I was sitting next to Chippa Wilson—undoubtedly one the world's best aerial surfers—in one of the few merciful bits of shade found on the Surf Ranch's scorched earth, watching the jumbotron as one of the mid-seeds tried in vain to huck an end-section punt.
"So is this a good air wave?" I asked. Chippa laughed. "Nah, not even."
While the Willy Wonka wave pool may pump out 12-second barrels at the press of a button, the consensus among the world's best punters is that the opportunities for progressive maneuvers are seriously lacking—even with the air section that Josh Kerr and Albee Layer have been honing. Still, Chippa and Albee recognized the potential of WSL air shows moving forward and the importance of making lemonade out of Lemoore's lemons to help promote the impending Red Bull Airborne event in France come October.
When Chippa and Albee, as well as 'CT competitors Yago Dora and Mikey Wright, hopped in the pool yesterday evening for an air exhibition, it was the mixed bag that they were likely all expecting. The success of air-based competition moving forward will live and die by the surfers' ability to keep audiences engaged and throw it all on the line with the kinds of maneuvers that surf fans would normally never see in competition—the kind that are light years ahead of what's currently happening in 'CT heats. However, the pool isn't the best place for that kind of spectacle for a few reasons.
First, it's a minute-long wave that comes at several-minute intervals, meaning that if a surfer falls on their air attempt—and falls come with the territory when the aim is progression—there's a lot of down time. They tried to mitigate the lulls by splitting the wave into multiple sections, with each surfer getting a chance to punt on every wave, but that still doesn't amount to many opportunities in the hour-and-a-half timeframe.
Second, the shape of the wave itself is just clearly not very conducive to aerial surfing. When a sky wizard of Chippa Wilson's caliber is struggling to land something lofty, you know you're not working with a good air wave.
In the end, the number of landed airs and the pace of action left something to be desired, for sure, but that's not to say the exhibition didn't show the enormous potential of these surfers putting on a show at a more suitable venue. Albee paddled out with the goal of sticking his famous double-oop (he got close) and a stalefish alley-oop (even closer), which, to my knowledge, have never even been attempted in a live competition. Mikey stuck a snowboard-inspired shifty that looked a fair amount better than anything we've seen him do in a jersey this year. And Yago Dora pulled a varial revert to lengthy switch-stance tube ride that, for my money, would have been the best wave of the event had he done it in one of his 'CT runs (would have loved to have seen the judges try to score that one).
Some spectators likely watched the air exhibition and found it lacking the spark that one would assume goes hand-in-hand with air-based competition. But between the lulls and awkward sections, there was something brilliant simmering just below the surface. Hopefully we'll see it in full force come Hossegor.