Pritamo puts the focus back on youth
“The judges have been asking a lot of the surfers,” said Ronnie Blakey during yesterday’s Quiksilver Pro webcast and the statement did more than just fill the dead air.
In his understated way Blakey was driving at the most pronounced change to CT surfing from this year to last - the lowball judging.
Though it’s only one contest it’s worth comparing the Quiksilver Pro 2018 to last year’s event. Take the number of excellent-range scores for instance. In 2017 there were 54 8-plus rides compared to just 19 this year, and every single one of them featured exciting, risky surfing.
Also, the average scoring wave in 2017 was 6.86, while this year it was over a point less at 5.82.
Together, these numbers bear out Blakey’s point: it's getting harder to impress the judges.
Usually you’ll read about everything the WSL does via press release. They may not speak to the surf media but the WSL knows how to work the PR machine and every shift in strategy, personnel, sponsorship, or scheduling cops an email blast. The change in judging, however, passed undetected.
Actually, I should say almost undetected, because new Head Judge Pritamo Ahrendt slyly hinted at it in a February press release announcing his promotion.
“I am excited for this opportunity to oversee the panel and ensure the judging is fair and consistent,” said Pritamo before subtly announcing his intentions, “while also adapting as the world's best surfers break down new performance barriers."
The key word there is adapting.
Griffin Colapinto during Round 1 at Snapper
There’s an old saying, “He who praises everybody, praises nobody” and it can be applied to the Richie Porta era of judging. Over the last five years high scores have become increasingly meaningless. Everyone’s getting them. Sure, you need high scores to win, but if you can manufacture them with standard moves then where’s the motivation to go big? To get progressive?
Nobody was being truly praised for breaking down the performance barriers because four wraps to the beach would fetch the same score. When conservative surfing (yeah I know, a relative term in this context) and progression are equally weighted then the system can be gamed. You’ve heard all that stuff about old age and treachery.
As the judges adapt to the surfers, the surfers will reply in kind. And make no mistake, Pritamo's new decree will change the complexion of the CT. Most obviously we can say goodbye to the journeymen and anyone with brittle ankles. Last year the average age on tour was 27 but that’ll drop as the CT becomes unkind to anyone who can’t absorb the shock of an eight foot hanger into the flats.
Barrel riding will remain the great leveller, as evidenced by Griffin Colapinto, but Bells? Rio? Surf Ranch? Or anywhere the wind blows onshore..?
I imagine there'll also be changes around priority and being on the best waves, especially when they start running the dual heat formats, which the WSL has said they'll increasingly do. Will Gabs still be able to manufacture excellent scores on non-priority waves? It remains to be seen.
Of the 19 8-plus rides awarded during the Quiksilver Pro, in every instance bar two, that person won the heat. In other words, anyone who got a wave that registered in the excellent range progressed.
It may not have been spelled out in a press release but the judges have clearly spoken.