SURFING: Last Year the World Surf League (WSL) changed how the World Title is decided... AND I DON'T LIKE THE CHANGE!

Hello everyone on HIVE and especially the Sports Talk Social Community! My name is Jasper and I’m writing to you from Cape Town, South Africa! One of my topics that I tend to post about a lot on HIVE is one of my favourite sports, surfing!

Usually, I write about my own surfing, which is hard to describe as a sport because I’m not really competing against anybody else. Instead, I am just trying my best not to wipe out on take-off, and then react as best I can to what the wave offers me in a more-artistic, nearly-meditative, healthily-addictive kind of athletic pass-time! I suppose I am competing against myself to try more difficult manoeuvres or tackle more scary, challenging waves!

But surfing can be a sport where people compete against each other in the more traditional sense as well. I have some friends, especially Justin and Jono, who are good enough to do that at a local level, and Justin has even been invited to a speciality contest at a very good shallow barrelling wave in Cape Town where he has been a finalist before, and I look forward to hopefully being able to support him when it runs…

And of course, surfing is a sport where the best in the World compete against each other to become World Champion as well! This has been happening since 1976, long before surfing became an event in the most recent Olympics in Japan.

Last year, the format of crowning the WSL (World Surf League) World Champion changed. I am not a fan of the change. Is this just because I don’t like change at all, or is there some merit to my argument? Let me explain!

Before I continue, the logo in the photo above, along with the heat-draw photos below, are all taken from the following web-page:

So how did it used to work?

•A surfer would do well enough on the World Qualifying Series events to qualify for the following year’s main World Championship Tour events. Usually, the best 10 surfers on the Qualifying Series would join 22 other surfers who had managed to requalify via good results on the previous year’s World Championship Tour events.
•The following year they would all compete in about 10 or 11 events all around the world.
•Their overall score would be calculated from the best 8 or 9 events, dropping their two worst event scores - either due to injury at the time or because the ocean is unpredictable and even the best surfer in the world doesn’t always get good enough waves on the day to beat everyone else!
•The World Champion would be crowned as the man (or woman – they followed the same basic procedure of a Qualifying Series and many Championship Tour events across the globe) who got the best overall score across the World Tour Events. This is similar to Formula One, or a soccer league, or how the Tour de France winner is decided across the entire multi-stage race rather than a single day.

This all sounds totally fine, and the fairest way to do things, right? Why would you change that?

Well, the WSL felt like not enough people were watching surfing because these contests were not exciting enough all the time. There were years where somebody could be crowned World Champion before the final event of the year because he/she had already done well enough in the first events and nobody would be able to catch up. The WSL felt that less people were going to watch the final event if the World Champion had already been decided.

So how does it work now?

•You still get surfers who qualify for the main Championship Tour events, now based on a two-tier qualifying event process (regional and Challenger series) – this is fine.
•They still surf many Championship Tour events to get an overall year end ranking compared to each other.
•Out of interest, I’m from South Africa cheering for the two South African men’s surfers on the main tour, who finished 13th and 14th overall and will therefore requalify for next year as well. South Africa has no ladies on the main tour at the moment.
HERE’S THE CHANGE – After all that, a fair process of surfing many events at many different kinds of locations across the world, playful waves for crazy manoeuvres, shallow waves for scary barrels, BIG waves, lefts, rights, beach breaks, point breaks, reef breaks… the top 5 then have to surf against each other for the World Championship Trophy in a single day at a single event!

Their ranking from 1 to 5 does count for something though! The 5th place will surf a heat against number 4. The winner of that will surf against number 3. The winner of that will surf against number 2. The winner will that will surf the best of three heats against number 1, and the winner of that is the World Champion.

Yes, it would be very difficult for number 4 or 5 to actually make it through that gauntlet and steal the title from the number 1 who might have had a much more impressive year up to that point, but it is not impossible. These surfers are very fit, and will get rests while the other gender are competing (ie: women’s 4 vs 5 is followed by men’s 4 vs 5, before the winner has to surf again).

So why do the WSL want to do it like this?

They think this final event will be very exciting and more people will watch. They will try to tell the back stories of the top five surfers so that we actually pick a favourite and start to care who wins.

Why don’t I like it?

I watched the first of these “WSL Finals” events last year in 2021, basically willing the first seed in both men’s and ladies to win and put the issue to bed. Happily for me, that’s exactly what happened and Gabriel Medina from Brazil and Carissa Moore from Hawaii confirmed that they really should be the Men’s and Women’s World Champions respectively.

Honestly, I believe if it had gone any other way, it would have put an asterisk ( * ) next to the World Champion for that year, and people would question the legitimacy of that year’s result for the rest of time (similar to when the number of events was reduced in 2001 because of the World Trade Center attacks). Why?

•We are now deciding the Year’s result at a single location: Trestles in California is a magnificent, playful wave perfect for modern manoeuvres. However, it almost never barrels or gets big.
•It also provides a significant home-field advantage to those surfers who have grown up surfing there, like some of the men’s contenders this year.
•It is a single day event: that means the swell size will be a certain size that day and that’s it! Certain surfers prefer certain sized waves… you get some that are experts at smaller waves due to their lighter framed bodies. In addition, a brilliant surfer could have a terrible day – the number 1 seed could lose his wife in a car crash the previous day, get no sleep and probably pull out entirely. On a less drastic level, a broken board can easily happen, and you’d waste half a heat trying to get a new board and back out into the waves.
•Finally, I think surfing is a niche sport and that none of this is actually going to increase the number of viewers online by a significant margin, although it might increase the number of people who come to watch on the beach itself in California, when they learn that the stakes of what they’re watching are very high?

So, the waiting period for this year’s WSL Finals starts tomorrow! Apparently the forecast (swell and wind) is looking good for them to actually run the event on the first day, so if this interests you, please check the website:

(I will leave a comment if I become aware that the event is running live – likely about 22 hours after I post this?)

On the ladies side, Carissa Moore is the 1st Seed again – she was able to use that position to win it all for a fifth World Title last year, and I hope she does it again so there are no questionable titles on the ladies side! Carissa Moore always comes across as a lovely person and good role model! A nice spread of countries here so I’m sure you’ll support your own country if they’re represented here.

On the men’s side, Felipe Toledo looks set to finally join Gabriel Medina, Adriano de Souza and Italo Ferreira as Men’s World Champions from Brazil. We have called this the “Brazilian Storm” as nobody from Brazil ever won a title until Medina started them off in 2014. Brazil is definitely providing the most Men’s title contenders at the moment. In addition, Felipe has lived in California and has surfed Trestles a lot, and it suits his style a lot, so hopefully no question marks next to the Men’s Title this year either? The other surfer who has surfed Trestles almost all his life is the Japanese representative Kanoa Igarashi, who actually grew up in California.

So? Now that I’ve described that it’s an exciting single day of surfing, with big stakes, probably happening tomorrow, are you likely to tune in and watch some of it, or am I right that surfing is a niche sport that is of no interest to the mainstream, and they’re messing with the legitimacy of a World Title that used to mean the best surfer across many wave locations, wave sizes, etc, but now comes down to one lucky day?


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