This morning, Paul Speaker, CEO of the WSL since 2012, announced that he’s stepping down from pro surfing’s governing body. You can read the press release here.
“With the acquisition of the Kelly Slater Wave Company,” [Ed. note: this seems to be a strange jumping-off point] we are at a remarkable inflection point in the League’s history and we are ready for a new leader who can guide the organization to even greater accomplishments.”
Who will be that new guide?
Well, for the time being, it’ll be Dirk Ziff, the reclusive financial backer of the WSL for the last five years. After that? No idea.
Speaker, a veteran of the National Football League, was brought in to “mainstream” the pro surf experience, and, like that concept or hate it, the WSL under his watch assumed a much sportier, cleaner look and feel. Webcasts, too, became much more streamlined and refined than they had been in years past. The most controversial move under Speaker’s watch was to rebrand the “Association of Surfing Professionals” as the “World Surf League,” a name change that frankly I’d forgotten all about but which seemed to be a harbinger of pro surfing’s move toward normal-sport authenticity.
Speaker’s tenure also saw surfing’s inclusion in the Olympics, a move that was mostly shepherded by the second-tier International Surfing Association, but which Speaker clearly championed. “We're excited,” Speaker told Surfline in 2016. “There's no bigger global platform for the sport than to have surfing included in the Olympics. It's an extraordinary thing.”
Kelly Slater’s Wave Pool came up repeatedly in Speaker’s press release, so clearly it’s something that whoever’s running the ship at the WSL intends to make a lot of use of in the future. What that future looks like, though, is anybody’s guess.
More on this as we get it.