Most Memorable Surf Moments of the World Surf League

Surfer on a wave

With over four decades of surfing history under its belt, the World Surf League (WSL) has witnessed many intense and incredible finals across its competitions over the years, making choosing between them near enough impossible.

In our blog, we look at some of the most defining moments during WSL competitions! We have focussed on the individual, awe-inspiring, funny and shocking moments during the most recent history of the WSL.

What is the World Surf League?

Starting in 1976, World Surf League was initially named the International Professional Surfing World Circuit; the governing body changed its title to World Surf League (WSL) in 2015

Before WSL, there were a few organisations responsible for creating and managing world surfing competitions, including the International Surf Federation.

The World Surf League hosts numerous competitions which rank the top surfers of the world. The most familiar competitions organised by the World Surf League are the separate WSL Championship Tours for men and women. The WSL Qualifying Series is also under the responsibility of the WSL, and they also govern the following competitions:

• WSL Big Wave Tour
• WSL Junior Championships
• WSL Women's Longboard Championships
• WSL Men’s Longboard Championships

Equal Pay for Female Surfers

Let’s start with something truly inspirational inside and outside of the surfing industry. In September 2018, WSL declared that male and female surfers would be paid equally during their events. 

There has been a push to equalise women’s surfing for an extensive amount of time, and this is a pioneering step in the right direction for not only the surf world but to inspire other sports and industries. Surfers across the industry appraised the decision, and Stephanie Gilmore commented:

"I hope this serves as a model for other sports, global organisations and society as a whole. My fellow women athletes and I are honoured by the confidence in us, and inspired to reward this decision with ever-higher levels of surfing."

Underneath a shark in sea

J-Bay Shark Attack

In 2015, Mick Fanning pushed through an incredibly challenging year. Beginning with marital break-up before competition season started, Fanning’s year didn’t seem like the most positive.

Then, during the competition at J-Bay, Fanning was famously attacked by a shark. Within seconds, Fanning was tugged by a great white in which he fiercely punched and kicked it to escape and swim away. The sinister event was caught on camera and shocked all onlookers and viewers.

Later that year during Pipeline, Fanning’s brother sadly died, making 2015 an incredibly sad and traumatic one for the surfer.

However, the inspirational legend turned 2016 around and won the J-Bay event proving to us all that a shark isn’t going to scare him from being a champion!

A rocky beach

Freddy’s Rock

We’ve all had one of those surfs where we feel incredibly annoyed, and nothing is going our way. However, it’s unlikely that we get so annoyed we ride into a rock…deliberately.

A moment during the Quicksilver Gold Coast event made many onlookers laugh as Freddy Patacchia did just that.

Catching only his second wave of the heat due to unsatisfactory conditions, Patacchia felt the anger when his wave closed out and directed him into white water. In annoyance and retaliation, he bounced towards a rock and then slammed his board on it in frustration.

An act which expressed emotions that are relatable for many of us, the rock has since been acknowledged as ‘Freddy’s rock’, and #FreddysRock emerged.

A big wave breaking

Ian Walsh’s Perfect 10

The WSL Championship Tour is impressive in itself without even contemplating the skills and determination of being a big wave surfer. Nearly every wave you witness during the WSL Big Wave Tour is an impressive one but imagine seeing a perfect 10.

In 2017, Ian Walsh achieved this outstanding accomplishment at the Pe’ahi Challenge with an incredible barrel and was awarded the highest score of 10.

The Machado and Slater High Five

One memorable WSL moment that sparks debate, and therefore we obviously must mention, is the famous high-five between Rob Machado and Kelly Slater in the 1995 Pipe Masters. Comparable to relationships between most professional surfers, the connection between Machado and Slater was a respectable but ultra-competitive one.

Coming to the last few moments of their final heat for the WSL Men’s Championship Tour, Machado caught a seemingly winning final wave. As he rode down the wave, Slater paddled back out and put his hand out for a high-five. In the act of inspirational sportsmanship, Machado ultimately finished his wave to meet Kelly and complete the high-five instead of taking advantage of the full ride.

In doing so, Machado lost his priority to catch the next wave and effectively gave it to Slater, who then caught a wave and won the world title.

What seemed like a positive interaction between two athletes soon became a subject of vast debate, as some believed Slater’s high-five to be a quick and tactical decision to gain priority over Machado and ultimately win.

The sea

These are just a handful of WSL’s memorable moments, which of your favourites have we missed? Let us know on our social media channels; we would love to hear about them! Feel inspired? Get ready for your next surf and browse through our extensive selection of surf equipment, boards and suits from all your favourite brands, including Rip Curl and O’Neill wetsuits.

Other articles which may spark surfing inspiration:

5 of the Best Much-Watch Surf Films