Have The Brazilians Got Legitimate Beef?
Granted that very few surfers give a shit about professional surfing, and an even tinier subset of that group care one iota about the comp in the pool - if so, feel free to kick out now - it's worth looking at the protestations of the leading lights of the Brazilian Storm and seeing if they have any legitimate beef with the WSL.
To start, going back to the proximate cause of the beef: the Men's Final between Italo and Griff. Rewatching it and the heats preceeding it I'm still stunned by the magnitude of the judging error.
Before I watched it, I went back to the Richie Porta judging explainer which the Woz released on the eve of the comp. In detail, Porta explained judges were “looking for turns that are going to separate the elite from the middle of the pack,” and that the key to high scores would be, “variety, powerful surfing, no mistakes and utilising all the sections,” as well as, “disappearing in the barrel for as long as you can be”.
Both Porta and Kelly Slater (during the nightsurf session) claimed that turns into the barrel - Slater called them “dramatic entries” - were also highly favoured by judges.
Based on that explainer and previous events, I'm still convinced the most egregious error was the 8.70 awarded for the first lefts ridden by both surfers. The variety, the skill, the power and progression from Italo all executed seamlessly was at least a point and half ahead of Colapinto.
That speaks perfectly to Gabe Medina's most defensible point (now labelled “unacceptable” in the WSL's only response so far):
“It’s clear that the judges’ assessment is now rewarding very simple surfing, incomplete transitions, and PROGRESSION and VARIETY is being completely taken out of the equation."
“The WSL urgently needs to clarify its criteria and apply fair judgement to preserve the evolution of the sport.”
In this case, absolutely spot on. Griff's wave was very simply surfed with very little variety and progression.
But more importantly, the judging needs to be comprehensible, especially for the surfers who are being judged.
If you can't get a comprehensible judging criteria happening at a repeatable man-made wave then you don't have a sport. You have an advertisement for a wave pool.
The rest of the diatribes from the Storm are whining, albeit elevated to almost high art with mournful silences and declarations of love and legacy etc etc and exhortations to use it as fuel for fulfilling human potential. All nonsense and expressions of solidarity.
Yet six of the last eight world champions have been Brazilian, including current champ Toledo, and former champs Medina and Ferriera. Medina won the last comp at Margaret River, Toledo won at Sunset Beach.
Those facts should scuttle immediately any suggestions of anti-Brazilian bias, but it doesn't discount one of the main sources of the beef.
If the criteria is shifting, away from progression and variety as Medina suggests, towards flow and transitions then that needs to be made crystal clear. Not made up on the fly and contradicting their own former head judge called into to explain it to Joe Public.
I cannot imagine grand conspiracy from a judging panel to get Griff a hometown final at Trestles. Others might.
The most generous, simple explanation is a subtle shift in judging that was not conveyed to surfers. Carissa Moore would be evidence for that position. Riss surfed every wave almost exactly the same. Same turns in the same places. According to Porta, she should have been docked points for repetition. Instead, judges went excellent for every single one of them. There was little variety and zero progression to behold.
If judging fashions are to change and it disadvantages what has heretofore considered the State Of The Art - Brazilian progression in other words - it's only fair and reasonable that those dedicating their life to the sport should be fully cognisant of those changes.
You can't just unilaterally decide that “Nah, we don't like that now, we like this” and not expect blowback from those affected. It does require urgent clarification.
As for the WSL running away and sticking its head in the sand until it all blows over, I do have to submit my solidarity with the Brazilian chorus: World Shame League.
Get out front and address this issue, Elo. That's your job, pal.
// STEVE SHEARER