2021 was one of the most unique Championship Tour seasons in recent memory, with the WSL forced to completely upheave what had developed into a fairly consistent schedule courtesy of COVID-related logistical issues. Bells got the flick and so too did Snapper, while Europe was completely shafted and Fiji was called off at the last second. Entering 2022, the WSL – alongside almost literally every other person on the planet – are putting their collective hands together and praying to any spiritual body willing to listen for a return to something resembling normality this season.
The 2022 Championship Tour schedule, which was officially released back in August, suggests that at least in the surfing world, that’s expected to be the case. A number of favourite stops that we missed out on last year re-join the schedule, while a couple of newbies have been added – as has a midseason cut which will see one-third of the CT competitors sent packing for the rest of the season.
So, where does it all begin?
As it did last year, the 2022 Championship Tour season will kick off at arguably the most famous wave in the world – Pipeline. This event, which was a season-closer for many years, jumped to the front of the queue last season, and will once again open proceedings for us next year, with the event window kicking off on January 29.
Just one day after that two-week window closes, the next opens. The Sunset Open, one of the events which was cancelled last-minute last year as a result of a surge in COVID cases in the lead-up, is once again scheduled to follow immediately after Pipeline, and hopefully this time around it actually gets underway. That window runs from February 11-23, rounding out a nearly one-month stay in the Aloha State.
There will only be a solitary event in Europe next year, but at least it’s an improvement on what they had in 2021. In fact, given the 2020 season was a write-off, no Championship Tour contest has taken place in Europe since the Rip Curl Pro Portugal in October of 2019, meaning it will be nearly two and a half years between drinks by the time this event gets underway. The contest will take place at Supertubos in Peniche, with the Portuguese fishing village winning out over the barrelling shore breaks of Hossegor to host the solitary European event next season.
Australia always plays a major role in the Championship Tour, but never was that more evident than last year. Though Bells and Snapper Rocks missed out, the expansive coasts of the land down under helped to salvage the season, with four events taking place across the country in a hectic two-months of competition.
This year, that number will be cut in half, with three of the four Australian contests from last year taken off the schedule. Margaret River is the only one to survive the cut – unsurprising given that it is the only Australian mainstay of the Tour which went ahead last year – while Bells Beach will make its much-anticipated return. It’s Bells which will kick off the Aussie leg, running over the Easter weekend as it typically done. That event window opens on April 10 and ends on April 20, before Margaret River will be held between April 24 and May 4.
It’s after these five events that the WSL’s latest initiative will come into effect – the midseason cut! Exciting times. This will see the men’s pool of competitors reduced from 36 to 24 and the women’s from 18 to 12, meaning performance in the first half the season will be more important than ever. Five contests is likely enough for the world rankings to take on some sort of expected shape, but nonetheless it will be interesting to see the response if a favourite gets off to a shaky start and is potentially eliminated from the final few events of the season.
After this midseason cut, the Tour gets seriously mobile, jumping from one continent to another after every tournament. This will be the biggest logistical test of the season, but by May when it begins, the WSL is presumably anticipating that global travel will be largely back up and running.
Indonesia kicks off the run home on May 28, when the Tour heads to G-Land for the first time in 24 years – and the first time ever for the women. This long, left-hand barrel is one of the best in the world, and the contest here should make for compelling viewing. The event window runs until June 6, with the slightly shorter time frame within which the contest can be run reflective of the smaller fields which will partake in each tournament from this point onwards.
Trestles found itself back on the Championship Tour last season after a few years’ hiatus, hosting the first ever WSL Finals event which saw Gabriel Medina and Carissa Moore add to their rapidly growing trophy collections. We won’t see a repeat of that this year, but Trestles has maintained its grasp on a spot on Tour, and will be the scene of the seventh contest of the 2022 season. The event will run from June 15-22.
Brazil was another country to miss out on hosting a CT event last year, but the home country of last year’s top three male surfers and the second-placed female surfer is set to make a return in 2022. The Rio Pro was held every year from 2011 to 2019 for both the men and the women, and after missing out for the past couple of years, the passionate Brazilian crowd will no doubt turn out in droves to Saquarema.
Jeffreys Bay, South Africa
Was there a more missed event than J-Bay last season? The most perfect right-hand point break on the planet has made for one of, if not the, most watchable events on the tour almost every year this century, and its return in July of 2022 will be a welcome one for fans and competitors alike. The penultimate event of the regular season, it’s set to kick off on July 9, with the event window running through until the 18th.
If there’s one event which could rival J-Bay as the most missed from last year, it’s this one. The terrifyingly perfect barrels created at Teahupo’o have made for some of the most memorable contests in recent years, and in 2022 they’ll have the final say in which five men and women make it through to the WSL Finals. This one runs from August 11-21, meaning that there is plenty of time for both anticipation and nerves to build in the lead-up following the event at J-Bay.
The WSL Finals
The WSL has outlined their intention to change the location of the WSL Finals each year that they’re held, and in the absence of an official announcement about where the 2022 edition will be held, that means that all we really know is that it won’t be at Trestles. Presumably it also won’t be at any of the aforementioned locations which already have a tournament either, so that cuts down the options a little more. We do know that it will run from September 7-18, so wherever it is will be somewhere with pumping waves during that time of the year.
It’s been a difficult and thoroughly unusual couple of years for everyone, and the World Surf League has had plenty of their own unique challenges to navigate. After the Championship Tour was cancelled in 2020, the powers that be managed to get through a season this year, albeit a stunted one. With the world, or at least parts of it, gradually beginning to return to normal, 2022 will hopefully be a whole lot easier, and the return to a schedule which more closely resembles that of pre-pandemic years suggests that the WSL is banking on just that.