Standup World Tour Cancels Final Two Events
SUP Surfing’s Only Elite League Season Shortened to Three Contests for Men, Two for Women
This week, the Waterman League, home of both the Standup World Tour and World Series, published a post notifying the world that the Huntington Beach Pro would be the final surf event of the year and that the European and Moroccan events were cancelled. World Championships for the surf side were decided in Huntington over the last 24 hours, with Izzi Gomez claiming her second world title in two years and Brazilian Caio Vaz his first.
The news was a big blow to the fledgling World Tour/Series, but by no means was it the first time the Waterman League cancelled an event. The organization has a long history of fluctuating schedules and has rarely run a full slate of stops. This time, Waterman League founder Tristan Boxford is citing investment as the main reason for cancellations: "When you're going to make a major change forwards you have to sacrifice short-term to get to the long term," he told SUP magazine. "It's a five-year plan and it will allow us to grow in the long term instead of taking short steps like we've been doing. Basically, there are a lot of big things happening, we need to keep our eye on the ball and push it over the line. Third party changes have been a thorn in our side these past few years. We're making a small sacrifice now for a big gain in 2016 and beyond."
Translation? Hard to tell. You never really know with Boxford, a talented orator gifted in talking his way through the difficult situations that have plagued his organization through the years. Basically, both the World Tour and World Series have long relied on local sponsors and tourism boards to fund their operations and help control costs on the ground. When those "third parties" pull sponsorship, which can happen at the last minute (and happened this year with the Brazil event) it leaves the Waterman League—Boxford's umbrella business that oversee both the World Tour and Series—hanging out to dry.
That’s likely what happened here, leaving the future looking suspect for the Waterman League. Multiple athlete sources have told us they're owed prize money from the event entity. And we hear these complaints on a yearly basis.
"I think most of the athletes are happy that it has become an ultimatum," says Sean Poynter, who finished an even third at Huntington and is the WT's lead athlete representative. "If the deal (Tristan is referencing) goes through, it's going to be the best thing for the tour, for years to come, with increased prize money and bonuses for us and a solidified schedule, potentially the best year we've ever had. If not, then we don't have a tour. I wouldn't say there's been dishonesty, but there's been a lot of prospects of betterment that haven't been fulfilled. We lose a little faith, but everyone is excited about the potential."
This isn't the only cancellation this season, as the Brazilian event was also knocked off the docket with extremely late notice, leaving many athletes holding the bag on plane tickets and reservations.
The Waterman League, and Boxford, have had a rocky run. He's never been able to gain wide endemic support for his events. Whether that's because those events are strictly focused on the sport's elite or because the locations (Tahiti, Brazil, Europe) are too far-flung for most American-based companies to get on board with is not entirely clear. But that lack of support must have had some negative affects.
The Waterman League has also had a transparency problem. Boxford is usually veiled when addressing criticism. Instead of direct answers to questions, critics get responses that sound as if they were churned out of a public relations factory: "I'm being pretty vague about it right now because of the confidentiality agreements but it's immensely good for the sport and the World Tour and World Series," he said when pressed on potential sponsors for 2016, leaving athletes and other sponsors guessing as to whether the event entity will survive.
It's been a carnage-filled year for the sport. Both the Battle of the Paddle and Payette River Games announced cancellations. Multiple European events were cancelled. Organizing events is tough business. The money is rarely plentiful, logistics can be an absolute nightmare and an event's niche is extremely important to its success—does it appeal to the right people, at the right time, in the right place?
And to Boxford's credit, the Waterman League, which started in the late-2000's, had to fight through one of the most devastating economic downturns in modern history. Additionally, the League's video program is one of the best in the industry and its events are followed by the top young talent in the sport like Kai Lenny, Connor Baxter, Zane Schweitzer and Sean Poynter—an obvious indication the sport is in desperate need of a solid world tour on both the surf and race side.
"Tristan is at his wit’s end," Poynter says. "He's had a lot of financial risk in all this and hasn't been rewarded. None of us want to ever talk (negatively) about the tour. It's the only legitimate world championship out there right now. But it can't continue on like this." —JC
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