The recently launched 'WSL Vissla Shaper Rankings' is a list of surfboard shapers who are ranked based on the performance of their surfboards in World Surf League (WSL) events. The WSL launched this initiative in a press release on 26 January to coincide with the 2023 Championship Tour kicking off. This adds a new dimension to the tour, but is there another step in the evolution of these rankings to benefit the planet?
The goal of the new rankings is to highlight which equipment performs throughout the course of a whole season, similar to Formula 1's Constructors' Championship. There are currently 18 shapers who provide boards for the entire line-up of tour competitors. The rankings will count performances for surfers finishing in the men's and women's quarterfinals through to the finals, offering 16 potential placings per tour event. This initiative can play a key role in promoting innovation and excellence in surfboard design and craftsmanship, but there's also a prime opportunity here to add an environmental criterion to boost the green properties of high-performance surfboards.
As with most new, and initially confronting, changes in top level sport, it might take a couple of tour seasons of teething problems to fine-tune the process before all parties are satisfied. One recent example is the Video Assistant Referee (or VAR) in soccer which has been praised, scrutinised, studied and adjusted since its introduction a few years ago. Online comment sections have been active on the subject of the shaper rankings, with one particular recurring theme being that shapers should have a limit on how many boards they can produce for their team rider(s). There could be an equitable pathway for grassroots shapers to somehow earn the right to enter the fold, which will be exciting for all emerging, innovative shapers, but also to avoid a monopoly of top shapers dominating the scene for years to come. Maybe there's an equivalent of a wild card entry for shapers at each event.
From our viewpoint, this is a great opportunity to integrate a bolt-on feature to the ranking initiative, one which puts environmental impact in the spotlight. How could this look? Shapers can be encouraged to reduce their environmental impact with bonus points for green credentials in the form of less toxic materials, cleaner production methods, and for demonstrating how their boards could be recycled or disposed of sensibly at its end-of-life. If the WSL want to lay down a bold marker for sustainable shaping (hypothetically speaking), they could have regulations that shapers need to adhere to, or risk being docked ranking points if they don't hit those standards, with expulsion a possibility for repeat offenders, depending on how hard they decide to go. This could be rolled out in stages - perhaps over a number of years - to give everyone time to prepare and adjust, and to avoid a seismic disruption to the status quo. A sensible approach could involve consultation with a think tank of shapers, material experts, pro-surfers, environmental scientists and key industry stakeholders, ensuring that a transparent, harmonious template is forged for the future of competitive surfing.
The bigger picture is a trickle-down effect that should naturally occur from pro-surfers riding low-impact surfboards for all to see, resulting in everyday surfers craving the same level of planet-conscious surf craft. It’s critical that the biggest brands, leading organisations, governing bodies, and elite athletes (who are role models to millions), are demonstrating responsible behaviours when climate change and environmental themes are such hot topics. These themes aren’t going away anytime soon, so here’s a call to action for the WSL to consider implementing environmental regulations on surf equipment in their elite level contests. In turn, earn the right to be respected not only within the surfing community, but also respect from the wider realm of sporting codes that will be inspired by the climate responsive actions of the surfing world.
Photo credit - Mathieu Chirico.