There’s only one way into the WCT, pro surfing’s top gun academy. It’s through the World Qualifying Series. But frankly, if you aren’t already up there, we don’t like your chances.595 surfers competed in the WQS for 2003. Of these, 15 qualified for the 2004 world championship tour.But in fact, the 2004 WCT will feature only three new faces. Count ’em: three.Only Bruce Irons, along with Brazilians Raoni Montiero and Eric Rebiere (a French national, but Eric’s lived all his surfing life in Brazil), are new to the WCT.Nine of the WQS top 15 at the end of 2003 were WCT pros who requalified through the “backdoor” of the lower tour. Two others are former WCT pros who fell off the major tour a year ago and have worked their way back. (The third is Shane Beschen.)It illustrates the closed shop that the WCT has slowly been developing into over the past eight years.The two-tier tour has always been a balancing act: an attempt to provide career certainty for top ranking pros on one hand, while ensuring a good talent turnover on the other. But the WQS’s seeding layers have increasingly swung the balance in favor of WCT pros. Here’s how it works:If you’re in the WCT Boys’ Club, you get the highest possible seedings in the major WQS events — the six stars, where all the serious qualifying points are earned. The automatic high seed puts you anywhere up to five heats or more ahead of the first-round competitors — a massive points advantage.The next highest seedings are reserved for ex-Boys’ Club members — WCT pros who failed to requalify from the prior year. Every other surfer comes after them.At the same time, smaller WQS events are evaporating. This year there are 41 men’s WQS events scheduled, compared with 54 events two years ago, and almost all the drop-off is in one-, two- and three-star events — the contests used by WQS rookies to advance their seedings toward entry into the big scoring five and six star events. At the same time, the six-stars have actually increased by one — giving the big guns even more advantages.”I don’t think it’s harder to break into the top levels of pro surfing than it is to go through the qualifying school of other pro sports, like golf and tennis,” says the ASP’s {{{Rabbit}}} Bartholomew. Yes, but perhaps it’s a little harder to drop out.Bugs concedes the WCT may have become “self-perpetuating to some extent”, but adds a possible solution: next year’s planned WQS Super Series.The Super Series involves a new kind of top-level qualifying event. With $150,000 in prizemoney and 144 competitors drawn from the WQS’s top {{{100}}}, top juniors, willing WCT pros, and local wildcards, Super Series events will be a third tier — a kind of transition layer between the WCT and the smaller WQS events. Bugs hopes this will tighten up the WCT’s backdoor.”Just being a top-100 WQS competitor will instantly get you on an almost level pegging (in the qualifying race) with the WCT guys,” he says. Originally scheduled for 2004, the Super Series is now planned to begin in 2005, with events likely in Europe, West Australia, Brazil, and possibly other regions. Stay tuned for more as things develop. — Nick Carroll