Sean Doherty: The Start of the WSL CT in Three Weeks’ Time Is Throwing up Some Questions

12 Nov 2020 1 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

The WSL’s new scheduling alongside the complexities of travelling under Covid with potential quarantine has meant that Aussie tour vet Ace Buchan won’t be competing in the Pipe Masters this year. Photo: WSL/Cestari

The WSL’s new scheduling alongside the complexities of travelling under Covid with potential quarantine has meant that Aussie tour vet Ace Buchan won’t be competing in the Pipe Masters this year. Photo: WSL/Cestari

COASTALWATCH | SEAN DOHERTY

Hang on, this is going to get weird...

The WSL’s revised tour schedule for 2021 dropped yesterday.

But while the commentariat has been busy with the end of the tour – debating the merit of a world title showdown at Trestles – that’s a long way off. Who knows where the hell this thing is going to be by September next year? The start of the tour in three weeks’ time is throwing up enough questions.

The tour has been flagged to start with the women at Honolua Bay on December 4. The men start four days later at Pipe. Two new events follow for both men and women… a Sunset beach event starting January 18, before heading to the American mainland for a contest at Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz.

In a normal year, surfers would already be in Hawaii right now. Haleiwa would have started this week. Instead, most of them are still at home working out what the hell they’re going to do.

For someone like tour veteran Ace Buchan, who has travelled in the past with wife Bec and three kids, things are even trickier still. “For me personally I was in a position choosing between my family and my career… and trying to find a way to do both. So I’m going to skip Pipe and all things going well I’ll do Sunset and Santa Cruz.”

The month break between Pipe and Sunset is good news for young crew without commitments at home. They’ll be able to stay on in Hawaii and surf over Christmas, but if you’ve got a family at home it creates issues. “For starters I’d be sitting at a quarantine hotel in Parramatta for two weeks,” says Ace. “I’d actually spend Christmas on my own in quarantine, then I’d have five days out before I had to turn around and head back. Either that or it's three months away from home.”

7-time World Champ Steph Gilmore eyes off one at Sunset back in 2008. The women’s and men’s tours will be back there for a CT event in January 2021. Photo: WSL/Cestari

7-time World Champ Steph Gilmore eyes off one at Sunset back in 2008. The women’s and men’s tours will be back there for a CT event in January 2021. Photo: WSL/Cestari

The irony is that Australia of all the countries is causing the biggest headaches in pulling this thing together. The fact there are only a handful of active cases across the entire country means Australia is doubling down on tight borders and remains in many ways cut off from the rest of the surfing world.

Getting out of here is doable. “The flights weren’t as much as a hurdle as I thought they’d be,” says Ace. “There’s no direct flights, but you can fly to San Fran and head to Hawaii from there. I think that’s the way most people will go.” To be allowed on the Hawaii flight though, they’ll need to be tested at the terminal before they board.

Getting there is one thing for the Australians; getting back another. “There’s still 25,000 people trying to get home all around the world, and the risk is getting stuck coming back. People have been getting bumped off flights, but I think the plan was after Santa Cruz to try and get all the Australian crew back on one flight and get a group authority to get us all on the plane.”

If this first leg comes off, the next challenge involves getting international surfers into Australia for the three-event Aussie leg, which starts with Bells on April 1. Again, Australia’s success in controlling the pandemic makes this problematic, even more so because the locations these surfers are coming from are currently amongst the worst effected with cases continuing to spike – mainland USA, Brazil, Europe. Things will need to radically improve for them to be allowed in, although the WSL reportedly is already investigating a quarantine bubble like the ones employed by football codes domestically, where overseas surfers can quarantine close to the ocean while still being able to surf.

The fabled Banzai Pipeline, no longer the final dance of the pro surfing season. See you in a couple of weeks. Photo: WSL/Sloane

The fabled Banzai Pipeline, no longer the final dance of the pro surfing season. See you in a couple of weeks. Photo: WSL/Sloane

The Australian leg is key… if those three events fell over (Portugal in February has already been cancelled), the chances of the tour finishing would fall too. But if they pulled it off, there’s even an opportunity to run a fourth event on short notice to cover other events later in the year that will almost inevitably be lost. G-Land is already looking shaky, but so could any one of J-Bay, Tahiti or Brazil. There are few certainties right now.

Ace, who has been in close contact with the WSL’s Pat O’Connell over the past months, is optimistic they’ll be able to pull it off, even if what they end up surfing looks very different to the schedule released this week. “Other sports have found a way. And I want to surf. I really want to surf and everyone else does too. As tough as it is I don’t think they can afford to have a second year cancelled, but it’s going to be tricky.”

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