The world’s greatest men and women surfers will gather May 8-19 at arguably the most spectacular wave in the world for the Billabong Pro. That’s right, Billabong has secured the ASP license from Bluetorch to run the WCT event at Tahiti’s Teahupo’o.
The contest, scheduled for May 8-19, will be the second of eight men’s events on the 2001 ASP Tour, with a total purse of 250,000 dollars. The event will also be the first women’s WCT of the season, carrying a 60,000-dollar purse.
Billabong will also be taking over the permit from Bluetorch, says Billabong U.S.A Vice President of Marketing Graham Stapelberg. Exact terms of the deal were not released, but Stapleberg did mention that Bluetorch will be given the domestic TV rights for the event.
“Billabong has granted Bluetorch multi-year media rights for Tahiti — solidifying a U.S. television home for the sport’s premiere event in Bluetorch TV on FOX Sports Net,” says Bluetorch CEO CJ Olivares.
“What we get is ultimately all we ever wanted, and that’s media rights,” he says.
The contest, which was previously sponsored by Gotcha, is viewed within the industry as perhaps the most visible yet expensive stop on the WCT. Event logistics are daunting and French Polynesia is well known for its steep prices.
“G Graham Stapelberg approached us, having some level of awareness that maybe Gotcha wasn’t prepared to spend what it was going to take to sponsor the event,” says Olivares. “He also recognized through Billabong’s own dealings with the ASP that there were certain media issues that might not sit well with us as the only media company controlling a WCT contest. So we came up with a compromise. It’s ultimately a win for everyone. I don’t think Gotcha views it as a losing proposition. They could have gone back and said, ‘Let’s run the event with the money we have.’ That works to an extent, but when you’re talking about the marquee property on the tour, you can’t be half pregnant with it.”
Among the surfers, the Teahupo’o event is viewed with both fear and awe — no wave on tour matches its deadly reputation.
In making this move, Billabong had to sacrifice the Billabong Pro at Trestles, which means the 2001 WCT tour is now down to eight events.
“Unfortunately, current ASP rules state that a brand can hold the license for no more than three events,” says Stapleberg. “It’s always been our philosophy to hold contests at the very best spots in the world. Teahupoo is arguably the highest quality event on tour.”
With four events slotted — Teahupoo, J-Bay, Mundaka, and Trestles, Billabong decided that Trestles — with its strict permit conditions and “good” ASP wave rating — was the most logical event to shelve. Mundaka, Teahupo’o, and J-Bay all have “prime” wave ratings — the highest ASP classification.
“I’m definitely excited,” Billabong Founder Gordon Merchant told TransWorld SURF Business this morning. “Now, not only will all three of Billabong’s contest be held at premium wave locations, but it also gives us a home for our second girls event on the tour.”
The deal, which was negotiated by Stapelberg, came together relatively quickly — in just six weeks.
In addition to the May 8-19 Tahiti event, other dates for the 2001 Billabong Pro series include July 17-27 for the Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa event; and September 27 to October 9 for the Mundaka, Spain contest.
The event’s defending men’s champion and six-time world champ, Kelly Slater, will be this year’s first wildcard to head up the list of potential surfers. The remaining wildcards will come from the trials, which will consist of the top locals from Tahiti and other Teahupo’o specialists selected from around the world.
Defending WCT women’s champion Keala Kennelly was ecstatic when she heard her apparel sponsor would be sponsoring an event at her favorite wave in the world. “This gives me that much more motivation to win it again,” says a beaming Kennelly.
“It’s great to see Billabong step in and take command of this epic event,” says ASP CEO Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew. “This is a very important stop on the World Championship Tour — particularly in this, the first year of our media partnership with Sportsworld Media Group. The surfers are pretty stoked with this development. It’s a win-win situation for sure!”
While Billabong’s procurement of the Teahupo’o event leaves the WCT tour one stop shorter, Stapelberg and others seem confident that the 2002 ASP WCT tour will include more events.
With the unfortunate political situation in Indonesia, Quiksilver has decided to move its G-Land event to Tavarua next year. Plus, Quiksilver will also add its WCT Gold Coast event to the 2002 line-up. Add to that a Pipe contest — either in its traditional December or proposed February time slot — and the tour is back up to eleven events.
So will the heart of the surf industry — Southern California — ever see the WCT swing through town again? Stapelberg seems to hold open the possibility: “Every effort is being made to get the Trestles event back on the tour.”
The question is, who will step up to the plate and take over the permit?
But if Teahupo’o yet again revs up its mind-numbing death pits for the contest, dumping the summertime dribblers of Trestles will probably be viewed as a strategic stroke of genius.