RIP Curl’s chief brand and marketing officer Neil Ridgway said the surf brand and the World Surf League (WSL) tried their best to get the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach up and running this year.
The annual surfing competition has occupied the Bells break at Easter for most of the past six decades and is now a famous stop on the WSL’s Championship Tour (CT).
Coronavirus-related difficulties in Victoria this year, including the need for quarantine spaces for the surfers and their support staff, resulted in the Rip Curl Pro first losing its Easter slot in the CT lineup to a new event in Newcastle and then being dropped from the Australian leg entirely.
“We’re magnanimous about the decision because it’s made under restrictions around COVID-19 and really, that’s the most important thing,” Mr Ridgway said.
“There’s probably a little bit of argy-bargy around the way that it happened – can the planes land, can they not land, can they come across the border if they land elsewhere, which is really a hard no – but we don’t think that anything is worth risking the Surf Coast Shire having COVID-19, certainly not a surfing contest, even though we love this one as much as we do.
“We’re extremely bummed. It’s better than Christmas for us and something that we look forward to all year, especially with not having it last year. But we understand the decision.”
He said Rip Curl started talks about the 2021 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach with the WSL and the state government on the assumption it would go ahead.
“We have a contract with the WSL, not the state government, and we don’t let people out of their contracts. There’s a bit of a misnomer that the WSL is chasing big bucks interstate and that’s simply not true.
“At one point, it was going to be on – ‘we think we’re going to land the planes in Victoria, and then we’re going to come straight out of quarantine and into Bells, and then we’ll move onto the next event’. And then when the WSL couldn’t land the planes in Victoria, they called us again. They kept us abreast of things the whole time, and so we expected it was on until it wasn’t.
“And in their negotiations with the government, they tried a number of times, and a number of ways, to land the planes.”
Mr Ridgway said once the Rip Curl Pro – “which we would die in a ditch for” – was off, the priority was ensuring the CT went ahead.
“We’ve got 50 years of investment in professional surfing through the IPS, the ASP, the WSL, and we think that it’s fantastic they found other places in 2021 to run the tour here in Australia. Because if they don’t, and we get to 2022, and there’s not been a tour again, then maybe the thing starts to look shaky and fall over, and we don’t want that; we’ve put too much time and effort into it.”
In other surfing news, the WSL has confirmed the final three events on the CT’s Australian leg: the Rip Curl Narrabeen Classic presented by Corona from April 16-26, the Boost Mobile Margaret River Pro presented by Corona from May 2-12, and the Rip Curl Rottnest Search presented by Corona from May 16-26.