January 11, 2016
by Christopher Parker (@wheresbossman)

Dear ISA, We Really Need to Know What’s Happening with the Worlds…

Casper Steinfath and Slater Trout lead the field during the 2015 Worlds in Sayulita, Mexico (photo: Ben Reed/ISA)

Casper Steinfath and Slater Trout lead the field during the 2015 Worlds in Sayulita, Mexico (photo: Ben Reed/ISA)

I woke up to a familiar sight this morning: A Facebook message from a top paddler asking me when/where the 2016 ISA World Championship is going to be held. It was from an athlete who has already qualified and is trying to plan their entire season around the Worlds.

Unfortunately I couldn’t really help them or the other 87 paddlers that have messaged me in the past two months, as it seems nobody really knows when/where the 2016 ISA Worlds will be held. And that’s a problem, because it already is 2016…

The ISA is at the center of a very large web. Not only do athletes need to plan their seasons but teams need to organise flights and logistics, federations need to plan their next round of national titles, and sponsors need to divvy up travel budgets. Plus several standalone events are holding back from announcing because they want to avoid a clash of dates with the ISA.

The Worlds have come a long way since Peru 2012. In the beginning, many in the community were skeptical of the ISA’s role in the sport, but by the time the tequila was flowing post-Sayulita 2015, the event had stamped its authority and become a truly integral part of the season. The International Surfing Association gained some serious momentum in Mexico, yet now they risk losing it.

I’ve been trying to get an answer from the ISA for months now, but I don’t think even they know. I assume there’s still no host nation locked in, otherwise we surely would have heard about it by now. All I’ve been able to piece together is this:

– Back in May 2015, the ISA basically confirmed Fiji as the host of the 2016 Worlds. They hinted at this during the event in Mexico, while several Fijian paddlers all but confirmed it to me as well.

– At some point mid-year, the Fiji deal fell through. I’m assuming the Fiji Tourism board or some similar group couldn’t come up with the cash (the Worlds cost over half a million to host).

– By late October, with still no venue locked in, 2015 hosts Mexico suddenly became an option again after the Mexico federation president met with the ISA during the World Juniors in SoCal. This was a bit surprising, because a few behind-the-scenes dramas in Mexico left me thinking the ISA would never return.

– By November, after many requests, the ISA finally agreed I could at least update the community by announcing the four nations in contention: Fiji, China, Argentina and Mexico (see: “Meet the 4x Potential Hosts of the 2016 ISA Worlds“).

– By December we all expected an announcement, even the ISA sounded confident it would happen before xmas. But then… silence.

The only concrete answer I got is that the 2016 Worlds will “definitely” be in the second half of 2016, not the first half of the year like it always has been. The ISA politely asked me not to reveal this info, suggesting a full announcement was imminent. But nothing official has dropped in the past few weeks, and this whole thing is becoming a bit of a saga, so I think it’s in the community’s best interests to know.

(On a side note, that also throws up a real curve ball for the teams: Most nations will have selected their athletes more than 12 months before the event, which means they’ll probably have to scrap the 2015 results and run a whole new round of qualifiers.)

If I were a betting man I’d say it’ll either be Fiji or China in late October/early November. Though the longer it goes on, the more you’ve gotta question if it’s going to happen at all.

What are the odds the Worlds won’t run this year? I hadn’t even considered that option before this week, but the delays and silence suggest it could be a real possibility. And when you think about it, it’s kind of a perfect storm…

The ISA, which was never a big organisation to begin with, lost two key staff late last year: Director General Liam Ferguson and Membership Manager Sean Brody. They both played integral roles in the 2015 Worlds and would have been major cogs in the 2016 wheel. Around the same time, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Committee voted to introduce surfing to the Olympics, which means the ISA will now be working full time to prep just for that.

Combine all those elements and it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if the ISA didn’t have the time/resources to host the SUP World Championship this year. Nor would it be the first time the ISA has skipped a year with one of their various championship events. Plus Denmark has already staked its claim on 2017, which (ironically) will be decided upon in just three months. We might actually know the 2017 host before we know what’s happening in 2016.

This is all just speculation of course. I sincerely hope the 2016 Worlds do go ahead, because I really do love the event. Sayulita 2015 felt like a mini-Olympics. The atmosphere between the teams (and the level of competition out on the water) was next level. And even though I’m starting to doubt it, I’m still confident it’ll happen at some point this year (I’m sticking with my ‘Fiji or China in late October’ prediction). I just wish the ISA would give us some kind of update. Anything…

I’m still excited about the 2016 Worlds, I just hope we get a response from the ISA sooner rather than later. The longer this saga drags on, the more the ISA risks losing the priceless momentum they picked up in Mexico. And we all drank way too much tequila for that to happen.



Highlights Ahead — SUP Racer’s Big Preview of the 2016 Season (Who Else Is Excited?)