On the challenges of making those tough calls on the WSL Big Wave Tour
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 29 June, 2015 - Huntington Beach, California - Organizing and executing surf contests are always tricky. The variables are just so bumerous. But organizing and executing a cotest on the WSL Big-Wave World Tour is such another mess altogether.
Here's a behind the scenes look at what goes into making those tough calls, from the WSL's "Big Wave Diaries":
Predict the weather and rule the world. Now imagine predicting not only a swell that will produce a minimum wave height at a given location, but one that will also arrive from the proper direction at the designated time. Figure in the wind direction velocity and the possibility of dense fog and you face a daunting task to say the least. Such is the challenge of making the call for any event on the Big Wave Tour.
But some calls are tougher than others: To say that the weeks leading up to this year's Quiksilver Ceremonial in Chile were tense just doesn't cut it. After the first week of tracking it became obvious that a new swell in the South Pacific was going to materialize. But with the Big Wave Awards in California coming up -- for which blackout dates had been designated -- would we be able to pull it off?
The importance of running both events was obvious to all involved but that didn't make things any easier. BWT Commissioner Peter Mel, myself and Greg Long, our surfer representative, went back and forth with calls comparing reports we received from the experts in our circle and the local Chilean forecasters. Punta de Lobos native Ramon Navarro also weighed in heavily.
Twiggy Baker at Pico Alto © WSL
The anticipation before making a Big Wave Tour event call typically starts to heat up in the hours preceding a Green Alert. This time, however, things began to boil -- fast. For two, long days we checked the charts morning, noon and night, with each report moving the swells arrival to a little later in the day. After doing this for a few years as I have, you start to familiarize yourself with the exact wave you'll be surfing and not the general area that the reports cover. For Punta de Lobos the swell always arrives later than predicted, but what could we do? To let this swell go by would mean a huge loss of credibility within the Big Wave World. So once the swell actually hit the water at 72 hours prior to arrival we made the call to go on Green.
In a normal scenario we would have had a bit of room to move but due to the situation with the Awards, this was a very risky call. Risk equals reward, as we say on the Big Wave Tour, so we are all accustomed being out on a limb. But this time we were dangling by a vine, Tarzan style!
The 10-hour plane ride to Chile meant I was unable to dig into swell reports for while, and it was a much-needed reprieve from the commotion leading up to the call. Once the call has been made it is agonizing to watch the predictions jump back and forth. After so many years I can usually compartmentalize, but this time things were different. There was a big chance the swell would peak during the night! based on our latest forecast, there would be enough waves in the afternoon to start the event, but not to finish. And some of the surfers, including the reigning BWT Champion Makaukai Rothman, would need to get on the late plane the same day to be back in time for the Awards.
Thursday morning of the contest we painfully watched each meager set approach, and my mind began to spin. Our only option was to send the first heats out in subpar conditions and hold Final at sunset when the waves would be good. Not the best option, but doable.
In the end, Mel and WSL CEO Paul Speaker weren't willing to lower the standards for the contest -- thank goodness! -- and, overnight we came up with a new gameplan. In the end we opted to fly the Championship Trophy to Chile so that we could finish the contest in optimal waves on Friday -- and film Makuakai's awards presentation and acceptance speech.
This not only enabled us to include it in the Big Wave Awards that Friday night with a special flair, but we also proved that we would not compromise our criteria nor let anything but nature determine our destiny as competitive, big wave chargers. Big waves of the type we seek are a rare and precious commodity, not to be wasted.