-locked non-surfers. Something as unwatchable (for those who don't follow surfing) as two surfers sitting in the ocean waiting for waves will be converted into a high-action sport tomorrow and will be reintroduced as "Stadium Surfing"–a term that was used by California State Senator and local cherry farmer Andy Vidak, as he presented Kelly Slater an award during the press conference while wearing boots and a cowboy hat.
As the press conference progressed, the panel of team captains answered questions about what it’s like surfing in a pool versus the ocean. "I actually think it's harder because if you stuff up, it's on you,” Australian team captain Steph Gilmore answered into her microphone. “When you're in the ocean you can kind of blame things on the ocean. But out here if you don't perform at the best level, then that's on you. It's almost more nervewracking in that respect.”
Shortly after the press conference ended, the teams hit the water for an afternoon practice session. Attention returned to the pool’s jumbotron where the likes of John Florence, Slater and more put on the high-action display of talent Goldschmidt promised just moments before. Everyone was ripping.
As we watched the teams spend the next few hours testing boards to blaring top 40 hits, there was no question of whether or not this pool fostered high-performance surfing. However, it remains to be seen if mainstream media will keep their cameras focused on surfing. Does the law of diminishing margins apply to the viewer when world class waves are created “on cue?” Will this event be good for the WSL? We’ll see tomorrow.