When the waves are pumping, running heats is an easy call. WSL commissioners, along with head judge Richie Porta and event organizers, map out which rounds should run from which tour, and the surfers get to work.
But when conditions are unruly -- or resemble a lake more than a world-class break -- it's a different story altogether. That's when a mix of forecasting, real-time assessments and experience as competitors all come into play. Not to mention how many days are left in a contest window, how many rounds are left to go, whether both the men's and women's tours are competing, and what kind of waves are predicted.
Just ahead of the 2017 Championship Tour (CT) kickoff at Snapper Rocks, Deputy Commissioner Jessi Miley-Dyer broke down some of the possibilities -- and sometimes the pain -- of making the call.
World Surf League: What's one of the more challenging spots to make the call during a contest window?
France is one of the hardest events for us to run. It's so tidal, the contest bank shifts. We try to be as mobile as possible, but it's not always possible to be zig-zagging up and down the beach, but it's definitely a place where you're going to set up and think that it's the spot, and then 200 meters down the way [is where it's actually working].
And what we did this last contest was we crowned Tyler [Wright] 300 meters down the beach and had a bunch of tents set up. Kieren and I made the decision -- we had been sitting there for days just trying to run and it wasn't doing it. And we said, ‘we're just going to have to pull the trigger and move.' It's a really big decision for us to move up and down the beach, too, because there's so much that goes into the event and so much that we're taking with us.
Kieren said, I'm really sorry, but we're going to have to move back. Everyone was like, You're kidding, right?
What are some of the things that go with you?
Everything has to move with us. Broadcast has to move. The judges have to move. The surfers have to move. Beach commentary has to move. Everything's going. Another thing we did last year in France was we moved up the beach to Gravière for the morning call. So basically overnight, the entire contest was shifted two kilometers up the beach. We got there in the morning and it just wasn't doing it. And Kieren said, 'I'm really sorry, but we're going to have to move back. Everyone was like, ‘You're kidding, right?'
We have a really good work crew that carries everything up and down and driving - especially in France, you're driving in trucks. Last year the judges' truck lost a wheel. And then the scoring has to be plugged in -- there's a lot of cabling that has to be plugged in.
What's the process of deciding how the day is going to go?
We get there really early. Everywhere is different, but the Gold Coast, when it's looking hard [in terms of conditions] out at Snapper, especially the year that we extended the waiting period, we were starting at 5'0'clock. Me and Richie and Kieren and [VP of Communications] Dave Prodan and [tour manager] Renato Hickel. Because we're looking at multiple spots and go back and forth. And we have to be ready for broadcast -- if we're telling people we have to move, we're telling them pretty early.
I'm looking at a forecast that changes, an ocean that's unpredictable. ... You have to look at what you have in front of you and back yourself.
What are some of the challenges at Snapper?
We actually have quite a few spots that we can run at Snapper. The northerly wind is the one that you don't want, because that's the devil wind coming into the face. And once you get into that weather pattern, it's really hard to get out of it. We've had a few years where we've sat there and sat there. But at the same time we do have so many options, like down toward Kirra and that whole stretch. I actually think that's one of the places where we have the most potential to get pretty fun surf, because we have that whole stretch.
Given all of those decisions and variables, what's the toughest part of your job?
I'm going to make my decisions based on a set of facts in front of me, and they're not necessarily set in stone. I'm looking at a forecast that changes, an ocean that's unpredictable. We can have the best laid plan and I can be looking at really great surf and then the wind can come out of nowhere, and it can go howling onshore and it's just ruined. So it's more that you make a decision to run or not, and you have to live by that decision. I think too, the ocean is never going to be in my control, and there will be times when you look back and think in hindsight, ‘I really should have run a round here. Or I really should have waited there.' You can never know for sure, and not knowing for sure is the hardest thing. You have to look at what you have in front of you and back yourself.
The 2017 Quiksilver and Roxy Pro Gold Coast contests kick off March 14, and have waiting periods until March 25.