John Florence. Photo by Taras
John Florence. Photo by Taras

World Team Wins First Founders’ Cup

Recapping the contest that teased the future of all surf contests at the Surf Ranch

Yesterday at Day 1 of the Founders' Cup, 3x world champion Tom Curren was spotted among the crowd wearing a weird, wide-brimmed hat. On our way home from the event, I told my colleague that if the WSL is really looking for clicks, they should send Curren out on a skimboard.

I guess I should've expected it, but Curren caught one of the first waves of the morning today before the start of the event, and surprisingly, he was on a board with three fins.

Throughout this weekend, there seemed to be a divide among surfers. If you'd like to see just how different (or maybe I should say opinionated) surfers inherently are, hold a competitive surf contest in an artificial wave. People either loved it or hated it. Or were totally uninterested.

Those who loved it lined the wave pool today again with their beach chairs and blankets, waving flags or their recently purchased WSL jerseys over the concrete wall anytime their favorite surfer hit the water. The athletes seemed to feed off this energy as well, gesturing to the crowd like pageant contestants each time Raimana paraded them down the length of the pool on the back of his jet ski.

Photo by Taras

The second group, naturally, were the ones who didn't buy tickets for the event but took the time to comment online and on social media about how "weird” and “boring" the whole ordeal was. The only person who seemed more disinterested in the event than the online critics was John Florence, who seemed to fall on half his waves today.

There were others, like Shane Beschen, who already developed opinions on how they would change the wave and the contest format. The super coach took to Instagram this morning to express his thoughts: "For me, caring mostly about performance and elevating the level of the sport, I still see a lot of fear of falling due to only being able to ride 3 rights and lefts," wrote Beschen. "The mega upside to this event is if competitors received more chances to push the performance level higher. My point being that within a full day of competition there were only about 6 airs that were completed. Two of them came from @filipetoledo on the same wave and that wave was one of the main highlights of competition. An easy fix if more waves are not an option would be for the judges to deem the second barrel on the right more of a performance section and not score the barrel that good. This could push everyone to go for something big to finish the ride with a bang."

Of course, thanks to Jordy Smith, Gabriel Medina and Kolohe Andino, more airs were landed today, but Beschen’s point still stands. If artificial wave technology is supposed to push the level of high-performance surfing like everyone seems to think it will do, then maybe-as weird as it is to say-the current tech isn’t up to snuff yet. Point is, there weren’t the eye-popping aerial acts of wizardry most expected.

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Personally, my sentiments fell somewhere in the middle ground. Seeing a man-made wave of that magnitude in person was something I'll never forget. The wave really does have the potential to change the sport of surfing as we know it--no matter how hyperbolic that sounds. But more than anything, it felt a little like being a kid invited into the best candy store in the world and being told you could only watch other kids eat the deliciously yummy candy--unless you had $10,000, of course.

Today the wave seemed to show its minor imperfections-or who knows, maybe the surfers were tired from tucking into inordinately long barrels all day yesterday. Whatever the reason, there seemed to be more wipeouts and miscalculated turns today than yesterday. Probably the most dramatic, mistimed turn happened in the "surf off" between Team World and Team Australia, when Matt Wilkinson went down coming off a top turn in the middle of his wave. The slip-up caused Team Australia to bow out of the competition, and to be honest, was the most engaging moment of the event. When the WSL cameramen zoomed in on Wilko's disappointed face as he slapped the water in frustration, it almost felt like I was watching a real surf contest.

The broadcasters used that opportunity to promise that more "fierce competition" will unfold throughout the day as Team U.S.A, Team Brazil, and Team World headed into the finals. But I can't bag on the broadcasters too much. You try describing nearly identical waves and perfect rides for two full-days straight without going insane.

Whether or not the final heats were interesting--with its bizarre point struture-depends very much on whether or not you found the whole event entertaining. I guess I should note, before I sign off, that Team World took home the win, which isn't surprising. Jordy and Kanoa seemed to be the two guys who were able to loosen up at the end and go for broke with a couple progressive maneuvers. But in a way, anyone could have won this event and it really wouldn't have mattered. What did matter is that we just got a taste of what wave-pool competition looks like, for better or worse.

We'll be back in September for the 'CT event to see what's changed.

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