The 2021 Rip Curl WSL Finals are just around the corner.
For the first time ever, surfing’s top athletes will gather for a one-day event to crown two indisputable champions of the sport, with both the women’s and men’s finals happening on the same day. The top five leaders from each tour will descend upon Lower Trestles, San Clemente, Calif., for the winner-take-all tournaments. A nine-day waiting period begins Sept. 9, with conditions determining when the single-day event is ultimately called.
“I think the WSL Finals and having that format for the first time ever is going to be really exciting,” Jessi Miley-Dyer, WSL’s Head of Competition, tells Just Women’s Sports.
Going into the Finals, all eyes will be on World No. 1 Carissa Moore, the heavy favorite to win a title in California after capturing the first-ever Olympic gold medal in surfing. For Miley-Dyer, the sport’s Olympic debut was a pivotal moment, “a statement of validation for not only the athletes but also us as a sport to be in there for the first time.”
“To have so many new eyes take notice of our athletes in particular is cool,” she adds.
Miley-Dyer and the rest of the WSL are counting on more than a few of those new eyes to tune into the Rip Curl Finals, where Moore will be joined by Tatiana Weston-Webb, Sally Fitzgibbons, Stephanie Gilmore and Johanne Defay in the Finals bracket.
On the men’s side, Gabriel Medina heads into the competition ranked No. 1, followed by Italo Ferreira, Filipe Toledo, Conner Coffin and Morgan Cibilic.
The choice to hold the women’s and men’s Finals on the same day marks an intentional and transformative shift by the WSL.
“It’s a huge moment on the women’s tour because it’s the first time ever we’re going to be crowning a women’s world champ on the same day as the men’s,” Miley-Dyer says. “The thing that I love about that is that we will have both our best male and best female stand there together as the heads of the sport.”
The men’s and women’s joint Finals preview a new, long-term structure for the WSL, who recently announced a fully integrated schedule for the upcoming season. Starting in 2022, the Championship Tour will feature ten regular-season events highlighting a combined women’s and men’s schedule, beginning with Pipeline, Hawai’i on January 29.
“It’s really important to me that we have those opportunities for men and women to be able to compete at the same amount of events, but also for us to be having the tour the same, it also means that women are surfing really good waves,” Miley-Dyer says.
The new WSL structure will also feature a third competition tier to go along with the Championship Tour and Challenger Series, dedicated to regional development. The WSL hopes that the regionalized series will increase access to the sport while providing fresh faces an avenue to qualify at “the very highest level.”
As a surfer on the Championship Tour for six years, Miley-Dyer remembers her junior career as successful and supportive, with great sponsors.
“I’m very passionate about other surfers getting to have those opportunities as well,” she says, speaking to the WSL’s commitment to development and investment.
The WSL previously made history in 2018 when it became one of the only sports leagues to announce the implementation of equal prize money for men’s and women’s competitions. Now, the revamped tour structure picks up where the equal pay push left off.
“We believe really strongly in equality, and one of the things when we announced equal prize money is that it’s a really strong statement about the value of the women’s tour to have the women’s surfers be paid equally,” Miley-Dyer says. “Coming off of that, when we looked at the Challenger Series, we were like … there is no reason why we can’t have the same amount of events for men and women and in the same spots.
“It’s the right thing to do and we are committed to doing it.”
Tune in: Rip Curl WSL Finals begin as soon as Sept. 10. Check out worldsurfleague.com or the WSL App for updates.