Tristan Boxford on the 2016 Waterman League
Waterman League founder and CEO Tristan Boxford is a man with vision. For the past six years he’s traveled the world creating the Standup World Tour and World Series from scratch. The tours have raised the new generation of paddling stars, given them a platform to showcase their talent and raised the profile of the sport. But it hasn’t been without its hiccups. Amidst rumors about financial issues and viability for 2016 we called Boxford to see what we can expect from the Waterman league in the year to come.—WT
What can expect from the Waterman League next year?
We're making a step change in the business. The past six years we've built capital growing from the ground up which is obviously a pretty major undertaking when you're operating in so many different countries and dealing with so many variables. We’ve finally in the position where a large investment was possible to really guarantee the future of the platform and really grow it to the next level.
In terms of location, in terms of structure, it's not going to be radically different. We're going to have six World Series stops and five to six World Tour stops but each of the stops will be major, major events. We're building festival components into a lot of them, obviously the major media coverage in terms of prize money and structure will be vastly enhanced. There's a lot more incentive for the Tour and Series as a whole to really showcase the opportunities for the athletes. It's hitting major markets where we can really showcase the sport in the right light.
How will that play out?
It's a consolidation to grow the events to a much greater stature and grow the quality of the events and to underwrite the future so that we can make some constructive moves. In the past we'd be going from event to event on zero budget almost so the sponsorship money would come in and then it would go out. And if you're lucky it comes in in time but more often than not it doesn't and that really hinders the progress of everything. (The developments) will allow us a cushion where we can lock in the international schedule regardless of what happens locally in each territory.
Have the athletes been involved in these changes?
We've definitely been keeping them in the loop and we've been discussing and developing so we make sure that we go in the direction of their interests. I think there's a lot of excitement about it, not only from our existing athletes that have been following the tour for the last few years but also from a few of the athletes that haven't been on the tour and series who are stepping up to commit to the whole series. The idea is really to have this global series, much like it is in other sports, to really provide a central platform for the sport. When a sport doesn't manage to achieve that, that's when it really fragments and becomes and really complicated situation which isn't good for brands, it isn't good for athletes and it's not really any good for anyone.
You were a professional windsurfer back in the day. What do you feel SUP needs?
Windsurfing went two directions. First, it went way too technical and all the equipment got way too radical and too specialized and it started alienating the general public. Then it went completely the other direction where it lost its aspirational appeal and it wasn't an image sport anymore. But the reality is, and why we focused on it so much in the World Tour in the early days, is because that is the core. It's what gets people excited about it that have never seen standup paddling before. That's the biggest learning lesson: there's a symbiotic relationship between surfing and racing and general paddling. You don't need to shut out one to address the other. Kids need people to look up to like Zane and Connor and Kai and all these athletes, they're the stars right now. The stars of the future are looking up to them.
Personally, you've put so many man hours into the tour. Why do you do what you do? What's your motivation?
I have a vision for the sport for sure that I want to see happen. I'm doing it to work toward a point to where there's a viable, sustainable platform for the sport that provides an incredible opportunity for the athletes. There's always a lot of natter around here and people are always quick to shoot (you) down but the bottom line is you don't get shot down until you stand up. And in order to stand up you need to take chances.
One thing I'm very proud of, though I've taken longer to pay people (than I’d like) but the bottom line is that everyone that's ever worked with me knows that I’ve paid. That's why we still have all the top athletes following us around the world. Because there might be some natter, at the same time we're providing a real opportunity.
I won't be hands on operating any events moving forward which is a nice thought because I've been doing a lot of work for a lot of years. But what it means is a can start focusing on the development of the tour and series.
Anything you want to address?
I think the global nature of the sport is way more than what people realize. We have athletes from about 28 countries that participate across our events globally. I put a lot of time in Brazil because I saw growth potential and it really materialized. And over five years we saw it from 40 people participating to somewhere in the region of 600. And that's an incredible growth in five years in a country that doesn't have money. That's what we're seeing globally. That's why were really focusing on building the global representation.
We're launching a new opportunity with Red Bull the brand and also Red Bull Media House because they see the media potential of what we're doing and new programming deals getting run on major, major networks and there's some really, really cool things happening.
More World Tour.