Above: When he’s not running the world tour Alex Leon is not shy to slide into a Shark Island bomb. Photo: Sam Venn

With the APB World Bodyboarding Tour now halfway though it’s 2015 calendar, we caught up with tour CEO Alex Leon about the state of affairs and vision for the future of top level competitive bodyboarding.

We managed to grab Mr Leon just as he made final preparations for the upcoming Shark Island Challenge APB Specialty contest.

Firstly, how are preparations for the Shark Island Challenge coming along? The pro’s are in town and there is some swell around, when are you planning to hold it?

Everything is coming along quite well. We had a media launch last week and launch party that featured Front End Loader playing some old school music from the Underground Tapes series which was pretty special for Cronulla and Shark Island. The contest is on standby for next week at this stage with a possible Monday/Tuesday swell looking positive on the charts. This week had some good swell but the tides were against us being in the late arvo which is impossible to run and the Low pressure was right over the top of Sydney and caused winds to be very unpredictable. 

How extensive will the webcast be this year? Also, who will do the commentating for the live webcast at the SIC?

The webcast will be very valuable this year to the event and the APB. We have a really good live water angle that will be shot from a large boat which will deliver some crazy content to the viewers and really showcase bodyboarding in the best light. Mark Fordham, Wingnut & Eric Grothe Jnr will be hosting the commentary along with various riders coming on the webcast. 

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Despite being a speciality event for the APB tour, you have still managed to attract a lot of the world’s best riders. Why is that?

Shark Island attracts some of the world’s best riders every year and this comes down to the wave, and the media attention that Shark Island can receive. I think winning Shark Island is such a hard feat to accomplish as it holds a stigma about itself being such a heavy wave and hard to surf so becoming a champion out there is really a major achievement within our sport. 

Will SIC ever return as a fully fledged world tour event?

Yes we are in talks with SNSW for 2016 and the possibility of joining the world tour. 

Will there be any other Australian events in 2016 such as Box Challenge and South Coast Mobile challenge?

To elaborate on the above question, the South Coast Crusade is set to return to the tour in 2016 with Shark Island as a mobile event. It is very hard to get Shark Island good in a 12 day waiting period therefore we need backup locations and the South Coast of NSW is a perfect destination for this.

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Jake Stone performs the first ever 720 reverse during competition at the 2013 South Coast Challege

A lot of top Australian riders passed on competing on the APB Tour this year, sighting it as unfeasible budget-wise. What are your thoughts on that?

Totally agree with them. The way the tour was set up this year as a star rating system was based on trying to secure events all over the world to keep Professional Bodyboarding alive. After the demise of the IBA, we had to start from the beginning again so we are currently in a rebuilding phase as 2014 showed. We have a vision of 10 years of where we see the sport heading and its something that can’t be solved or reached overnight. It’s a timely process working with various regions and stabilising the sport first. Prize money will be increased next year as part of our plan so this will certainly attract some of the Australians back and with an event here in Australia it will only help them. 

The South American leg has been hailed a success with each event scoring large waves and some high-performance bodyboarding. You were quoted as saying the success of these events have paved the way for potentially bigger corporate sponsorships in future years. Can you elaborate on that? Has any major sponsors come to the table since those events?

We have been discussing with some major corporations currently about this topic. I can’t elaborate too much at the moment, but things are looking very positive for the future and maybe as early as next year. This comes down to the media values the events in Brasil and Chile received. We also had record number of viewers globally from these three events so this is a reflection of improved media and running professional events and working with the promoters to improve media surrounding the events. 

The sole Australian on this year’s APB Tour, Lewy Finnegan, celebrates his win at the Antofagasta Bodyboard Festival in Chile

The webcast and post production videos have been successful this year. How important are they to the continuation and exposure of the APB and bodyboarding?

As I just mentioned, media content that is created is very vital for any sport. The way we showcase the sport must look as professional as possible to achieve mainstream distribution which in turn attracts larger sponsorships and build audiences. We have very limited budgets and resources as the APB is in the 2nd year of operation but we are creating much better content and our media reach is expanding and this comes down to the promoters investing in this area and we also have media agents that are helping the cause. 

The APB is midway through it’s second full year as being the bodyboarding world tour. How is it travelling? What have you learnt in this short time?

The APB is going well, we have a great team with really experienced board members. We are all on the same path to achieve the same common goal which is a good position to be in. I have learnt a lot over the past few years and this comes down to understanding the sporting industry and business and how important it is to build our participation growth. It is paramount to increase participants globally if we want a successful professional world tour with major sponsorships and prize money and this is why we are forming APB regions and concentrating on our media reach. The industry need to support the APB also as much as possible because it is quite a simple model to follow – that if we receive more support from the industry then we all benefit, more participants means increases in board sales and this is the winning format to a successful sport.

When the IBA disbanded at the end of 2013/ early 2014, there was speculation it would return by 2015. That obviously has not happened, however you said the APB was open to discussions with the IBA, has that happened at all? Is there any future there?

We were open to discussions last year with IBA but the dialogue never initiated so we moved forward as we couldn’t wait and let the tour fall apart. We have built this tour back up and the athletes now have ownership where it belongs. We are in a great space right now and we won’t be looking back. The IBA is history in my mind. 

Airam Cabrera takes a bomb during the 2015 Arica Chilean Challenge
Airam Cabrera takes a bomb during the 2015 Arica Chilean Challenge

The APB announced Teahupoo to return this year but couldn’t get it going. What is the likelihood for it to come back next year?

We have been working with the event promoter closely to make this happen but this year the timing was too short. They are working on a possible 2016 event in April/May and trust me we are helping them as much as possible as Teahupoo is paramount for our tour. Teahupoo is one of the most expensive events to run and sponsorship is scarce in Tahiti so we are looking outside the box to make this happen. 

You seem confident that Pipeline will return in 2016 also, has there been any movement there?

Yes permit has been lodged for late February and we are expecting a decision in the next month on this. 

El Fronton was also listed earlier as returning this year, is it still happening?

The Fronton King will go ahead as a speciality event in October after the Nazare event. It is not a world tour event as the minimum requirements could not be met due to financial sponsorship. We are also working closely with the event promoter there for 2016 and the government to secure this as a world tour event. 

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Are there any other events that are in the pipeline to return/happen next year such as Maldives, Peru and the Zicatelo Pro?

Maldives will become part of the World Tour next year in August. There maybe a few additional events that will be 1,2 & 3 star rated such as Japan, Costa Rica, South Africa, and Peru. Japan will be hosting the womens world tour event early next month – The Tahara Pro as a 4 star even which is great for the sport and Japan. 

What are your thoughts on the national levels of competition such as the ABA Tour and the IBA Hawaii Tour, is the APB planning to work more closely with these competitions to allow a clearer pathway for young bodyboarders wanting to compete on the world stage?

The career path in bodyboarding is something we have been investing a lot of time in. We know this is one of the most important issues that we are confronted with right now. Over the next 12-24 months, we are going to focus on this as I believe the gap between grassroots level to the elite tour needs to be filled as soon as possible. This is why the Pro Junior was implemented this year, to create a feeder for the World Tour. It has had much success so far and will only get bigger and better into 2016. 

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Hawaiian grom Tanner McDaniel has been a standout in the newly formed Pro Junior tour and currently leads the rankings ahead of Brazilian rival Socrates Santana. Photo: Tony D’Andrea/APB Media

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