COOLANGATTA, Queensland/Australia (Monday, October 24, 2011) - The past 24 months have bore witness to a radical transition within the ASP. Spawned in the ASP Board Meetings of October 2009, these transitions dealt specifically with the system for determining the world's best surfers who would ultimately decide the undisputed ASP World Champion. In August of 2010, we reduced the number of elite-level surfers from 45 down to 34 and introduced the current 36-man event format. In December of 2010, we used a bridge qualifying criteria which took a select number of surfers directly off the ASP World Title rankings and another select number of surfers directly off the ASP World Rankings.
Commencing in 2011, this transition took full flight with the launching of the ASP World Rankings and the rolling 52-week determination of an individual surfer's ranking. In August of this year, the ASP completed its first official rotation of the ASP Top 34 with newcomers Gabriel Medina (BRA), 17, Miguel Pupo (BRA), 19, John John Florence (HAW), 19, and Travis Logie (ZAF), 32, becoming full-fledged members of the ASP Top 34 beginning with the Hurley Pro at Trestles. The ASP Technical Committee, comprised of surfers, events and ASP administrators, has been monitoring the situation closely and will continue to do so. Renato Hickel, ASP World Tour Manager and multi-decade veteran of the ASP, was kind enough to offer his perspective on a number of questions that have been debated by surfers around the world. This...is his story...
Conditions for the newcomers to break into the Elite Top 34:
It was never easy before and it certainly isn't now - the system has never been designed for "easy access" to the elite level of competition. After all, we all want to have the best Top 34 surfers in the world at every Rotation competing at the elite level of competition.
For those who doubted the system, we have had an answer in the campaign of Gabriel Medina, a competitor that qualified into the Top 34 as seed #16. Medina beat (utilizing only opportunities in Prime and Star events) 17 of the Top 34 surfers - his best results: a First and Second-place in ASP Prime events and two ASP 6-Star wins. If Gabriel Medina did it, it is because it is attainable. Medina would subsequently prove the validity of his spot on tour by tearing through the field in only his second event as an elite ASP Top 34 member to claim the Quiksilver Pro France...but more on that later.
With less brilliant but nonetheless effective campaigns, we had Pupo and Nicol as well as Logie making their entrance into the Top 34 as well. The other side of this equation - to prove the system is working, is the case of Cory Lopez. Cory not only competed in all major Primes, but also had a start in all six ASP World Title events prior to the midyear Rotation. Unfortunately for Cory, he didn't have a good first half of the season, placing 25ths and 13ths in all six WT events. He didn't qualify within the Top 32, exactly the way we expected the point structure to work: If a Top 34 surfer is only having 25th and 13th results, he shouldn't cut it come the next Rotation.
There has been criticism of adding surfers on tour midyear who cannot win the ASP World Title. This is not the point. The surfers the newcomers are replacing were not contesting for an ASP World Title either (hence they unable to remain on tour). The idea behind the midyear rotation is to have the best surfers in the world updated faster than in previous years - every six months now instead of annually.
A lot was prophesized during the course of the transition year last season and during the start of the 2011 season by the "Critics at Hand", saying that most likely all eventual newcomers would drop-off the Elite at the very first rotation. The result of this mid-year Rotation showed us exactly the opposite. Out of the five new guys that qualified via the ASP World Rankings last December, not one was expelled from the Top 34. ALL five made this first Rotation and will continue on the Elite for the second half of the year.
Attendance and Results of Established Top 34 at Prime and Star Events
Another important aspect of the "conditions to qualify" and "number of new surfers" with this first Rotation is the much greater attendance of the established Top 34 into the Prime and even Star events in this first half of the year. Such a high number has never been experienced since the inception of the two-tier system back in 1992!
Not only that, but the Top 34 dominated the Prime events results, collecting important points with wins in six out of eight events (Muniz, Hobgood, Otton, Wilson, Gudauskas and Slater - 75%!) and a number of Semifinal and Quarterfinal berths. This all made it difficult for newcomers to break into the elite level of competition, but this is what we want - THE VERY BEST SURFERS ON TOUR. If the surfers aspiring to be part of the Top 34 cannot beat the established Top 34 in Prime and Star events, they will not collect the necessary points to make it into the Top 34 come the next Rotation, and it is indicative that they are not ready yet to be part of such an Elite group of surfers.
Number of Newcomers Per Rotation:
We have four new surfers integrated the elite ASP Top 34 from this recent midyear Rotation. Taking into consideration that with the previous system (CT/QS), we averaged an exchange of 10 new surfers out of 45 per year (22% annually) -> to exchange four out of 34 in a six-month period (11% semi-annually which is on par for 22% annually) is exactly the same as the previous system.
Here, I would like to bring to your attention that the quantity is not really the main objective behind any designed system, rather the quality of the eventual new surfers on the Elite. We will likely have Rotations with more than four surfers and others with less, all pending on the success of established ASP Top 34 and the newcomers able to obtain the necessary points on offer. As examples, John John Florence, Willian Cardoso and Granger Larsen could easily have made into this Rotation with QF births in Star events throughout the European leg. John John didn't even enter the European events (basically did half year of results) but had still enough points to be the first surfer in with the relinquished position of Yadin Nicol. William Cardoso and Granger Larsen simply didn't perform in Europe.
The opportunities are absolutely there for those who wish to pursue them.
Overall ASP World Tour Appeal - Webcasting Audience/Numbers - Prime & Star:
It is undeniable. We now have a much more appealing overall package for the ASP World Tour. Webcasting numbers, worldwide, have increased dramatically in the past 18 months. This is due, in large part, to the changes made to the system - changes that not only created a more dynamic product but have also encouraged the level of surfing to reach unprecedented heights.
The hype is no longer for and around ASP World Title events, but also the revamped Prime and Star series. Never before has ASP experienced such big audiences at web level at Prime events - due to bigger attendance of Elite Top 34 surfers, better locations, infrastructure, prize purses, and, most importantly, the weight that Prime and 6-Star events have in determining those who make the Rotations. The fact that we are exchanging surfers mid-season brings excitement and expectations for the ASP World Tour as a whole, something which was very evident after the New York event going into Trestles.
Sure we can improve and the Technical Committee is keeping a close eye in all aspects of this new System and Format. If necessary, points and system structure can be adjust in the future, but for now we are pretty confident that the system is working and the best surfers comprise the Elite to deliver the best competition surf to the World.
For a look at who's sitting where, check out the ASP WORLD RANKINGS