Jamie O'Brien and the point of switchfoot surfing
In 1994, then two-time world champion, Kelly Slater, was asked about the future of surfing. "The next great surfer will be able to do all the moves that are happening now, except switchfoot," was his reply. While Slater has been spot on with many of his predictions this one appears off the mark. After all, 17 years have passed and switchfoot surfing is still a rare thing to see. But by the same token, the next great surfer hasn't come along yet.
Yesterday, in the semi final of the Volcom Pipeline Pro Jamie O'Brien went left on a six foot wave switchfooting from takeoff. He pulled into the barrel, came out clean and then did a stiff turn and tube stall down the line. The judges gave him 8 points for the effort. Last night O'Brien said on his Twitter account, "Give me a 8 for a switch stance wave at pipe today ?????" and then followed it up with a few more exasperated Tweets about the perceived underscore.
Pritamo Ahrendt is the ASP's Head Judge. When I asked him about switchfoot surfing he said the ASP had been discussing how it fits into the criteria for a few years. "It would be irresponsible for us not to have [discussed it] as there is always a chance that someone will pull it out on us," was his reply.
While Ahrendt wasn't in Hawaii for yesterdays competition he watched the heat and thinks the judges got the scoring right. According to Ahrendt O'Brien's barrel wasn't critical in relation to other barrels ridden on the day. "The take off is reasonably easy and it's a simple point and shoot style barrel. He doesn't have to drive through any big sections or pump to make the barrel," said Ahrendt.
But what about the difficulty of actually doing it switchstance? The first question that needs to be asked, Ahrendt says, is what the wave would have received if it was a goofyfooter surfing it exactly as Jamie did. According to Ahrendt a goofy "would not have scored more than a low 6." So therefore the difficulty of taking off and riding switchfoot gave O'Brien an extra 2 points.
O'Brien's wave was one of the few waves ridden in competition where the surfer has gotten to their feet switchfoot (the only other one that this writer can remember is Kelly Slater at Supertubos during last years Rip Curl – an unsuccessful ride).
Slater has made numerous attempts at jumping switchfoot mid-ride, most memorably at Padang Padang during the 2008 Rip Curl Search event for which he scored a 10. Ahrendt reiterates the point about switchfoot surfing earning points, "That wave [Slater's at Padang Padang] would have been a mid-excellent score without the switch, but the degree of difficulty of surfing the barrel section switch increased it to a perfect wave for that day of surfing."
Yesterday at Pipeline there were many high scoring waves – 10's and 9.93's. Ahrendt concedes that once someone starts taking off on those waves, committing themselves to big, steep and deep takeoffs while riding switchfoot then the judges will have to reassess the criteria leaving room for extra points. The implication being that once someone does commit to switch - O'Brien or whoever it may be - then the rest of the surfers won't be getting high scores as readily.
And that may be the advantage that the next great surfer has. It'd be a long time coming but Kelly Slater's 1994 prediction may yet come true.