WSL Longboard Tour 2021 - Ben Skinner
Back in February 2020, everything was looking good for dryrobe® ambassador Ben Skinner’s prospects on the WSL Longboard Tour. He’d placed fifth in the first event of the year at Noosa and the multiple British and European Longboard champ was in with a chance of challenging for the world title. Then the pandemic hit. Like everything else, the tour was put on hold and uncertainty loomed over the sport.
After nearly 18 months off and a whole year’s worth of events cancelled,the tour finally started up again in September 2021, kicking off with two competitions on the west coast of the US at iconic locations - Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch and Malibu Beach.
We caught up with Ben to reflect on these two epic comps and to find out what this British longboard legend has planned for 2022…
Speaking earlier in 2021, you said that the World Longboard Tour happening this year would be a dream come true. How did it feel when it was announced that the tour was happening in America and were you expecting it to go ahead?
After the first event of the 2020 season back in February in Noosa, Australia, I felt really excited about the future of longboarding and being part of something that was about to get a push from the WSL. With a 5th place in that event, the rest of the year was looking exciting and I was in a position to fight for a world title. Unfortunately, as we all know Covid hit the world and with everything else, the longboard tour got put on hold and at points was looking unlikely to start again. So yeah, for the event to run this year after all that time and in two of the most exclusive places to have an event - the Ranch and Malibu - it really was a dream come true. It got to a point when it was certain the events were going to run, but I was unsure whether I would be allowed into America due to Covid and a travel ban from the UK into the USA. I had to jump through a lot of hoops, but in the end I was granted an athlete waiver and was let in… thankfully!
How was it to be competing again with other world-class surfers for the first time since the pandemic began?
It really was amazing to see everyone again. I have so many friends through longboarding and throughout the year the only time we get to see each other is at these events, so it becomes more than just a contest. As much as we battle in the water, we are all friends on the beach, and this time because of the pandemic it was even more special to see everyone again.
What was it like to be at the Surf Ranch, and what were you most looking forward to experiencing when you got in the water there?
The Surf Ranch really is an experience like no other. Even the drive there is crazy, driving through desert-like terrain into what feels like the middle of nowhere. Then to drive up to the famous wooden doors to the dream factory that is Kelly Slater Wave Pool. As soon as you enter you are welcomed with open arms by the staff there, you get fed three times a day with as much refreshment as you want as part of the experience of being there and whilst you’re trying to take all of that in, you hear over the speakers, 'CT3 30 SECONDS ' and then the train starts to move and you witness with your own eyes the perfect wave roll down the pool -it really is a sight to behold. The bit I was most excited about was just getting to surf the wave, what I didn’t anticipate was the pressure that you go through during a contest in this environment. I don’t think I have ever felt pressure like this before in my whole life. I still had some great moments surfing the wave in the event, but it did not go my way, but knowing what I know now I cannot wait for next year's event there.
Were you able to surf at the Surf Ranch prior to the competition, or was it a new experience on the day of the event?
This is a good question and one that we all had leading up to the event. The answer was, each competitor got one left and one right each before the contest. As you can imagine we were all pretty spun out when we heard that as although the wave is perfect, it runs at about 30 MPH and not every wave is exactly the same. It takes more than one wave each way to work out how you can surf it, how your board feels, what fin you should use, where to noseride and where to turn, and then when to get ready for the tube section. I think this didn’t help the feeling of pressure we were all under!
The atmosphere at the Jeep® Malibu Classic looked incredible! The camaraderie between surfers seemed really special, what was it like competing there?
For sure it was the best event I have done in my life. Yes, it was the best result I have had, but it was more than that. It was a special event in so many ways. The waves were pumping, the sun was out, we all felt like we had been locked up for months, with no events for a year and a half. Not just for the competitors but for the crowds on the beach watching, the staff members at the event and all of you at home watching online. It was exciting for all of us, and you could really feel that at the event. Alongside that, it was the final event of a now 2 year season with the return of the legend Joel Tudor to competition, who went on to win his 3rd world title at one of his home spots with all his friends and family there cheering him on. The energy on the beach that day was electric. To be part of it was one of the highlights of my career and to help Joel win the title that day by taking out his opposition for the title on the other side of the draw, and then to surf with him in the final was a dream come true!
How were the surf conditions on the day and what is it about Malibu that provides such a great wave for longboarding?
Malibu is the most iconic longboard wave on the planet. It is one of the most perfect points for longboarding, and when you get the south swells start-up, Malibu turns on. We were so lucky to get the two days of surf we got. One of the best things about the event was getting to surf pumping Malibu with only one other guy out, any normal day at Malibu there are hundreds in the line up! Thank you WSL and all the Malibu locals for letting this event happen.
Massive congratulations on being ranked as 4th on the WSL for 2021. How are you preparing for the 2022 Longboard Tour, and are there any other events that you’re looking forward to next year?
Thank you! I am surfing as much as possible and will be keeping myself fit out of the water to make sure I am ready to go for 2022. It is going to be an exciting year again and this time I would like to get right to the top. We have all got to dream!
Huge thanks to dryrobe® and my other sponsors for all your belief and support... bring on 2022.
Facebook: Ben Skinner