The Guillotine

Lanky Dean
Swellnet Dispatch

One of the most terrifying symbols of the French revolution is the guillotine. The man who created it, Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, or Dr Guillotine, was concerned by torture and protracted deaths during the French revolution and sought an alternative.

The guillotine was designed and developed to execute people in a humane manner. That is, in a swift and decisive way. Before the guillotine, people were beheaded by axe or sword, creating a brutal scene for by-stander and victims. Thus, in 1789 Dr Guillotine invented his falling blade and it was used to kill thousands of people during the ‘Reign of Terror’. 

So what does this dark corner of history have to do with the World Surf League and pro surfing contests?

Well, despite its critics, I appreciate the mid-year cut. I’m one of those bystanders who enjoys watching the guillotine fall. 

 “Who will be beheaded from the tour in 2024?”

Has a nice ring to it doesn't it? And it sounds even better in French: 

“Qui sera décapité de la tournée en 2024?”

There are two more events before le WSL rolls out their invisible guillotine. Used in pro surfing since 2010, the guillotine has dictated the results and careers of many past pros.

Beyond inflicting individual harm, the cut reduces the field from 36 to 22 in the mens, 18 to 10 in the womens - which I think is great. By reducing the field it favours the event to running in a shorter time period. Add in overlapping heats and they could effectively be run and done in one swell.

2010 was the first year the cut was introduced, swiftly trimming the-then top 45 down to a field of 32. The final event before the cut was held at Teahupoo Tahiti, which seemed like a very fitting venue to decide the cut. The place of skulls. Though Wikipedia tells me the translation could also mean “sever the head”.

Let’s go with that one.

The 2010 guillotine wiped out a series of tour veterans and rookies who all fell victim to the blade. Of the vets the names include: Michael Campbell, Drew Courtney, Jay Thompson, Neco Padaratz, Kekoa Becalso, and Ben Dunn who is now a WSL judge determining the future of younger competitors.

Rookies culled that year included Nate Yeomans, Tanner Gudauskas, Blake Thorton, and the aptly named Marco Polo. A marketers dream gone missing there…

The 2010 cut rolled into 2011’s One World Rankings, but it was a guillotine by any other name. This was the year that Bobby Martinez protested his stance on the cut with an explicit interview at the Quiksilver Pro New York, which was the last event before that year’s cut.

Fun Fact No.1: Bobby actually won his heat hence the interview time. Does anyone have his jersey? #history

At the end of season 2011, the cut went on a ten-year hiatus and was reintroduced in 2022. So why is the guillotine so damn enticing for the spectator?

Well, I watch the WSL to see the current world's best surfers surf in contests. The sub-clause is that I also like the idea of a benchmark halfway through the season which divides the field: the performers from those surfing sub-par.

To that end, I often wonder about the mindset of some competitors bringing up the rear of the field. Are they really trying for a world title?

Because that’s the only reason they should be there.

Three people disagreeing with the cut this year are two former female world champs - in fact, they’ve got thirteen world titles between them - and the current two-time male world champ. All three of them exited stage left at the start of this season. 

A result of mid-year cut stress..?

Probably not, though Steph went close to feeling the blade last year.

Mid-year cut stress is real. Of the 2% San Clemente crew, 60% are currently below the cut line. 

How is this affecting their team spirit? Also, as I write this, Kelly Slater is laying on the table in third-last place. This is the winningest surfer of all time, people. The cut spares no-one.

Four surfers on the men's side have already survived the cut. No matter what happens, Griffin Colapinto, Ethan Ewing, John Florence, and Jack Robinson are all safe for the rest of the season. On the women's side, only one competitor is safely booked in for the second half of the year: Miss Molly Picklum, who two years ago was herself a victim of the cut.`

Perhaps in Molly we can see the cut’s best asset. Those who’ve felt it once do everything in their power to never go near it again They’d even prefer to hit the lip at triple-overhead Sunset then lay prone as the guillotine falls.

Who will be this year's Marie Antoinette? Who will be this year's King Louis XVI?


Other notable cut victims include:

Olympic bronze medalist Owen Wright, last year’s final fiver Joao Chianca, Morgan Ciblic, R Cal, Jackson Baker, Fred Morais, Jake Marshall, Ezekiel Lau, Malia Manuel, Sally Fitzgibbons, Cortney Conlogue, Bettylou Sakura Johnson, Bronte Macaulay, Brissa Henessy.


kaybeegee's picture
kaybeegee's picture
kaybeegee Tuesday, 26 Mar 2024 at 2:08pm

Interesting to note: It was hypothesised that a head would stay conscious for a short time after beheading, before passing away.

As far as the surf media are concerned, this is also true for pro surfers, who, after being guillotined, remain alive for a short time, before passing away, never to be heard from again.

dandob's picture
dandob's picture
dandob Tuesday, 26 Mar 2024 at 10:23pm

Pretty sure they did an experiment where they got a prisoner to continue to blink while they were still conscious of what was happening. Was around 10 seconds from memory!

BBrowny's picture
BBrowny's picture
BBrowny Tuesday, 26 Mar 2024 at 2:47pm

^^^^Ha ha

I agree Dean. The mid year cut has always made for good viewing. Back in 2011/2012, it was only the voice of the surfer reps during a time of crisis that got it shelved. Which was a shame as the ASP got sold the next year anyway.

It may have taken awhile but good on the WSL for bringing it back.

PS: Put Joao Chianca with Miss Molly as surfers who've felt the blade and come back better than ever (shame about his pre-season injury this year)

Roker's picture
Roker's picture
Roker Tuesday, 26 Mar 2024 at 3:58pm

Reckon the cut sucks in a sporting sense. Specially with the events that precede it.

But if I’m a member of the Committee for Public Safety first one tossed into the tumbril is Turpel.

I heard this the other day and it kinda shocked me: The guillotine was last used in France in the same year that Star Wars was released!

And while on the subject, I saw on the news that the fella most credited with the 1981 abolishment of the ‘certain movable framework’ died a couple of weeks ago. Robert Badinter. A bushy eyed bourgeois intellectual, a kinda bolshie Gallic Rumpole with a gift for rhetoric and possessed of a healthy dose of n’oblesse oblige.

Laid to rest in the Panthéon. Presumably not next to Jean-Paul Marat.

kang's picture
kang's picture
kang Tuesday, 26 Mar 2024 at 5:19pm

The cut makes great hype and a storyline for events pre-cut. But what is also does is make events post cut boring AF. The guys that scrape through the cut but have no chance of making the top 5 have no consequences if they loose an event. No one will leap frog them, they're there next year regardless.

I say have a moving cut. First 4 events no one is cut, after that you loose 3-4 surfers after each event. Storyline for every event, suddenly you give a shit about watching a round 32 Cole Houshmand vs Deivid Silva.

seahound's picture
seahound's picture
seahound Tuesday, 26 Mar 2024 at 8:43pm

Yeah Kang, totally agree. It would certainly make the rest of the season have more meaning and consequences each and every event. It could be tweaked further by having a final 8 at the end of the year, rather than a final five. Run the final 8 like an AFL finals series over two days. This would be more fair while giving a few others a shot at the title. And get rid of Trestles, for the final series. Nothing wrong with having Trestles as the USA's championship location sometime throughout the touring year.

jsc's picture
jsc's picture
jsc Tuesday, 26 Mar 2024 at 7:20pm

Professional golfers have a mid-tournament cut EVERY EVENT.

Professional surfers have a mid-year cut once a year.

Boogerhead's picture
Boogerhead's picture
Boogerhead Wednesday, 27 Mar 2024 at 1:37am

Every WSL event has a cut too. Surfers are cut at the elimination round and surfers are cut every round after that.
At least if you miss the cut one week in golf you can tee up the next week.

Bustard's picture
Bustard's picture
Bustard Wednesday, 27 Mar 2024 at 6:25am

Not on the LIV tour

lost's picture
lost's picture
lost Tuesday, 26 Mar 2024 at 9:05pm

The other less dramatic way to think about it would be simply hurdles to a grand final day. You have to finish top 28 to make the semi final events, you have to finish to 5 to make the Grand Final day.

peabo's picture
peabo's picture
peabo Tuesday, 26 Mar 2024 at 10:02pm

Don't like the cut. Much prefer watching people fight to stay on the tour at the same time people are potentially fighting for a world championship i.e. in the last event of the season, preferably somewhere like Pipe.

I think the only way the mid season cut can be interesting (and valid) is if the 5 events take place in pumping waves. Then there's no question whether people deserve it. If the first five events happen in small shitty waves, then you get guys like Deivid Silva making it through. The ones who struggle in top tier conditions, but can rip out repeat air reverses in 2 foot onshore plop.

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean Thursday, 28 Mar 2024 at 12:56am

Have a cut in the middle and one at the end.
It's simple.

southernraw's picture
southernraw's picture
southernraw Tuesday, 26 Mar 2024 at 11:58pm

Good stuff LD.
The thing is, i was engaged in the woz tour pre cut being introduced (and finals day).
The whole thing was fine.
If it's not broken....

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean Thursday, 28 Mar 2024 at 12:57am

Creative destruction.

juegasiempre's picture
juegasiempre's picture
juegasiempre Wednesday, 27 Mar 2024 at 6:54am

I don't really care but you're dreaming if you think any surfers on the list are among the top ones. Chianca yeah, but he's only there because of injury.

Juliang's picture
Juliang's picture
Juliang Wednesday, 27 Mar 2024 at 8:45am

It would certainly reduce Pro surfer’s income ,and potentially waste a lot of talent.

bbbird's picture
bbbird's picture
bbbird Wednesday, 27 Mar 2024 at 9:40am

If there was several surfing competitions running concurrently around the world, with the same prizemoney, the cut could be applied to WSL staff for running so called "pro"comps in the most crappy waves, that favour the lucky over unlucky who can complete 2 turns eg. Day 2 Portugal 2024

gromnuggets's picture
gromnuggets's picture
gromnuggets Wednesday, 27 Mar 2024 at 7:25pm

LD you write for STAB?? From today post comp write up:

“ Since the 18th century development of the guillotine, physicians have debated how long consciousness persists after decapitation. Fueled by anecdotes of severed heads that blink, blush, and appear to retain intelligence, the macabre hypothesis has been the subject of countless experiments.”

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean Wednesday, 27 Mar 2024 at 11:56pm

They just copy someone else's hard work.
Stub just plagiarize everything # Coldplay
Today they borrowed from Dan Bob and Kay
Chief imitators.

evosurfer's picture
evosurfer's picture
evosurfer Friday, 29 Mar 2024 at 4:28pm

Im not so sure about the cut I dont think we really get the best competition surfers in the world
because of it. All I can see is top names world renowned disappear and replaced by obscure
names Ive never heard of and are quite obviously not up to world class standard.