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Women's pro surfing world tour schedule might be headed for a wipeout

February 27, 2009 | 10:37 am

Stephanie Gilmore celebrates last December after winning her second world title.

Australia's Stephanie Gilmore this week will begin a quest to win a third championship in as many years on the ASP Women's World Tour.

She's a dynasty in the making and a strong favorite to win the season-opening Roxy Pro Gold Coast in Australia.

But a formidable force looms on the close horizon -- for all 17 surfers on the elite tour. It's the ravaged economy, which threatens to wipeout a large chunk of the tour schedule.

Corporate sponsors, ailing because of sluggish sales and mounting debt, have either pulled out or are contemplating pulling out of some events in order to cut costs.

There are eight contests on the World Tour schedule but at least one -- a prestigious event next winter at Sunset Beach on Oahu -- has no sponsor and might be dropped. Roxy, which operates under the Quiksilver umbrella, was the title sponsor last year.

Also, Billabong reportedly is considering dropping sponsorship of one of two contests on the women's schedule: the Billabong Girls Pro Rio. (I have not yet been able to confirm this with Billabong's marketing department.)

At least two other contests are in jeopardy this year, so whoever wins the world title might do so on a severely diminished schedule.

Sally Fitzgibbons will enter the Roxy Pro as the top rookie.

Said ASP Women's World Tour Manager Brooke Farris, in an e-mail:

"The financial crisis is being felt by the ASP and the best women surfers in the world. We are currently actively seeking a sponsor for the ASP Women's World Tour event at Sunset Beach as well as trying to confirm a number of events on the tour.

"Whilst faced with these challenges, we believe that we have a very strong commercial entity to offer. The Top 17 are fresh, fun and living the dream as they surf the globe for the coveted ASP World Title crown.

"It is only a matter of time before we find the right partnerships to secure the future of the sport."

That's wishful thinking, but hopefully the ASP will find those partnerships. The men's 10-contest World Tour schedule, an ASP spokesman said, is so far intact.

-- Pete Thomas

Photos: Stephanie Gilmore (top) celebrates last December after winning her second world title. Credit: ASP Scholtz/Covered Images. In second photo Sally Fitzgibbons will enter the Roxy Pro as the top rookie. Credit: ASP Robertson/Covered Images

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