Stab forges unique vision of future wave pool comps

Stab High will return this year with their wave pool event in Waco Texas. Later this year they will chuck yet another comp at a secret spot in Australia. (They are intentionally vague on Aussie comp details.)

Stab’s not the first to jump into the deep-end of controlled environment surf contests. Munich’s Rapid Surf League is building a tour through Europe. Like Stab High, RSL uses judging, but they also throw out a Game of Skate formula. Super exciting, the comp structure puts pressure on competitors to land a trick or lose out. For Stab High, surfers are rewarded by judges in the traditional sense. However, showmanship, crowd reaction and beer intake greatly influence Stab’s comp structure.

Wave pool surfing is fortunate to have both branches. Rapid Surf League is exciting. But it’s a standing wave. Stab High takes place in uber-fun wave pool surf.

Wave pool competitions have their work cut out if they are going to keep viewers interested. Last year’s Surf Ranch Pro was pure WSL formula. Which the online community immediately branded as dull. Both Stab High and Rapid Surf League are worlds away from a WSL format and broadcast. You won’t hear Pottz elaborate on “building house” or being “the best in the game.” But then the announcers for these wave pool events don’t have to fill hours upon hours of downtime between sets like Pottz and Turpel have to.

Stab’s Sam McIntosh, a twisted amalgamation of PT Barnum marketing guru, staid salesman and gonzo journalist made the whole thing happen last year. WavePoolMag spoke with Mr. McIntosh to find out what works and what doesn’t in a wave pool competition. Did Pay-Per-View make them millions? No. Did the event spark wild viewing parties in man caves around the world? Yes. Which is the greater accomplishment?

What are you most proud of from last year?

Our little Stab team pulled the entire event off ourselves. Our editor in chief was on commentary. Our staff writer Mikey Ciaramella was the head judge. I was contest director and had never even run a boardriders contest. My wife styled the event, our creative director Shinya did the entire graphics package for the broadcast and ESPN show. Our bookkeeper Hilary was running the door. Because there were waves in the pool during the day, we couldn’t put artwork up so we were up till 3am the night floating in a boat sticking up the graphics on the wall of the pool. 

What did you learn from doing Pay-Per-View?

What we did find was that charging for the broadcast makes people more invested in it. Our social feed was flooded with garage parties and BBQs hosted by some of surfing’s biggest names. We believe people came together and that wouldn’t have happened if it were for free.

Our sense is that if you can get a paying audience of 20,000 for a film or event, then that event can have longevity. Whether it’s bodyboarding, lacrosse, or even a long-tail sport like surfing.

What is great about a wave pool event?

It was fun to create a blueprint for an event that showed surfers’ personalities. Guys were doing all-nighters before they surfed, there was music thumping the whole event, they all hung out and were cheering each other on in the warm-ups. We played the tracks they requested while they surfed. We wanted them to be exactly who they are without penalty.

We also wanted to create an event that was run start to finish in a few hours without the specter of a flat ocean or lull. And, we’ve been renting pools since 2003 and love how creative you can be in a controlled environment. From visiting the pool to the event being dusted was four months.   

We created something that the surfers and audience liked. Almost every surfer stopped and personally thanked us, and said it was the best surf contest they’d ever been in. All we really wanted was for it to be real. It felt raw and it felt new and there was a real energy about it that I’d never seen at a surf contest. When we sat down on the morning of the event, we said to the commentary and broadcast teams to feel free to say what they thought. If a score sucks, or the format isn’t right, or the event doesn’t work, say it on the broadcast. Bobby Martinez looked up, and said: “We can? Whatever we want? Even cussing?” Of course! If you believe, say it!

Tell us about the new girls event

We thought that if we could provide the platform for young girls to be a real threat against the men in the main event in years to come, then that’s an even-better deal. After two days of surfing with guys at this level, we’re confident we’ll see their performance elevate.

What mistakes did you make?

Something we executed kinda poorly last year was the Stab High air for $20k. If surfing was length of ride, competitive surfing would be so easy to follow. I think subjective judging is surfing’s biggest challenge but the height of an air is a non-negotiable that any audience can understand. This is a static wavepool and we want to do a better job of that narrative this year.

What’s different about this year?

This year, we’ll re-invest in the broadcast. More cameras and more backstories to better frame up the story for a wider audience on ESPN. There was a charm to Bobby Martinez not knowing surfers but we won’t be that obtuse this year. And, we’ll better control the time of waves. A 1:08 full revolution between waves moves quick and it’s hard to fit the storytelling into the broadcast.

Tell us about the Australian Stab High

Australians are surfing enthusiasts and Stab’s home is still Australia. Australians know how to give a real good time and we’re excited about creating a festival vibe on this one. Dragging a surf audience to Texas is a tall order but gathering a surf audience in Australia who know an event will run only for three or four hours resonates with most people, I think. 

Stab High 2.0 will run on June 29, along with a live broadcast on stabmag.com. Stab High will be broadcast live for $14 (on the day) or $9 if you purchase early, starting at the following global hours on June 29 (or June 30 in Oz): 1 p.m PST; 3 p.m. CST (local Texas time); 4 p.m. EST; 8 a.m. AEST. Tickets and more info available here

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