Every year the WSL resurrects on the golden shores of Coolangatta, Australia.
Bikinied bodies bask in Southern Hemi rays while the Top 36 zig and zag just a boomerang toss away. The pros arrive in Oz with smiles, probably thinking, "This is the year. MY year." But for 35 of them, it is not their year. For most of them, it will never be their year.
But is that because the system is rigged?!
I'm not talking about overscoring or 4.17s or the fact that there are still contests at Margaret River and Bells. I'm talkin' bout seeding!
As most of you already know, WSL surfers enter the first contest of the year seeded at the position where they finished the season prior. As for the rookies, they are ranked below the CT surfers from the past year, and are listed in congruence with their QS ranking. Perfectly fair and logical, two thumbs up WSL.
My concern lies in the next contest of the year, held at the usually frumpy Bells Beach. The seeding for this event is complicated. So complicated that there is no answer in the WSL rule book nor any explanation from the WSL's hard-hitting commentary team. But let's look at last year for a better understanding, using two Brazilians as examples.
Gabriel Medina entered Snapper ranked number one due to his World Title in 2014. However, Gabby came up short against a feisty little leprechaun in round 3, thus relegating him to a middle-off-the-pack ranking after competition number one. Nevertheless, Gabby retained the highest seed going into Bells and Margies. It wasn't until Brazil that Medina was moved from the number one seed. He was brought down to 4th despite the fact his 2015 season ranking was somewhere around 12th.
Alternatively, we have Filipe Toledo. Young Filly came into 2015 ranked a mediocre 17th, but his performance at Snapper was just the opposite. After winning the first event with some video-game-type-shit surfing, he went to Bells as the 11th seed. Despite the yellow jersey on his back, Filipe was barely within the top third of the WSL's dubious seeding scheme!
So, like, what the heck? How are these seedings decided, and at what point do the season rankings replace this system? I decided to hit up Dave Prodan, VP of Communications for the WSL, to get to the bottom of it. Here's what I learned:
Breakdown on seeding (2015 / 2016):
Event 1 (Gold Coast): 100% 2015 / 0% 2016
Event 2 (Bells Beach): 80% 2015 / 20% 2016
Event 3 (Margaret River): 60% 2015 / 40% 2016
Event 4 (Rio de Janeiro): 40% 2015 / 60% 2016
Event 5 (Fiji): 20% 2015 / 80% 2016
Event 6 (Jeffreys Bay): 0% 2015 / 100% 2016
Aha! Seedings are based on a formula that takes one's previous season rank into consideration, albeit less and less as the season plays out. By the time they get to JBay, the seedings are based solely upon the current year's performance.
And the more I think about it, this makes sense. Should Mick be seeded 15th heading into Bells because Seabass decided to go all Terminator in round 3? No! Mick is an apex predator who, as a low seed, would throw a wrench in the entire system. We don't want a Mick vs. Slater round 3, we want a Mick vs. Kelly final. Remember Kelly's wind-induced full rote in 2012? Thank you seeding!
So, maybe it’s not rigged. Maybe we should talk more about those 4.17s? —Michael Ciaramella