This past weekend, thousands of surf fans gathered in Lemoore, CA to watch the Founders’ Cup–proclaimed by the WSL and everybody else on earth as a “historical” moment in the sport of surfing. It wasn’t the first contest to take place in an artificial wave, but the hype surrounding the event was ground-breaking in itself.
Reactions from core surf fans have been all over the map. Some have taken to online forums and social media to sing the praises of the WSL, while others claim that watching surfing’s elite surf perfect wave after perfect wave couldn’t have been more unentertaining. SURFER editors Justin Housman and Ashtyn Douglas discuss the divide:
AD: I think this event really showed the difference in how people view competitive surfing. Some people loved watching perfect waves all day. Other people craved the back and forth that goes on between surfers in man-on-man heats in the ocean. Others wanted to see athletes do crazier progressive maneuvers. And then I think there were other people who gave zero shits and just wanted to catch a few waves of their own this weekend.
JH: After this weekend I think there’s a real good chance this whole thing is a big let down – artificial waves I mean. I learned that perfect waves aren’t interesting in a vacuum. Perfection is only special when it’s a fleeting thing, flying in the face of imperfection. Perfect waves are not what will save pro surfing, a thing that needs saving because it’s been dreadfully boring the past, jeez, decade now, Even though performance is off the charts. And it’s because it’s all been scrubbed clean. Gimme firey personalities, gimme guys afraid to paddle out when it’s big, gimme paddle battles in Brazilian slop. I want to see hatred for fellow competitors and a psychotic drive to win manifest itself in something dramatic. The more different the waves and competitors are, the better. Perfect, mindnumbing repitition ain’t that.
AD: After watching it in person on Saturday (in the unrelenting heat of Central California) and on the webcast on Sunday, I'd have to say it was (a little) more exciting to watch in person. When you're standing on the side of the pool and watching a human-engineered, 700-yard-long, barreling freight train, you can't help but fall into the hype of it all. I’d have to admit though that the novelty of watching perfect ride after perfect ride wore off quickly. And you're right, I too started to crave the drama and unpredictability that goes hand-in-hand with heats in the ocean. More than anything, I feel like that wave keeps fans excited because we're all hoping that one day we'll get a chance to surf it. I think if the WSL wants to keep viewers (which, let's be honest, that's their one and only goal) they'll have to either let normal people surf it on the reg or make changes to the wave/ event format that might enhance entertainment.
JH: I watched a little of the contest on Sunday with people who don’t surf, but who are into sports and, like, outdoorsy stuff. They watched about 30 seconds and said, “Oh, looks like a good wave, but it’s in a pool huh? TOO BAD IT’S NOT THE OCEAN.” Swear to god.
AD: Interesting: if the WSL was hoping that running an event in a wave pool would connect with a larger audience outside of the surf world, looks like they might not get what they were pining after.
JH: I thought I knew who the intended audience was going in. Landlubbing nonsurfers, mostly, the die-est of die hard pro surf fans too. But now, I’m not so sure. It hadn’t really occurred to me until today, but the whole reason ANYBODY gets interested in surfing is because it’s in the ocean. I don’t think midwesterners or whoever is supposed to buy all the surf tees and justify sponsorship costs are nearly as interested in watching surfing if it isn’t even in the ocean.
AD: I did meet a few people at the event who felt the opposite. They were die-hard surfers too, surprisingly. One guy I talked to told me that, although he doesn't think artificial waves will replace normal surf events, he did think it was more exciting than a contest at say Rio or Pipe because he got to be "up close to the action." He also liked the fact that he knew the waves were going to be firing and that the first heat of the day was going to start at a specific time and that John John would definitely catch a wave. I asked him if he'd get tired of the predictability at some point and he looked at me like I was a crazy person. Do you have any thoughts on what they could change to make it more exciting and dramatic?
JH: Huh. I wonder if that guy’s ever been to a contest at Rio or Pipe. You can get right up close to the action there too, and there’s WAY more drama. The changes I’d make to a wave pool event would even further remove wave pool surfing from real surfing. Make the waves more air-friendly, so Filipe can launch whirly-bird snowboard tricks. Maybe make the waves harder to surf and rather than subjectively score rides, give points for actually making it out of a too-fast-to-make barrel, or landing a giant floater or air. I don’t know. Maybe introduce really weird sections to allow for turns that you can’t actually do in the ocean.
AD: I agree. I was texting back and forth with Albee Layer during the finals yesterday and he was saying no matter how good the barrels and the turns were, they got boring to watch. They should shorten the wave and focus the judging more on progressive maneuvers. Personally, I think they should shorten the barrel section and create a crazy close-out end section. The design of the wave pool right now will never bring back the man-on-man, offense-defense strategies that transpire in the ocean, so you're right–they should just focus on making wave pool events completely different than surf contests to engage people. Right now it just seems like the perfect wave to surf, but not the perfect wave to watch.
JH: That last line nails it. I’d love to surf that wave. I just don’t ever need to watch it again.