Welcome back to the 5 Minute Recap. A quick, concise overview of each event on the WSL championship tour. Today, a recap of the Corona Open J-Bay.
The 2018 Corona Open J-Bay. Oh my. Occasionally this happens for a WSL event, where the grandest spectacle takes place in the periphery, not the actual surfing itself. Sometimes it’s a post-heat interview; Bobby in New York, or a cancellation of an event like Margaret River this year, or Mick’s shark encounter at this event 2 years ago. Some of those spawned by nature, most are great for business. Mick’s shark encounter has undoubtedly been viewed more times than any competitively surfed wave in history, thus elevated Mick’s personal brand, and by association the bravado of the sport at large.
This year at JBay, however, while there were 2 stoppages of the event due to a shark passing by and there was fantastic surfing throughout the entire event, but what will be remembered most was the sputtering and decried roll-out of the Facebook Live platform as the sole home to view WSL events. The general viewing public and the surf media overwhelmingly revolted, by not viewing the event, by writing incendiary articles, and by spewing their distaste all over social media with the highest concentration of comments in the WSL’s own posts.
This transition, this deal with Facebook, was announced back in January and was expected to net the WSL $30 million dollars over the next 2 years in return for exclusive viewing rights to their events. It was expected to transition immediately, at the first event of the season. It didn’t. Technical aspects of Facebook Live’s platform were still being sorted out and the WSL promised to not transition until the platform provided a better viewing experience than what they were currently providing; all the same features plus additional features. Well, in the interim, the last 6 months, Zuckerberg testified in front of the Senate and addressed Facebook’s data mining and their potential collusion, knowing or unknowingly, with Russia and their social influence over the US presidential election in 2016. Scintillating and scandalous stuff, and way beyond the scope of anything the WSL could have imagined when they brokered their deal.
I mention all of this because the public’s backlash to the WSL business decision to work with Facebook isn’t just about curmudgeonly viewers resisting change, although I’m sure there is some that. It’s more of moral revolt. Facebook has long lost it’s cool status, and people have been deleting their accounts for years. And others, like myself, haven’t deleted their accounts but also haven’t use it in years. And so going into 2018, had zero value attached to it. And now, in light of Facebook’s legal-adjacent business practices, Facebook presents negative value my life. It’s now an ethical burden for me to assess and it presents a moral conundrum, So aside from Facebook being uncool, it’s now decidedly politicized and in turn, divisive.
Unfortunately for the WSL, in the time this has all transpired, Facebook has gotten their tech up and running and the 2018 Corona JBay Open would be the first event to showcase it. And so on Monday July 2nd, as Frederico Morais, Michael February, and Jordy Smith entered the chilly lineup, the WSL and Facebook launched. But wait, as it turns out the tech wasn’t up and running.
The webcast was marred with interrupted streaming, didn’t allow an option to see any previously surfed waves, and didn’t even allow access to see scores from previous heats. This was not what we were promised, and very likely not what the WSL was promised from Facebook. The stream itself and the functionality, the viewers inability to access information and interact with the event, was lower than what the WSL was providing without Facebook’s assistance. And mind you, this Facebook transition is all orchestrated with the goal of accessing new viewers. Rather than trying to compel a non-surfing, sport-minded public to type “WorldSurfLeague.com” into their URL then mark their calendar for an upcoming event, and then monitor the swell forecast to anticipate whether the event will actually run when it’s scheduled or not (all a very tall task), INSTEAD, they would simply stream events live on Facebook, with it’s 2.19 billion active monthly users, and hope that through viral sharing, commenting, and posting, our surfing snowball picks up and retains new and engaged fans.
That entire premise is predicated on the fact the core fans will, in fact, watch the event and engage with it (not mute the comment section), so that the viewership numbers can gain critical mass. Well, JBay was perhaps the worst possible location on tour to launch this experiment. Whatever core audience hadn’t either A) taken a moral stance against watching the event, or B) been technically blocked from watching by the staggered streaming, was in fact, asleep.
8am at JBay is 11pm Pacific Standard Time, and just about the hour that I nodded off each night, along with the largest portion of their viewing audience. Australia, by the way is 2nd, and only 6 to 8 hours ahead of JBay, so viewing would start at a more favorable hour in Australia, Asia, and European markets. Which takes us back to functionality, I awoke after day one of the event completed, scrolled through some highlights on Instagram and then pulled our my computer to watch the Heat Analyzer. Much to chagrin, it was gone. The only ways to watch this event would be live, a full length video of the heat in it’s entirely, or a condensed 7-10 minute recap video. And in the immortal words of Sweet Brown, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
So I didn’t watch any heats, not in their entirety, nor their recaps. I watched individual waves surfed via Instagram, not Facebook. Nothing was memorable. And more than anything I watched the public revolt. Every single post about the JBay event, regardless of where or who posted, was met with overwhelmingly negative sentiments like these . . .
And I know, I can hear you, boo hoo, who cares?! Lazy sleeping American’s whose leisure sport is being beamed from South Africa up to outer space and back into their multiple devices in nanoseconds are now complaining because the stream sputtered or is only available in 3 convenient formats and not a 4th, the heat analyzer? Oh the humanity!
Well, yes, that’s exactly what is happening and why we’re complaining. And in a completely unexpected move, on July 3rd the WSL actually conceded. They heard all these complaints, acknowledged their unfulfilled promise to their consumer, to improve the viewing experience, and in an act of contrition, restored their heat analyzer and the live stream on WorldSurfLeague.com without having to login to Facebook.
I’m assuming this violates the original agreement the WSL had with Facebook for exclusive viewing. The originally anticipated $15 mil a year for two years was, launched 6 months late, didn’t deliver what was promised, and now is a fractured version of the entire premise that the deal was built on. So, is this consumer distress worth anything less than the $15 mil a year? Will the WSL even be able to deliver their original core audience that they promised to Facebook? And now that the WSL has retracted exclusivity, will they even be able to execute their original goal of growth beyond the core audience?
Seemingly, the only competitive surf fans who didn’t care about any of this kerfuffle were those actually competiting in the Corona JBay Open. And thanks to the restoration of our beloved heat analyzer, I was able to watch the drama unfold, at my own pace.
The 3 key storylines that we’ve been following this season provided new an important updates; Kelly returned from injury, the title race shifted dramatically, as did the Rookie of the Year race.
There was also 2 additional storylines, Joel Parkinson announced that’d he be retiring at the end of the this season. Congrats Joel. And within a few hours, Kelly out-headlined him by announcing that he too would be retiring, but at the end of 2019. Classic Kelly. I’m reserving my congratulation for you, firstly because you stepped on Joel’s moment, and secondly because we’ve gone through this with you before.
That announcement, whether fulfilled or not, turned out to be the highlight of Kelly’s return. In head high surf and howling offshore winds he took 3rd place to Italo Ferrira and Kanoa Igarashi, barely mustering a 8.73 heat total. His board was tiny, which is just a questionable choice, no matter what he though the benefit would be. And sure enough, it looked chattery on the water’s surface. While sharp through turns, he seemed unable to generate drive and the long drawn-out energy that best suits JBay. Thankfully he swapped boards for round 2, but still to little thrill. And he simply couldn’t out surf a powerful and in-form two-time winner Jordy Smith. It was mainly a factor of Jordy weighing 50 pounds more than Kelly, riding significantly more foam, and cutting right through all of bump and chatter that the offshore winds were creating. Jordy and JBay look gorgeous together and it was a pleasure to watch him surf all the way through the Semifinals where he was barely stopped by eventual 2nd place finisher Wade Carmichael. Wade won by less than half a point.
The Rookie of Year race has shed Yago Dora and Jesse Mendes. It’s now between 11th place Michael Rodriguez, 10th place Griffin Colapinto, 7th place Willian Cardoso and 6th place Wade Carmichael. At the risk of being rude, I’ll say that Willian’s success in Bali will not be sustained and Michael Rodriguez will lose in round 2 at Teahupoo and Pipe. This is a Wade and Griffin race. And while Griffin posts more highlights than Wade, Wade looks fortified for the long race. I’d previously bet on Griff to do better than Wade in the beach breaks of Europe, but Wade surprised us all and finaled in Rio, so anything is possible. Interestingly, they both seem to be liked by all and everyone is rooting for them both; Griff because of his boyish naivety and savant level talent, and Wade for his undying work ethic and textbook fundamentals. Right now, I don’t really care who wins. I’m psyched to have them both showing potential that they’ll be around for years to come. Wade leapt forward 8 spots and is now in world title contention at 6th place.
Previous #1 Julian Wilson made the quarterfinals but very unimpressively, with 6s and 7s, looking confident and capable, but not impassioned. He leaves South Africa in 2nd.
Italo’s round 2 loss may probably has nothing to do his new bleached blond hair, but I didn’t ask the judges. It’s more likely a reflection of his lack of experience at JBay. It seemed to be an issue of wave selection. He surfed well, and he surfs so well in general that he can often win by surfing marginal quality waves in a heat. This is rarely the case at JBay. His selected waves simply didn’t offer the opportunities, the pacing, nor the length of ride that heat winners benefited from. This 25th place finish will likely be a throwaway from him at the end of the season, but it still stings and it interrupts his momentum and his backhand reputation he established at Bells. He drops 1 position, from 3rd place into 4th, but still presents a big threat for the title as we move to Teahupo’o and into the beach breaks of Europe.
He swapped spots with Gabriel Medina, now 3rd, who surfs so competently and has set such a high standard during past performances that his current surfing actually translates as subdued. Upon deeper inspection, he’s flawless. His fundamentals, his pacing, his timing. Perhaps he’s less radical than he once was, but it’s hard to find fault in his surfing at any venue, and yet, he has trouble pushing his scores beyond the 8 point mark. He’ll be a huge threat at both Teahupo’o and Pipe, where we can expect the rest of the top 10, save Julian Wilson, to falter.
Those barreling lefts will also present the greatest test for current #1 Filipe Toledo. This win over Wade Carmichael is the 2nd consecutive for Filipe at JBay, a feat only previously accomplished by Jake Patterson and Jordy Smith. Filipe and Kanoa, who was the 2nd best surfer in this event and lost to Filipe in the semifinals . . .Filipe and Kanoa were the only 2 surfers throughout the event who consistently incorporated airs into their repertoire, not as single highlight maneuvers, but as maneuvers incorporated into the speed, power, and flow of the ride, although often as an exclamation point for the finish. These air’s are not at the expense of rail surfing. Both Filipe and Kanoa showcased plenty of rail surfing, albeit not with the power of some larger competitors, but they’d offer the air on a section where any other turn would have been a repetition of a turn they had previously completed earlier in the ride. So the airs were not only radical, they fulfilled the judging criteria’s request for variety in maneuvers.
And this radical agility was highlighted most profoundly during Filipe’s very close final with Wade Carmichael. The waves were still head high, but with less favorable winds and more than just bumps, but big lumps of chop providing moguls through each wave. Wade posted a 7.33 and an 8.0 with his predictable yet timeless power surfing combos. Filipe would powerbelt sections that required it, but then release his fins and spin through sections that Wade might have just banked off of. Wade did a length floater across a section that I imagined Filipe would have 360 aired over. On the final turn of that same wave, Wade smashed an oncoming section hard, disengaged from the wave’s face and he came down and stomped a freefall landing. It was rad to see him disconnect from the wave for second, but it also highlighted that seeing him land something weightless is a rarity, and his fins never got free.
There were 20 minutes left and Filipe was winning without yet posting what would be his highest scoring ride of the heat, an 8.30. He earned it with 9 minutes remaining, opening with a fast power gouge, on to two banking floaters, a drawn-out power carve, and then a jazzy fins free lip smashing slide. With this win he switches spots with Julian Wilson, from 2nd and into 1st. He’ll be wearing the yellow Jeep leader’s jersey in Tahiti, and likely praying for a small swell.
I will see you next, likely in the comment’s section on the Facebook stream as we watch Teahupoo on August 10th. Do me a favor and don’t send me a friend request. I only use Facebook to watch pro surfing and see my parents vacation photos. Thanks.
Written, hosted, edited, and produced: David Scales @David_Lee_Scales
Music: Atlas Sound feat. Noah Lennox, Walkabout