AS GOOD AS GOLD
WE SIT DOWN WITH THE BRITISH WSL CEO SOPHIE GOLDSCHMIDT AND CHAT ABOUT LIFE, THE UNIVERSE AND EVERYTHING…
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