Craig Jarvis sat down with the World Surf League’s Bri­tish CEO for a talk on all things tour.

Hi So­phie. Great to fi­nally chat. You were in South Africa for the Corona Open Jbay. What did you think about Jbay and the rest of South Africa? It was amaz­ing. I had pretty high ex­pec­ta­tions be­cause I had watched pre­vi­ous con­tests. I had a great time in South Africa, and got to meet with a lot of dif­fer­ent folks, and gained a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the surf­ing cul­ture in South Africa, as well as to un­der­stand the op­por­tu­nity we all have to grow the sport fur­ther there.

How has your first year been work­ing for the WSL?

It has been a lot of fun. A lot of hard work, and I have learned a vast amount. I think I’m clear in my mind about the op­por­tu­ni­ties we have and the ar­eas that we need to work on. The way I’ve been wel­comed, the dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers, and the peo­ple that I’ve met – it has all been a real plea­sure, and there is such pas­sion be­hind surf­ing. The open-mind­ed­ness and pur­pose-driven ap­proach is even stronger than I ex­pected and is a unique at­tribute to the sport. It has been great, and I can’t wait to see what sort of progress we can make in the years to come.

What has been your big­gest chal­lenge dur­ing the year?

Prob­a­bly just the scale of the op­por­tu­nity that we have. Also the num­ber of projects that we have on the go at the mo­ment, giv­ing us the abil­ity and op­por­tu­nity to evolve the sport go­ing for­ward. We have an un­prece­dented num­ber of op­por­tu­ni­ties to build on top of the strong foun­da­tion we al­ready have. The big­gest chal­lenge is also de­cid­ing, out of all of the on­go­ing projects, what is go­ing to make the most im­pact­ful dif­fer­ence in the sport. A lot is go­ing on at the mo­ment.

The shark pro­to­col worked very well in Jbay. Do you think this sys­tem can op­er­ate at places like Mar­garet River and those events can be run off to com­ple­tion? We’re pleased and proud of the sys­tem that we have in place in Jef­frey’s Bay, and it works well. It’s never go­ing to be an area of wa­ter safety that we are go­ing to be com­pla­cent about, and we’re go­ing to con­tinue to try and up our game and make the en­vi­ron­ment as safe as we can for our ath­letes, know­ing full well that we’re deal­ing with na­ture. We will use the same wa­ter safety at var­i­ous events as ap­pro­pri­ate. We had a sim­i­lar ap­proach in place, but at Mar­garet River, we had a very dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion – there were two at­tacks nearby, as well as beached whales, so it was a dif­fer­ent sce­nario we were deal­ing with, and we thus had a very dif­fer­ent res­o­lu­tion.

The 2019 CT sea­son. Can you tell me what the plan is? Is there go­ing to be the shorter com­pe­ti­tion pe­riod for the CT? The shorter QS sea­son? The end of the sea­son in Mentawais?

We haven’t spo­ken on the record about this, so all the spec­u­la­tion that is out there is spec­u­la­tion, and we are hav­ing var­i­ous dis­cus­sions with our stake­hold­ers and in­ter­nally about what are the best changes for the sport. There will be some changes, but we haven’t yet con­firmed what those are go­ing to be. When we an­nounce the 2019 sea­son, it will be re­vealed.

What about Pipe? Is it still off next year will we see it re­turn 2020?

So that's linked to the pre­vi­ous ques­tion, where we haven't

yet an­nounced the 2019 cal­en­dar, so I can’t com­ment on what’s hap­pen­ing next year in Hawaii. There was a lot of cov­er­age around the dis­cus­sions we had with Hawaii and the au­thor­i­ties ear­lier in the year, and we need to get more ex­tended per­mits on the events. We’re work­ing hard with Hawaii, and I’m hop­ing we get that long-term ap­proval and com­mit­ment.

The Face­book tran­si­tion has been a bit prob­lem­atic. Where do you see this go­ing?

Yes. Our team was mon­i­tor­ing the feed­back care­fully, and when you make changes, you’re never go­ing to please ev­ery­one, and you do tend to hear more from the peo­ple who aren’t happy. The happy ones tend not to com­ment so much, and it’s the same across any topic.

I think that Face­book is a fan­tas­tic part­ner for us. It is the most sig­nif­i­cant me­dia plat­form by far in the world, and we want to be able to grow the sport and to be able to work with it.

Also, it’s es­sen­tial for us to not to have it be­hind the pay­wall, and to make sure that our fans can ac­cess it for free. I think that Face­book is a great prod­uct and an ex­cel­lent way for our fans to in­ter­act with our con­tent. The is­sues we en­coun­tered at Jbay were un­ac­cept­able. And we need to do ev­ery­thing we can to en­sure that that does not hap­pen again be­cause it’s not the ex­pe­ri­ence we would want for our fans. While it was only a small mi­nor­ity who had is­sues, and most peo­ple could view it okay, it’s still not the ser­vice we want to be de­liv­er­ing.

Can you tell me about plans for the Tokyo Surf Ranch? How far along is it?

So it’s very much a work in progress. We’re still in the early stages, and we’re work­ing very hard with part­ners on the ground to build a wave fa­cil­ity in Tokyo that hope­fully might be ready in time for the Olympics, but it’s a big chal­lenge. We have var­i­ous plans in place and are work­ing with the var­i­ous au­thor­i­ties, so yes, we still are on track to build and test a fa­cil­ity there in time for the Olympics, but there’s a long way to go.

Is it be­ing built with the Olympics in mind? What do they make of the ISA/IOC de­ci­sion to hold the Olympics in the ocean at Tsuri­gasaki Beach?

Yes we hope so, I mean we re­spect their de­ci­sion to hold the event in the ocean, and it’s un­der­stand­able, be­cause the fa­cil­ity isn't built or tested yet, but if that is the case then we hope they would con­sider host­ing ei­ther prac­tice ses­sions or show­case surfs, or even the Olympics them­selves in the wave fa­cil­ity. We know that it will ul­ti­mately de­ter­mine the best surfer in the fairest way, and al­low it to be a great ex­pe­ri­ence for fans and also more im­por­tantly, for broad­cast. How­ever, it is spec­u­la­tive at the mo­ment. We have to build and test it, and we will do what­ever we can to do that, and then we hope at that point they would con­sider it.

The ocean is a fun­da­men­tal part of the sport, and we’re sup­port­ive of events in the ocean. We’ll see how we get on with the de­vel­op­ment, but we’re con­fi­dent that we will get it built in time.

How do you feel about the USA Olympic team opt­ing to use Waco in Texas rather than the Wsl/slater wave pool?

I think that ev­ery­one has their own choice. A lot of the CT surfers have spent a lot of time up at Surf Ranch, and I know they have had fan­tas­tic ex­pe­ri­ences, and I’m sure they’ll con­tinue to use it, but we’re very sup­port­ive of th­ese other fa­cil­i­ties. I haven’t had a chance to go the Waco pool as yet, but I’ve heard only pos­i­tive things about it. It’s very dif­fer­ent to Surf Ranch, it has dif­fer­ent high-per­for­mance char­ac­ter­is­tics and was built with dif­fer­ent ob­jec­tives in mind, but it is an ex­cel­lent op­tion for cer­tain as­pects of surf train­ing, and nat­u­rally, the US Olympic Com­mit­tee and the team can train wher­ever they want. The more peo­ple that are surf­ing, they more wave sys­tems there are out there, the more peo­ple who have the op­por­tu­ni­ties to surf, the bet­ter I think it is for ev­ery­one.

What is your vi­sion for the WSL in the next five years? We want to build on the solid base that we have with pro­fes­sional surf­ing. I think we all feel that the sport is on a very pos­i­tive tip­ping point, and there’s a chance that we could take surf­ing to a whole new level, in the right way, and be balanc­ing out very much with hold­ing onto the val­ues and dis­tinc­tive cul­ture of the sport.

We’re such a pur­pose-led sport, and ocean con­ser­va­tion and those chal­lenges are very much more top of mind, and we can make a real im­pact in that area. I think that our vi­sion for the next five years is very bright and I think we will see sig­nif­i­cant growth in the sport, go­ing to new mar­kets and show­cas­ing in a new way both at the ocean and wave sys­tems.

Thank you, So­phie, it has been great talk­ing to you. It’s a plea­sure.

We’re such a pur­pose-led sport, and ocean con­ser­va­tion and those chal­lenges are very much more top of mind, and we can make a real im­pact in that area

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