(Reuters) - The World Surf League, professional surfing’s governing body, has cancelled the 2020 World Championship Tour (WCT) due to the coronavirus pandemic and revealed a new format for 2021 that will culminate in a winner-takes-all finale for the top surfers.
This year’s WCT was scheduled to start in March and run through until December but no events were able to be held.
Assuming COVID-19-related restrictions are lifted, the revamped 2021 tour will kick off later this year in Hawaii, surfing’s spiritual homeland and traditionally the final stop of the WCT.
It will include 10 events on six continents before a new, one-day WSL Finals event for the top five men and top five women to decide the champions at an as yet undisclosed location in September.
Previously, world champions were determined by points accumulated over the entire season.
The number of surfers on the WCT for both men and women will be cut by a third to 24 and 12, respectively, halfway through the season, starting in 2022. That would enable the top surfers to battle more often in the best wave conditions, the WSL said.
The changes address criticisms - including from the WSL’s billionaire, media-shy owner Dirk Ziff - that events take too long and that the overall tour champion is too often crowned days or weeks before the final event is completed.
“A lot of the feedback on the WSL Finals has been extraordinarily positive. It’s met with a lot of support from our existing world champions, even our surfers battling for World Championships,” WSL CEO Erik Logan told Reuters.
“They love the idea of beating the best surfers on that day in the world, competing in the ocean for it.”
The new structure would also be more attractive for fans, sponsors and broadcasters, he added.
For the first time in 15 years, women will compete alongside men at Teahupo’o, a beautiful but ferocious reef break in Tahiti that will host the surfing competition for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Two-time WSL Champion Tyler Wright said she was excited about the changes.
“Having Tahiti come back on the schedule will be interesting and challenging,” the Australian said. “However, with the next generation of strong and talented women coming through I think we’ll soon have Tahiti specialists.”
Reporting by Lincoln Feast in Sydney; Editing by Peter Rutherford