The highly anticipated Red Bull Unleashed went off without a hitch this weekend, much to the surprise of many naysayers. The unique surfing contest took place at the Wavegarden lagoon at the Surf Snowdonia complex in Wales, UK. Maui’s Albee Layer took first place over New Zealand’s Billy Stairmand with a 3-1 victory in front of over 2000 spectators. The contest seemed like something from the future. All of those artists renderings finally coming to life in grand fashion.
Holding a surfing contest in a wavepool has garnered mixed reviews from the surfing community. While Surf Snowdonia‘s Red Bull Unleashed wasn’t the first surf contest in a wavepool (like many of the reports have said in the media), it was the first contest with a scoring system of this type. This man on man, wave against wave format was crucial to the events success, and one of many things Red Bull did right. The man-on-man duel concept saw pairs of surfers go head-to-head, with a coin toss determining who surfs first. After each surfer had ridden a wave, the best score took the points. Best of five waves won, and once a surfer hit three wins the bout was automatically over and the next pair hit the water immediately. This allowed for constant action with no waiting for sets. The athletes got to choose what music they wanted to play while they surfed their waves, and the pier allowed people to be literally 10 ft away from the surfing. Red Bull also curated an A-List of progressive surfers from all over the world that seldom compete in traditional surf contests. All of this made it a spectators dream.
Winner Albee Layer is not the competitive type, yet was thrilled at his result. “I didn’t know what to expect coming here,” said Mr Layer “but it’s been incredible. Surfing so close to so many people, music playing, heaps of energy in the air, to get the win is crazy. If more events were like this, I’d do them!”
The capacity crowd weren’t the only ones who were stoked at the contest. Wounded powerhouse surfer Jordy Smith watched on with anticipation for next year’s event. “It’s cool!” said Jordy, “you both have an equal opportunity, and there’s no two ways about it, the best surfer always wins. You can’t afford to fall so you really have to walk the fine line between pushing it to the limit and pushing it too far.”
“I had a ball out there!” exclaimed semifinalist Mitch Crews. “It’s so surreal surfing in an arena. I never imagined I’d be doing it and that it would be like this. I’ve been having chats with the fans and hear the kids cheering us on, but it’s still a competition. There is pressure, but it’s a good pressure.”
San Clemente’s Ian Crane rushed to make it to the event after narrowly losing to Filipe Toledo last week at the Hurley Pro at Trestles and was a standout on both days. “How good is this event going to be next year?” Crane was asked. “What do you mean?” he roared, “It’s insane right now! Can I sign up for 2016 yet? After this year everyone’s gonna want to come, I want to lock my entry in already!”
The spectators and competitors loved the event, so what’s the problem? There’s always Negative Nancy’s out there, and the internet breeds them in record numbers. Many have mentioned in comments on various online media outlets that it destroys the soul of surfing, and that it’s artificial. You can almost bet the farm that these same commenters are more internet surfers that actual surfers though, as every one worth their salt would love to get a crack at that Wavegarden. Regardless, this event showed the world what a stadium-style surf contest would be like, and more importantly paved the way to an Olympic debut for surfing at the 2020 Tokyo games.
Like it or not, this event kicks off a new era in competitive surfing and undoubtedly raised the eyebrows of many World Surf League competitors. As the Wavegarden technology advances rapidly, you can imagine a better quality wave making for some insane action. Imagine a barreling, longer version of this! It’s coming, and will be here before you know it.
Albee Layer (HAW) 3 def. Billy Stairmand (NZL) 1
SF1. Billy Stairmand (NZL) 3 def. Jack Freestone (AUS) 0
SF2. Albee Layer (HAW) 3 def. Mitch Crews (AUS) 2
QF1. Billy Stairmand (NZL) 3 def. Ezekiel Lau (HAW) 1
QF2. Jack Freestone (AUS) 3 def. Kai Hing (AUS) 1
QF3. Albee Layer (HAW) 3 def. Jayce Robinson (GBR) 1
QF4. Mitch Crews (AUS) 3 def. Ian Crane (AUS) 1
H1. Ezekiel Lau (HAW) 3 def. Alan Stokes (GBR) 0
H2. Billy Stairmand (NZL) 3 def. Leo Fioravanti (ITA) 1
H3. Jack Freestone (AUS) 3 def. Evan Geiselman 0
H4. Kai Hing (AUS) 3 def. Kalani David (HAW) 0
H5. Jayce Robinson (GBR) 3 def. Hiroto Arai (JPN) 0
H6. Albee Layer (HAW) 3 def Ian Gouveia (BRA) 2
H7. Ian Crane (AUS) 3 def. Mikey Wright (AUS) 2
H8. Mitch Crews (AUS) 3 def. Reubyn Ash (GBR) 1