The sliding doors of competition surfing
Like all subjective endeavours competitive surfing is an easy thing to be critical of. Surfing is a sport without a finish line or goalpost so success is determined by the subjective observations of a small group of people – the judges. Beauty, as the saying goes, is in the eye of the beholder and so to is surfing ability. There's plenty of room for grievance.
Yet for the most part the system works. Foolish is the person who questions Kelly Slater's standing as the best surfer ever, and the World Tour is a good representation of the best competitive surfers in the world; a year-long contest season irons out isolated errors of judgement.
While that may be so, at the individual level there's plenty of room to question how we judge good surfing. An incident on the weekend involving young Byron Bay surfer, Garrett Parkes, being an excellent example.
Parkes was competing at the World Junior Championships at Burleigh Heads, the third and last event on the World Junior circuit. Parkes placed 5th at Burleigh to give him 17,000 points for the season. At the same competition Brazilian surfer, Caio Ibelli, placed 17th and also ended up on 17,000 points. To decide the winner Ibelli and Parkes had a surf off with the Brazilian coming up trumps.
Ibelli was chaired from the beach, lifted to the podium and awarded the title of World Junior Champion. The photos and press releases were dispatched and the story was all but over. Or so it seemed to most.
Taking a cue from 'Mark' the anonymous commenter at Surfline who uncovered the ASP's recent premature awarding of Slater's 11th title, I checked the mathematics. Calculator in hand I did the sums and they weren't correlating with the official result. It appeared to me the ASP had made a fundamental mistake – they'd used an outdated points system!
Between 2010 and 2011 the points breakdown for ASP events changed slightly, with the new system rewarding consistency. The new values and associated rules were announced in the ASP Rulebook. Added together using the new points Ibelli scored 16,534 for his three results. Parkes, however, scored 16,900. Accordingly, he should've won the title without any need for a surf off.
Furiously I checked and double-checked all the clauses and rules lest I overlooked something simple. There were a few hazy wordings in the rulebook – I'm not big on Legalese – but no, it appeared the ASP had made a huge mistake.
The only way to tell for sure was to call ASP Media Director, Dave Prodan. On a Saturday afternoon in an airport lounge on a scratchy phone line Prodan took my call. He quickly digested the news and said he'd contact Tour Manager, Al Hunt. Before hanging up he assured me he'd call back in ten minutes.
With the thought of a huge scoop on my hands I began to draft a story. Yet I'd barely concocted the attention-grabbing headline ("ASP make second title blunder!") when Prodan rang back. Unfortunately for me, and of course unfortunately for Parkes, the ruling was sound. According to Hunt, the World Junior Championships were a nascent circuit – just two years old – so the ASP hadn't yet included them in the new points system. In fact, the circuit is only partially covered in the ASP Rulebook. Hence the trouble I had finding clear information.
Dave Prodan went on to say the ASP will assess the World Junior Championships and that they may soon use the new points system to bring it into line with the mens, womens, longboards and regional juniors. All those categories use the new system.
So while the matter had been settled one salient point remained: If the ASP had've used the new points system then Garrett Parkes and Caio Ibelli could've done exactly the same surfing and Parkes would've been awarded world junior champion. On the stroke of a pen the results would've differed.
The moral of the story? Sometimes it's not just subjective judging that can decide the outcome in competitive surfing.
Congratulations to both Caio Ibelli and Garrett Parkes.