JBay Lineup © WSL/Ryder
While there is no official release yet from the World Surf League, the surfing world’s worst-kept secret is that the Corona Open JBay has been cancelled for 2024. This cancellation is catastrophic news for the JBay community and the surrounding areas, as the contest brings in a much-needed cash injection during the winter months for the otherwise quiet town.
There have been many theories about the reasons behind the cancellation, but the bottom line is most likely financial reasons.
A Championship Tour event on the World Surf League is said to cost north of US$ 2 million to run. That’s a lot of Rands. Around R 4o Million or thereabouts to get started. In other countries, the lion’s share of that spending comes from the government, keen to attract surf tourism and utilise the dream of surfing in their country’s tourism marketing campaigns.
The argument against this cost is that we work in Rands, so the price should be considerably lower for such an event. Although the WSL does employ many local people to help with their events, the truth is that a large portion of WSL staff who work at events, get paid in USA$, and thus, the figures will always be high. This cost is the same for JBay, Indonesia or India (yep, they have pro events in India), where the exchange rates are abrupt.
The value that a Championship Tour event, and any event with a live feed, actually has for WSL has much to do with their live feed. The number of viewers watching live is regularly touted as part of the value of sponsoring or co-sponsoring an event, even to the effect that they now have a Bailey Ladders ladder company as a sub-sponsor and Wallex, an international money transfer company as a major sponsor.
The problem is that when the JBay event is on and running, The USA, primarily where the big live numbers come from, is mostly asleep. Australia is dossing as well. The live viewership numbers for JBay are apparently the weakest on tour, and at one stage a few years ago, a WSL official said it was the only event with more playback views than live views. Apparently, the playback views have a lesser perceived value than the live views.
But, to call a spade what it is, no government body here will be prepared, nor allowed, to hand over that many millions into a two-week contest that delivers a relatively short economic boost to the region.
Or, as erudite surf journalist Longtom succinctly put it, “Without a functioning business model to wean itself off State Tourism bodies, the WSL is locked in a prison of its own making.”
It is a sad day for surfing in South Africa. There are very few pro events in the country. The loss of the JBay Open will reverberate across the local JBay and Kouga community and the surf industry.