The ASP is rolling with some big-name playas this year: Samsung is the new title sponsor for the entire Tour and GoPro is now the official camera sponsor. What, exactly, constitutes a camera sponsorship, aside from (in this case) athlete perspective photos and videos, we shall see. What we know now is that with the financial backing of these two forward-thinking tech companies, the ASP World Championship Tour is really (no, really) getting back to its Dream Tour roots. Here's why:
In addition to fresh sponsorship, there are 10 events on the Women's World Tour schedule this year, which has 25 percent more stops than last year. The ladies will likely have to break out the grovel boards in Rio and Huntington, but those events (the Rio Women's Pro and the Vans US Open) are iconic (and lucrative) and they're probably not going anywhere anytime soon. The Top 17, on the other hand, are going plenty of exciting places this year. Trestles was added to the schedule back in September, and ASP Women's World Tour Manager Jessi Miley-Dyer said, "The addition of this venue is indicative of ASP management's commitment to enhancing the women's Tour and placing these women in excellent waves."
The 2014 European leg, in September and early October, will make stops in Hossegor, France (not its daintier sister, Biarritz) and Cascais, where the women's Portugal event was resurrected last year. And the rumors of Hawaiian and South Pacific venues also have materialized as the Fiji Women's Pro at Namotu, and the ASP's coup de maître, the recently revealed Maui Women's Pro at Honolua Bay, which is -- get this-- actually scheduled for primo Hawaii season, in late November.
The pacing of this season is infinitely better than that of the last, as well. In 2013, the Top 17 had to hustle from the Gold Coast clear across Oz to Margaret River, then back down to Bells and New Zealand, all inside of about a month. This year, there is some time to breath and recover between events. As an added bonus, the waiting periods generally coincide with their respective locations' peak swell periods. And they're longer.
And shake your money makers, ladies, because the Roxy Pro Gold Coast will set the new standard in prize purses for the women: Last year, the Top 17 vied for a cumulative $120,000 at each event. In 2014, each contest will award its winners $250,000, with first place taking a substantial $60,000 -- double last year's winnings.
All of this dreaminess begins, once again, on Australia's exceptionally dreamy Coast of Gold. Coolangatta. The event has been a WWCT staple since 2002, and Kirra has always been a backup site, but this year, Burleigh Heads and Duranbah Beach are also listed as mobile sites.
"My first year on Tour, they started the contest at D'bah due to a lack of swell at Snapper and ended up having two days of surfing there," says Sally Fitzgibbons. "Also, three years ago, they built a secondary event site there at huge expense, but they ended up getting great swell for Snapper. It ended up being a waste of money, but they were being proactive and prepared for all situations." The wily beach break, which can be tempestuous and technical, but also rather perfect, is where most of the pros choose to surf when they're not in jerseys, so it should make for a very welcome venue option.
"If we had to surf there, no one would complain, as the banks look great and everyone free surfs there," Fitzgibbons confirms.
As for competitors, last year's Roxy Pro Gold Coast winner, Tyler Wright, finished her 2013 season ranked second in the world to 21-year-old Carissa Moore. Fitzgibbons (world No. 3) finished second to Wright at Snapper. Moore just took out the Hurley Australian Open of Surfing with the layback snap heard round the world. Following Moore's Aussie Open performance, Miley-Dyer tweeted, "That tail blow of Carissa's = warning shot to the rest of the ASP Top 17."
In her humble way she told the ASP that she hadn't expected to win the event. "It's been a while since I had a jersey on and it was good to get back into it, then this morning I started getting nervous and I just had to tell myself to relax and have fun," she said.
Though Tyler Wright lives mere miles down the coast from Snapper Rocks, Steph Gilmore is Coolangatta's main squeeze and resident women's world champion (five times over). After fracturing her foot at Bells last year, the 26-year-old seemed to be playing catch-up for the majority of the year and eventually accepted that she was out of the title race with her usual grace. She has spent the offseason traveling and recouping, and I expect that she'll be back with a renewed passion for competition. She won this event two years ago to kick off her fifth successful title campaign.
This year's rookies consist of France's Johanne Defay, Hawaii's Alessa Quizon, and Australians Nikki Van Dijk and Dimity Stoyle. Quizon is new to the Top 17, but she's hardly a new face. In her career she's had several wild-card entries to WCT events and is a former world junior champion. Gilmore has been called a "smiling assassin," and Quizon is made of similar stuff. She took second at both the Australian Open and the Hunter Ports Classic, so no doubt she's up to the challenge.
With more events in better locations, an infusion of significantly more prize money, and an extremely hungry group of women, the 2014 ASP Women's World Tour is poised to take the sport to an entirely new level, and that's very exciting.