Surfing champion Stephanie Gilmore thinks the World Surf League’s decision to introduce a mid-season cut for more compelling viewing at the Margaret River Pro is an added danger.
The male and female fields for this year’s tour were reduced from 36 and 18 to 24 and 12 respectively halfway through the season, following the event in Western Australia.
Australian Olympians Sally Fitzgibbons and Owen Wright were among those who must now requalify for next year’s Championship Tour via the Challenger Series, which kicks off on the Gold Coast this weekend.
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Wright has previously indicated he plans to retire as Fitzgibbons adjusts to life off the circuit for the first time in 14 years.
The brutal nature of the cut left several surfers devastated after their Margaret River heats with American Kolohe Andino saying “no one likes it”.
Seven-time world champion Gilmore, who went to Margaret River risking falling below the cut line but managed to survive, said it was a difficult scenario for competitors but she could also understand the reasons of its introduction.
“We needed a change. The sport is growing at an alarming rate, but at the same time I don’t think the viewership is where it should be,” Gilmore told AAP.
“Surfing is so hard because we’re dealing with the ocean and it’s so hard to schedule on TV when you’re going to make it work, stuff like that.
“The cut that comes in the middle of the year like that, it really keeps the audience going for an event like Margaret River, which maybe didn’t have a lot of viewers in the past. It was in the middle of the season. It wasn’t as exciting. No one fell. It was kind of like that.
“It’s just, I guess, business at this point.
“We are always trying to improve the sport, whether it’s for the surfers or the fans.
“It’s cool that surfing is still new enough that we can change things up, we can change things up and try it out and and if it works out, we can stick with it. If it doesn’t, we maybe we can find other ways to make it work.”
Gilmore, one of several surfers from the Championship circuit who will compete in the Gold Coast Pro, hoped that surviving the cup would allow her to compete freely in the remaining events of this year’s tour.
“Knowing halfway through the season that you’ve qualified for the next year is a strange feeling,” Gilmore said.
“We’re all aiming for the top five to make the final, but that takes a bit of the pressure off that back-end and maybe everyone will be competing a lot more freely…they won’t be so stressed about falling back in the standings.
“It kind of brings a whole new element to the second half of the season. I’m excited.”