Adam Melling requalified for the Tour by the skin of his teeth last year with a victory at the Sunset event. Photo: Lowe-White

At a glance, the road to the World Championship Tour seemed simple enough: take the top-ranked 22 surfers on Tour, add in the top 10 surfers on the World Rankings, throw in two ASP wildcards and you've got the Top 34. But many critics think that system was flawed, making it too easy for World Tour surfers to stay on Tour, and it too difficult for fresh blood to qualify through the Prime and Star events. Beginning this year, the ASP have enacted a new set of rules in hopes of leveling the playing field.

The new ASP rules state that World Tour surfers base their One World Rankings on six results: their top two WCT results (13th- or 25th-place finishes will not be counted) along with their top four results in the Prime and Star events. The top 22 surfers on the World Tour will still automatically requalify, but the new rules will primarily affect the bottom 12 surfers on the World Tour.

In the past, Top 34 surfers counted a total of eight results in their World Ranking: their top three WCT results along with their top five results from Prime and Star events. Opponents of the old system argued that even mediocre results on the World Tour offered substantial points in the rankings, and when supplemented with a few decent Prime results, the scales favored keeping the current World Tour surfers on Tour. At the other end of the spectrum, the road to World Tour qualification felt like a Sisyphean conquest for 'QS surfers.

Former World Tour and current ‘QS surfer Nate Yeomans said the new changes to the World Rankings are warranted. "Making one heat in a World Tour event is the equivalent of making three heats in a Prime event. At a lot of times in the Prime events, you're surfing against guys from the World Tour in the early rounds anyway," said Yeomans. "There's also the fact that the World Tour surfers were able to surf in a total of 18 top-tier events to requalify, whereas the 'QS guys are looking at just eight Primes."

In a recent meeting with surfers from both camps, the ASP opted to alter the system to make it harder for WCT surfers to requalify without producing solid results.

"After assessing the feedback, reviewing the structure, and looking ahead to this year’s schedule, it was decided that an alteration needed to be made to further balance the qualification opportunities for both WCT and Qualifying surfers," the ASP's Dave Prodan said. "What we’re working toward is a system that isn’t weighted too heavily in either direction—one that allows WCT surfers to focus on WCT events without having to do 20+ a year, but also one that affords the ‘QS surfers a fair opportunity to crack into the elite ranks."

On the other side of the coin, some World Tour surfers think the ASP has gone too far in the other direction. “Just qualifying in the first place is a huge thing,” says World Tour veteran Fred Patacchia. “So now that you finally get to the World Tour after grinding it out on the ‘QS, you have to go back and do the ‘QS again to secure your spot. The top six or so guys are always gonna be there, but for the workhorses that make up the rest of the Tour, they’ve now got one foot in each world. It’s like you’ve made it, but you still have to spend the whole year living out of a suitcase on the ‘QS.”

Patacchia went on to say that some cushion is necessary for newly qualified surfers to the World Tour. “I think a lot of the guys on the ‘QS don’t realize how hard it is to get a result (a 9th-place finish or better) on the World Tour, and you’re going to struggle your first year. If you’ve made it to the World Tour, you should have a little cushion to work it out. You can be an amazing surfer but struggle your first year and then be relegated back to the ‘QS. I think if you make it to the Tour, you deserve some time to get your bearings.”