The World Surf League has a pretty definitive path when it comes to qualifying for its respective Championship Tours (CT). The Top 10 men and Top 6 women claim their right to join the elite level after a season's worth of competing around the world -- with the inclusion of those just outside the mark if there are any double qualifiers (meaning the surfer is within the cutoff for the CT and QS).
But, making the jump from amateur ranks to the WSL level hasn't always been so clear for those on the outside looking in. The Eastern Surfing Association is hoping to help change that and clarify the path to becoming a professional surfer for their competitors.
"We're wanting to work with WSL to help create a pathway to the next level and offering these slots into the WSL events offers our members an additional goal to strive towards following Easterns™," ESA Executive Director Michelle Sommers said. "I think the competitors and parents have been confused over the past years with so many events and organizations and unsure of how to get to the next level -- pro surfing. WSL is everyone's endgame so why not try to get them involved now, and get them where they want to go."
The ESA selected the top surfers from their standings, as well as overall attitude at events, which include four men and four women -- all of them ESA All-Stars. Those surfers are Taylor Green (Florida), Sara Abbott (Florida), Morgan Iglay (New Jersey), and Rachel Wilson (Virgina) representing on the women's side and Fergus Kelly (Florida), Kai DeLorenzo (Florida), Cole Deveney (New Jersey), and Blayr Barton (Virgina) for the men.
"We had that criteria when selecting them and also want them to be great ambassadors for the ESA," Sommers added. "Iglay, for example, is one of our ESA All-Stars for her surfing and also how she carries herself away from the water. It's something we want to push toward and also having our surfers compete toward something. It's also exciting to be alongside the Florida Space Coast Office of Tourism as they're a huge supporter for 2018 and 2019."
Iglay made her QS debut just last year at the WRV Outer Banks Pro QS 1,000 and looked to be on her way to a good result before falling ill. Now, the ESA All-Star looks to pick up where she left off at the Florida Pro.
"I'm excited for the event and I was already entered, but it's amazing that the ESA is helping us get into events," Iglay said. "They are hard to get into. I kind of knew what you had to do so the pathway wasn't too difficult to navigate, though if you're not involved it can pretty unclear, but it was just harder to get into the events without having points or a ranking. It's a totally different experience compared to other events and I just want to keep trying to get into more of them, and give it my best."
Fellow ESA All-Star Blayr Barton is becoming a familiar face among the QS scene after his debut at the Vans Pro in his hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia. Barton took the event by complete surprise after winning the trials and then winning his Round 1 heat. The young surfer then took that confidence to the Outer Banks where he had continued success. Now that he's built a sound foundation, Barton can set his eyes on bigger goals moving forward into a fresh season.
"It was amazing getting the opportunity to compete in the events last year and was not expecting that at all," Barton said. "It's great to see ESA giving us these opportunities. I was going to do the event, but had some things going on and then I got the wild card from ESA. Coming into this one I think I just want to focus on competing better instead of being so nervous and be more confident. I'm really looking forward to doing all the pro juniors and start building points to start building a career."
*The Florida Pro Women's QS 3,000 and Men's QS 1,500 will run January 14 - 20 at Sebastian Inlet, Florida and be streamed live at WorldSurfLeague.com.