'Rebel tour' splits surf pros

YAMBA'S Daniel Ross is celebrating qualifying for the World Tour but a possible split in the professional surfing world could make his achievement lose much of its lustre.

Ross qualified last week after winning a World Qualifying Series event at Newquay, England, and fellow Far North Coast surfers, Lennox Head duo Adam Melling and Owen Wright, are also on the cusp of breaking through to the World Tour.

It should be a time of supreme joy for the trio and those who have helped them along the way in the tight-knit FNC surfing community.

However, a rebel tour that has the backing of US pay television sports network ESPN and is being organised by nine-time world champion Kelly Slater, Slater's manager Terry Hardy and former American boxing promoter Matt Tinley, is threatening to split the sport.

It's been reported that the trio has an in-principle agreement with the network to run an elite 16-man, eight-event circuit that could run without the approval of the Association of Surfing Professionals from the second half of next year.

It is believed each event will have prizemoney of $1.5 million which would be a massive boost considering the 10 events on the Dream Tour have a maximum prize pool of $340,000 which is divided between 46 competitors.

For Ross, and possibly Melling and Wright, it would be a big blow to join the World Tour only to have the top 16 surfers move to the more lucrative ESPN tour.

“I kind of have mixed thoughts about it,” Ross said yesterday.

“It would be great for the sport if they could get the funding for something like that but it would be pretty hollow for someone to win the Dream Tour with 16 of the best surfers in the world not competing.

“But then again if you're winning prizemoney with surfers not there, there wouldn't be much complaining.

“Like I said, I have mixed feelings but until I know more about it I can't really say.”

Details of the breakaway tour remains scant although it's believed of the 16 surfers, eight will be permanent and the other eight wildcard competitors.

Who will determine who surfs and how to qualify remains unanswered and there has been no mention of a women's event.

That sits uneasily with Ross who besides being a competitor also doubles as a coach for the Red Bull women's team that boasts World Tour competitors Sally Fitzgibbons and Sofia Mulanovich.

“Women's surfing has changed a lot in the last few years and I think it's exciting to watch,” he said.

“It's been really good to be a part of the team and I think the whole Red Bull professional teams is starting to get a bit of credibility.

“I've already spoken to them about continuing coaching next year even though I'll be competing.

“A lot of the events don't clash but those that do I should be able to surf a heat and then go and work with the girls.”

For the 26-year-old, it will be the second time he competes on the World Tour after mixing it with the elite in 2008.

Ross finished 38th which meant he dropped out for this year but now he believes he is experienced enough to retain his spot.

Meanwhile, Melling and Wright have a big few weeks on the road with major events in France, Portugal and two in Spain. Good showings or even a win could guarantee them a World Tour ticket.

Ross, who will not surf competitively again until Hawaii late in the year, is hoping the pair has the results they need so they can join him on the big stage.

“The North Coast has some good waves and there are so many good surfers around especially up in Lennox,” he said.

“Actually, Melling is one of my favourite surfers and I'm stoked for Owen but if we're battling it out for number one in Hawaii later on we'll all be going for it.”

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