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2018 Margaret River Pro Canceled Due to Shark and Safety Concerns


I've been critical of the World Surf League's decision to host a Championship Tour event at a man-made wave pool, which will happen in September when one of the WSL's 11 2018 CT events will be held at the Kelly Slater Surf Ranch in the central California farming town of Lemoore.

One of my arguments is that Mother Nature is taken out of the equation. But I've got to admit, sometimes Mother Nature can ruin a contest. Maybe a hurricane, or maybe no waves at all.

Or maybe sharks.

The WSL's third CT contest of the season — the Margaret River Pro in Western Australia — earlier this week was postponed at the very least, and quite possibly cancelled completely because of sharks.

They had reached Round 3 of the men's contest when reports came in that there were two separate shark attacks off Gracetown, just a few miles north of where the contest was being held at Margaret River.

Apparently there are beached whales in the area, which attracted sharks and probably contributed to their aggressive behavior. So the WSL made the call to end the contest. It's possible sometime later in the year they will resume it, but they say they are prepared to distribute the points based on the surfers' performances through two rounds.

The 24 surfers who reached Round 3 will get points based on an equal-13th-place finish, while everybody else will get points based on an equal-25th place finish.

WSL CEO Sophie Goldschmidt said the following in a letter sent to the surfers:

"The WSL puts the highest premium on safety. This cannot be just talk, and it cannot be compromised. Surfing is a sport that carries various forms of risk, and is unique in that wild animals inhabit our performance environment. Sharks are an occasional reality of WSL competitions, and of surfing in general. Everyone associated with our sport knows that.

"There have been incidents in the past — and it's possible that there will be incidents in the future — which did not (and will not) result in the cancellation of an event. However, current circumstances are very unusual and troubling, and we have decided that the elevated risk during this season's Margaret River Pro has crossed the threshold for what is acceptable."

Before the next CT contest begins on May 11 in Rio, just about all of the world's best competitive surfers will be in Lemoore for the Founders' Cup, the first public contest held at the Wave Ranch on May 5 and 6.

And outside of an earthquake, Mother Nature won't play a role and the contest will go off as scheduled, with no sharks and no lengthy lulls between waves. It's set up as a team event, with five teams representing the U.S., Brazil, Australia, Europe and the "World" competing. Each team has five surfers — three men and two women.

Besides the goal of showing off the successful creation of the wave pool and what it could mean for the future of surfing, the Founders' Cup also is an opportunity to recognize the seven key "founders" of surfing.

They include Fred Hemmings (Hawaii), Randy Rarick (Hawaii), Peter Townend (Australia), Wayne Bartholomew (Australia), Shaun Tomson (South Africa), Mark Richards (Australia) and Ian Cairns (Australia).

Townend is still showing off surfing around the world. A native Aussie and a Huntington Beach resident since 1979, he's currently the coach of the Chinese national team.

"It's an honor to be selected and honored by the WSL as one of the seven Founders of professional surfing as we know it today," Townend told me via email from China, where he is preparing his team for the Silver Dragon river bore event in Hangzhou. "We had a dream back then in the '70s that we could make surfing professional like Grand Prix motor racing and World Championship Tennis at that time, and it's cool that our dream came true and it feels good to be recognized for our contributions."

Townend has been involved in the development of wave pools going back to the 1980s. So naturally he's a proponent of having contests in wave pools, and he'll be there for the Founders' Cup.

"The (Founders' Cup) format is very much like the Davis Cup of tennis or Ryder Cup of golf," he said. "It's great to invoke a little more nationalistic spirit into the WSL."

And the fact that one of the CT events will be in a wave pool is both a big deal and a good thing, according to Townend.

"The Kelly Slater Surf Ranch being on the 2018 WSL Championship Tour is groundbreaking," he said. "This is stadium surfing with a controlled environment, great for competitors, but even greater for the 'live' spectators both in person and online, as there are now lulls (in traditional ocean contests). And it will be interesting to see when the world's best surfers all have the same canvas to paint on; it should raise the performance levels.

"I think the contrast between ocean waves and the wave pool is great. The best surfers will adapt, like going to a new surf spot for the first time. It might be a bit more mechanical, but it also takes out the luck of the ocean factor and focuses you specifically on your performance abilities."

JOE HAAKENSON is a Huntington Beach-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at joe@juvecreative.com.

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