The WSL Founders' Cup of Surfing, May 5-6, has the potential to change professional surfing forever. The reality of this weekend is weighing heavily on everyone, adding an immeasurable amount of anticipation to the air. It's not unusual to see a little bit of fire within the athletes this time of the year, as World Title talk starts to take shape at the conclusion of the Australian leg -- the first big push of the Championship Tour season. But today's energy was cranked up a notch, for completely different reasons.
Some of the world's top surfers gathered more than 100 miles from the nearest beach in Lemoore, California, for the opening ceremony at the WSL Surf Ranch. Team captains Stephanie Gilmore, Kelly Slater, Gabriel Medina, Johanne Defay, and Jordy Smith are all looking more than eager to lead their countries to victory in the first nation vs. nation surfing event. Although their performances here don't impact their CT rankings, because there are no points on the line, and there will be guaranteed swell, athletes have full reign to showcase what they are capable of.
"I think we are all going to see things this weekend that we've never seen before," opened WSL CEO Sophie Goldschmidt. "You're going to get to see the top athletes up close and personal surfing this revolutionary wave."
The WSL Surf Ranch 2.0 re-opened a few months ago. Engineers worked around the clock to make sure everything was in place for this weekend's WSL Founders' Cup. Each team had their practice runs this morning to ensure they are ready for the show to start tomorrow.
"This place adds a whole new element to the sport," said Jordy Smith. "They let you know when the wave is coming, they give you 30 seconds. On the old wave it was a minute, which is really nerve-wracking. You have a lot of time to over-think things, like if your wax is right or if you're in the right spot. You get your shot and you have to lay it all on the line and if it's not good enough, you don't cut it."
"In some ways this is more stressful than the ocean," continued Australian Team Captain Stephanie Gilmore. "There are no excuses. You have no choice but to perform and show what you're capable of. In the ocean if you mess up you can kind of blame it on the wave or a lull in conditions. But here, everyone has an equal playing field."
"This alleviates any luck," said Kelly Slater. "In the ocean, certain people get on certain waves and that makes a huge difference in your performance. Here, everyone is on the same wave and gets the same opportunity."
Gender equality also ruled the talk today as both men and women will be competing on the same teams, in the same waves. The team format will create an equal playing field for all for the first time in history.
"To do a mixed gender event is really special," said Gilmore. "It shows how elevated surfing is in that respect. Behind the scenes, we all really enjoy competing together and traveling together and having that camaraderie between all of us. This is the first time the public will be able to experience that. I'm excited to really show everyone what we can do."
Watch the WSL Founders' Cup of Surfing live daily on the WSL and Bleacher Report (US only).