October 24. It’s on. The first serious surf comp in a new era wave pool.
The UK Pro Tour is heading to Surf Snowdonia in Wales, United Kingdom for a day of freshwater fun, where surfers are competing for ranking points and substantial prize money.
There’s been professional comps in old school wave pools but the wave quality was akin to Newquay on a ordinary summer’s day. This is something entirely different.
The UK Pro Tour surf forecaster can take the week off. The waves are going to be head high, not effected by wind or tide, and last 18 seconds. Waves are going to be generated every minute.
Competitors in the mens, womens and juniors categories will surf three waves each. The top ranked surfers after this round will go into man-on-man knock out heats. During these rounds, each exchange is awarded to a surfer, and just like grand slam tennis, the first to three sets takes the heat.
The “match day experience” for spectators will be unlike any other surf comp.
Firstly it’s free to enter and spectators can get incredibly close to the action. An elevated viewing platform is within five meters of the surfer and spectators are going to be viewing from the shoulder and behind the wave. It will be like seeing your mates ride by from a perfect channel, except you won’t get wet, and you can probably have a beer while you watch.
Organisers are going to be able to have the tightest run sheet in the history of competitive surfing. This will be a godsend for English comp organisers who often see great waves disappear with huge tidal movements.
Wave pools provide a whole new opportunity for sponsors and media. TV stations fear waiting periods and lay days, and there won’t be any in the pool.
The wave is so predictable, but what will the surfers’ approach be? Is it going to be like a gymnastics routine? 18 seconds to fit as many twists and turns as possible? Will surfers have a fixed wave plan or will they react to how the waves break?
If a surfer finds a winning formula, will he or she just endlessly repeat the routine? Will the judges punish predictability?
Predictable waves take away the skill of wave selection completely. This may not worry the non surfing pundits but will it turn the purists away?
Pools may also take away that one outrageous turn. Kelly Slater’s aerial at Bells in 2012 is still considered by many as the greatest manoeuvre in competitive surf history. Slater was combo-ed and the wave he rode was a closeout. Innovation in the face of desperation.
Will the pool comp scoring format, and the predictable nature of the wave, encourage innovation or conservative surfing when surfers know they have more firepower than their competitors?
“Maybe the surfers will go nuts in front of a big and very close crowd?”
Other rounds on the UK circuit often involve braving brutal conditions for both surfers and spectators. Respect must be paid to all the fans who supports surfing in the UK braving all conditions to cheer on the pros.
Predictions are dangerous things for pundits, but here goes. The comp will be a great day for non-surfing spectators, with unique viewing angles, non-stop action and a cool vibe. Purists will miss the nuanced heat management skills, barrels and power turns.
The competition day will be an enormously exciting opportunity for the crowd to witness some of the best surfing and surfers this country has to offer.
Wave pools have come a long way since the ASP held the Inland Wave Championships at Allentown in Pensilvania. That was even more painful to watch than the novelty night events held in Australia’s Cronulla summer slop in the 1980s.
The last few years has seen an exponential improvement in wave pool quality. The Snowdonia competition will be fun and showcase things to come, especially if they hold the 2020 Olympics in a wave pool.
Feature image: Jayce Robinson at the wave garden. Photo by Nick Pumphrey PhotoLast updated on Jun 12, 2019
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