WSL adds wave pools to the official QS, LQS and JQS tours

This week the WSL confirmed they will expand the Pro Junior, Qualifying Series, and Longboard Tiers to include wave pool venues. Earlier in 2022 the world’s largest and best-known tour re-instated the Surf Ranch Pro CT comp at Kelly’s pool in Lemoore. The latest move officially embraces wave pools (or wave basins as the WSL likes to call them) as legit competitive venues.

The WSL said they have created broad-reaching guidelines for evaluating and hosting competitions in wave tanks and will start to roll out new venue announcments in the coming year.

“Wave technology is at an inflection point, and the level playing field of a wave basin provides a unique opportunity for competitors,” said Jessi Miley-Dyer, WSL SVP of Tours and Head of Competition. “Although the ocean will always be our home, we believe this technology has an important role to play in the future of competitive surfing.”

The first of the new stops will kick off at Urbnsurf in Melbourne with the Rip Curl Pro Urbnsurf, a World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series 1,000 event. Eighty surfers will compete for qualification points set to a festival backdrop of live acoustic music and close-proximity to fans watching from pool sides.

The Cove setup offers spectators a great view of the action. Photo by Andy Myers

One difference in holding a WSL event (or any comp) at a wave pool is that organizers can keep to a strict schedule without fear of uncooperative surf. The December 10 event will kick off at 10am and conclude by 6pm. Urbnsurf will sell admission tickets to spectators at $10 each.

“I was lucky enough to compete in the first event held in the lagoon and know how epic the experience will be for competitors and spectators,” said Jan Juc local Tully Wylie. “No doubt the event will attract the best surfers in Australia given its significance but the Victorians will have the home-field advantage as we train here so much with Surfing Victoria.”

This will be the first World Surf League QS competition to utilize Wavegarden Cove technology. There have been club competitions and grom events at Urbnsurf. And just recently Coves in Korea and Switzerland hosted national contests, with the Wave Park Surf League and Alaia Winter Cup crowning champions. This same month Waco Surf hosted the Swedish Surf Championships.

For an idea of what competition looks like in a Wavegarden Cove, check the wrap up video from the Wave Park Surf League final event which showcased both longboard and shortboard divisions.

The Cove venues have several things going for them, including an amphitheater-like setup. Fans can line the pool edges and watch as their favorite surfers each get a fair turn on the exact same wave setting.

“Different high-quality waves are guaranteed at the push of a button to provide competitors with equal conditions and alleviate event waiting periods and the risk of cancellation,” Wavegarden said in a statement. “Our surf parks mitigate the risk of the uncertainty and unpredictability of the ocean, allowing the possibility of a clearly defined running schedule, day and night, without the need for unnecessary waiting periods.”

Surfing comps and wave pools have had a rocky relationship. The creative Stab High event held in Waco three years ago signaled the potential for a new aerial tour that never materialized. Stab has since taken its event back to salted locations.

Of note is that this move by the WSL puts surfers in comp jerseys not at the mind-numbing perfection of Kelly’s, but in the much more relatable-to-everyday-surfers Wavegarden Cove technology. While the Surf Ranch Pro, the best-known of the pool competitions, was embraced by strategists for its no-room-for-error tension, it was panned by many surf fans as boring.

WSL_Sage Goldsbury_Credit Matt Dunbar
Sage Goldsbury at Urbnsurf. Photo by Matt Dunbar

The WSL owns Kelly’s technology and it is an interesting move to embrace competitions at venues outside of company ownership. In the same news release, the WSL stated that Kelly’s will be the only wave system to earn the “WSL Certified” designation, meaning the waves are fit for WSL Championship Tour (CT) competition. Translation: You won’t see Steph or any other CT surfer put on a jersey for a title run anywhere but Lemoore.

The schedule so far for WSL wave pool comps is:
Rip Curl Pro Urbnsurf QS1,000 December 10, 2022
Surf Ranch Pro Championship Tour event May 27 – 28, 2023

The wave pool space is really excited about this recent announcement. WavePoolMag received no less than four press releases, each one from a different entity. The takeaway is that more events will be added to the calendar with more venue announcements coming soon. So watch this space for future updates.