By Devin Kelley
The 2022 Rip Curl WSL Finals took place last week, showcasing the greatest talent in the world. For months, the world's best surfers have been competing around the globe, fighting for a chance to finish with the #1 title. 36 men and 18 women competed in 10 regular-season WSL events as part of the 2022 season. Of these 54 participants, only 5 men and 5 women made it to the finals at Lower Trestles in San Clemente, California.
The time for women is now: Stephanie Gilmore's unprecedented performance shows the world anything is possible. A former world champion, she entered the Championship day in 5th place before going on to beat the four surfers ranked ahead of her. Gilmore went on a miraculous run, winning her 8th WSL championship. With that win, she broke the record for women’s world title count that stood since 2006. Gilmore showed emphatically that she remains one of the best on tour in front of the thousands of fans who came to watch these surfers compete - many of which were female, highlighting the significant growth this sport has seen on the women’s side of the competition. On the topic of progress, Gilmore commented, “I’m just so proud of the women in surfing. These positive changes that have happened, that is from the hard work and perseverance of the women before us.”
Activating with purpose: As the presenting sponsor, Rip Curl leaned heavily into their upcycled wetsuit program during this time in content, on-site activation, and more. Rip Curl partnered with TerraCycle on a wetsuit take-back program that promotes sustainability by creating supply chains for recycling hard-to-recycle items like wetsuits. The Rip Curl Wetsuit Free Recycling Program is currently available in Australia and New Zealand and plans on expanding to more regions soon. Rip Curl used this opportunity to show their love for sustainability and the environment. Through the power of this partnership, around 4 tonnes of wetsuits have been diverted from landfill in Australia. The success at this year's WSL Finals for Rip Curl will continue to inspire others to discover unique, organic ways to activate their brand’s assets. Popularity at events like the WSL Finals allows for sponsors to get involved on the ground and take advantage of all the opportunities that presents.
It takes a village: The city of San Clemente has a long-standing relationship with the surf community and it certainly was on display far and wide from coffee shops, bars, and the beach itself. The whole community was buzzing with excitement and anticipation leading up to the finals. Local shops were swept with business from all of the foot traffic coming through the town. With help from the San Clemente and Lower Trestles community, everything came together to create the perfect experience for all those in attendance at the WSL finals. The WSL even partnered with artist Erik Abel to create the custom jerseys worn during the competition, personally designed to each represent a different aspect of Lower Trestles. Most notably, the orange jerseys were designed with the iconic Trestles cobblestones. All of this worked to bring success to, and showcase the beauty of, San Clemente's little surf mecca.
The tide is shifting, but not completely: At 34 years old, Stephanie Gilmore became the winningest female surfer of all time. The future for both the men and women is bright with a young influx of talent being led by the likes of 22-year-old Brisa Hennesy who made her WSL Finals Debut. While Stephanie Gilmore is ranked #1 in the world again, the competition will be hungry for a comeback next season. Some of the rising talents Gilmore has her eyes on are Bettylou Sakura Johnson, Gabriela Bryan, and Luana Silva. On the men’s side, Filipe Toledo went into the finals ranked the #1 seed, beating fellow Brazilian Italo Ferreira in two consecutive heats after Ferreira had to climb his way up as the No. 4 seed. Toledo's first WSL championship title did not come unexpectedly as he had a stellar year leading up to this final win.
An open runway for brands: While the sport continues to reach new audiences with its incredible growth year over year, the opportunity for brands to come in and activate incredible and unique ways is ripe for the taking. Surfing is one of the fastest-growing sports. Growing exponentially at 12% per year, the current surfing population is estimated at approximately 23 million participants. With the continuing elevation of surfing as a whole, brands and companies are looking for ways to get involved to speak to this rapidly developing audience. The WSL recently renewed their global partnership with Corona, as the Official Beer Partner of the WSL Championship Tour for the next three years, highlighting the value this brand continues to see with this growing sport. Through their partnership, Corona has had the opportunity to showcase some of their CSR efforts, working together to protect the ocean from pollution. The quick growth of the sport as a whole inherently creates more opportunities for companies to also get involved. Last year's WSL Finals were a hit with surf fans, achieving 6.8 million live stream views and over 11.3 million fans engaging with video content. With the continuing popularity of surfing and the WSL, more and more brands will look to be a part of it for years to come.