The World Surf League is officially canceling its 2020 Championship Tour and Qualifying Series seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s aiming to kick off its 2021 schedule this November with a contest in Hawaii.
The 2021 tour is planned to start Nov. 25-Dec. 6 of this year with the women competing in the Shiseido Maui Pro at Honolua Bay, Maui. From Dec. 8 to 20, the tour is expected to move to Oahu, where the men will compete in the Billabong Pipe Masters.
The tour, which is debuting a new format, typically doesn’t start in Hawaii. The state had been slated to host the Maui Pro and Pipe Masters during the same time frame at what would have been the end of this year’s tour— if it had happened.
The 2019 WSL Championship Tour season came to a close with Carissa Moore claiming a fourth women’s World Title and Italo Ferriera earning his first men’s title. An elite class of surfers had expected to participate in this year’s WSL tour, which would have piggybacked on the wave of publicity surrounding the debut of surfing as an Olympic sport at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Hawaii’s Moore and John John Florence were headed to the Olympic Games as part of Team USA’s two-man, two-woman team. Instead, the Olympics were postponed and the WSL canceled its 2020 CT.
The WSL now is gearing up for a revamped 2021 CT that brings schedule changes, emphasizes gender equality, and paves the way for the introduction of a midseason cut in the 2022 season. The cut, which will reduce the men’s field from 36 to 24 and the women’s from 18 to 12, is expected to improve the chance of optimal swell conditions in locations like G-Land in Indonesia and J-Bay in South Africa and ensure that top contenders meet more frequently.
WSL CEO Erik Logan said the CT’s reframing is designed to ensure the world’s best surfers are competing in the world’s best waves leading to a new single-day world title event, which will mark the conclusion of the WSL Finals, scheduled for Sept. 8-16, 2021.
“For John and Carissa and many other (Hawaii) CT surfers, both men and women, getting back into the jersey as fast as they can really has to be priority,” he said. “That level of competition is key to getting them ready to go.”
Logan said calendar changes mean that elite surfers potentially can participate in the 2021 Olympics and come back to participate in WSL’s surf-off format.
The WSL Qualifying Series will run through the end of June and determine which surfers qualify for the premium Challenger Series portion, which starting in 2021 will run from August through December. Points from Qualifying Series events that were completed in 2020 will carry over into 2021.
“The WSL format, timeline and location updates will make for a very exciting and intense 2021 tour and World Title chase,” said two-time WSL champion Florence in a statement. “It’s great being a part of the WSL, especially as we evolve and adapt to new challenges. I look forward to competing in this new era.”
Among other highlights of the coming tour is a first-time commitment from WSL to host an equal number of women’s and men’s events. As part of their 10 events, the women will join the men to surf some of the world’s most demanding waves at Teahupo’o, Tahiti, for the first time since 2006.
There’s been a lot of turmoil this year in the sporting world, which has experienced major event cancellations across the globe. Surfing is a sport where participants and spectators can more easily social distance. However, the WSL’s reliance on world-level competition means that it will need to work with government agencies in Hawaii and elsewhere to ensure there are effective protocols that allow for safe international travel.
There still are virtually no international flights coming into Hawaii. WSL’s decision also follows Gov. David Ige’s decision earlier this week to postpone the launch of a pre-arrival testing program to Sept. 1. The program is expected to create a pathway for Hawaii tourism to reopen by allowing visitors who take an approved COVID-19 test within 72 hours of coming to Hawaii and obtain a negative result to bypass a mandatory 14-day self- quarantine for out-of-state passengers.
Logan said the WSL is working with local officials as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization to establish safety protocols for surfers and spectators.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the city recognizes that it will take collaboration to resume surfing events.
“Surfing originated in Hawaii and is one of the activities we’ve encouraged throughout this difficult time. My hope is that we’ll be able to see the best in the world on our world famous breaks soon, making sure athletes as well as staff are safe, protected and healthy,” Caldwell said in a statement. “Our Department of Parks and Recreation will continue to work alongside the WSL, and act as a partner in our shared commitments to health and safety for everyone involved.”
Hawaii State Sen. Glenn Wakai, chairman of the Economic Development, Tourism, and Technology Committee, said he’s glad that Hawaii remains part of the action.
“With surfing poised to make its debut in the Tokyo Olympics, there’s no better time to reposition Hawaii at the forefront of professional surfing,” Wakai said in a statement. “I’m impressed with the COVID-19 precautions the WSL is instituting for athletes, fans, and the local community, and I look forward to the return of these top-tier professional competitions to the Aloha State.”
2021 Championship Tour Season *
>> Shiseido Maui Pro presented by ROXY, Maui, Hawaii: Nov. 25-Dec. 6
>> Billabong Pipe Masters, Oahu, Hawaii: Dec. 8-20
>> MEO Pro Peniche, Peniche, Portugal: Feb. 18-28, 2021
>> Corona Open Gold Coast presented by Billabong: Queensland, Australia: March 18 – 28, 2021
>> Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, Victoria, Australia: April 1-11, 2021
>> Margaret River, Western Australia, Australia: April 16-26, 2021
>> Oi Rio Pro presented by Corona, Saquarema, Brasil: May 20-29, 2021
>> Surf Ranch Pro, California, USA: June 10-13, 2021
>> Quiksilver Pro G-Land, Indonesia: June 20-29, 2021
>> Corona Open J-Bay, South Africa: July 7 – 19, 2021
>> Outerknown Tahiti Pro, Teahupoʻo, Tahiti: August 26 – September 6, 2021
>> The WSL Finals, Location TBD: Sept. 8-16, 2021
* All events and dates subject to change due to applicable COVID-19-related restrictions, including global travel restrictions.