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We promise this won't (really) hurt.

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Conspiracy Theory: Did Caroline Marks Throw Her Round 1 Heat At Honolua?

I'm not sure who slipped into my bedroom and strapped this tin foil hat to my oversized head, but I've been a full-blown conspiracy nut this Hawaiian season. 

Today did little to quiet the voices.

By now, you know my theory about Lakey Peterson throwing her Round 1 heat at Portugal, which, if true, was a touch of tactical genius. 

In the last episode of The Pick-Up, I also noted that Caroline Marks could benefit from employing the same tactic at Honolua. Here’s why:

For Caroline to have a chance at winning the World Title, Carissa Moore must lose before the final. That means, if Caroline wants to guarantee herself a chance of winning the Title, she'd have to meet Carissa in the event before the finals. 

Coming into the event, Carissa had the number one seed and Caroline had the number three seed. If both surfers were to retain those rankings, they wouldn't meet until the final. This is no good for Caroline.

However, the WSL's new seeding system has made surfers’ seeds mutable within a given event—not fixed. Without getting into the full details, it all comes down to Round 1 performance. If a surfer wins their Round 1 heat, they will either retain or improve their seed throughout the remainder of the event. If a surfer loses their Round 1 heat, their seed will likely decrease. 

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In Caroline’s case, the worst seed she could hope to achieve was fourth, which assuming Carissa won her first heat and Sally Fitz didn't lose hers, would cause Caroline and Carissa to meet in the semis (if they both progressed to that point). 

All Caroline had to do was lose her first heat, which happened to be against the same duo that Lakey lost to in Portugal—Nikki Van Dijk and Macy Callaghan.

And so, she did. 

Whether or not Caroline's loss was a purposeful effort remains to be proven. But let's consider the facts:

  • Like Lakey, Caroline is coached by Mike Parsons, a strategic savant and known by many as a "numbers guy." If anybody would have picked up this loophole in the WSL’s new seeding system, it’s Mike. 
  • Caroline and Lakey each placed third in just one Round 1 heat throughout the entire season… in the precise events when it would benefit them most (Lakey, Portugal; Caroline, Honolua). 

It's worth noting that, according to Article 191 in the WSL Rulebook, “match-fixing” of any nature is expressly prohibited. This means that had Lakey or Caroline lost their Round 1 heats on purpose, they could be fined or suspended. 

I'd argue that it's the responsibility of the WSL to fix their faulty seeding system rather than punish the surfers who exploit it. Now that this loophole has been exposed, it will be interesting to see if the WSL updates its system in 2020. 

So, if Lakey and Caroline did purposefully throw their heats, I would advise them not to admit it. Fines and suspension are the least of their worries with a World Title on the line. 

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Round 1 wins by Sally, Lakey, and Carissa reinforced Caroline's loss. Assuming they would both continue to progress throughout the event, Carissa and Caroline would meet in the semifinals, giving Caroline a legitimate shot to win the World Title. 

Following her Round 2 victory, Caroline said she was "super bummed" to end up in Round 2. But was she?

When analyzing the disparity between Caroline's Round 1 and Round 2 performances, Ronnie and Rosy uttered the following refrains:

"I think Caroline has the best backside we've ever seen on the Women's Tour, and we missed it in that Round 1 heat. But she rebounded nicely."

"All the pieces are starting to click into place for Caroline."

"[Losing Round 1] was a blessing in disguise."

If only Ronnie and Rosy knew how right they were.

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Meanwhile, this sequence of events was also convenient for Lakey Peterson, who would have won the Title by beating both Caroline and Carissa at Honolua. That job became 50% easier with both of her opponents now on the same (and opposite her own) side of the draw. 

That was until Tyler Wright happened. 

After an 18-month leave from competitive surfing, Tyler Wright returned to Honolua looking trim, pale, and undeniably in-form. Tyler was digging into the face and driving through her turns with more style and flow than before her departure. That she could perform at this level after a year of bed-rest is beyond remarkable.

As Ronnie noted after one particularly decimated wave, "It's kinda like John when he comes back from injury—you forget how good she is." 

Lakey Peterson was not so delighted by Tyler's triumphant return. 

Drawing the 2x World Champ in Round 3, Lakey had to win if she wanted to keep her Title and Olympic dreams alive. 

Tyler got off to an early lead with average scores, until Lakey blasted two fire-hose hacks for a mid-7. This led to Lakey passing up what Strider, who was stationed in the channel, called a "10-point stand-up barrel". Apparently, Tyler's coach, Glen 'Micro' Hall, and Lakey's coach, Mike 'Snips' Parson, were equally bewildered by Lakey's inaction. 

Interestingly, this same scenario played out last year, when Lakey was in a World Title race against Steph Gilmore. In the 2018 comp report, I wrote: 

With 28 minutes left in the heat, Lakey let a wave go that will haunt her for years to come. What would have been an easy chip-shot take off into a double-up tube became ultimately nothing. Peterson let the roll-in – which had '10' written all over it – slide past her with priority.

Peterson's opponent, wildcard Alana Blanchard, later clocked in a 7.6 for several aggressive turns. The Rincon-bred talent never rebounded.

This year, it was Tyler Wright who turned Lakey's negligence into a come-from-behind victory. And once again, Lakey's Title hopes were dashed by poor wave knowledge and a savvy wildcard. 

Meanwhile, Carissa subdued a smirk at Lakey's dismissal. The webcast catches all. 

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This left the Title race to just Caroline and Carissa.

Riss smashed her Round 3 match in a dominant fashion. She'll surf in Quarterfinal three tomorrow.

To push the Title decision overnight, Caroline had to defeat the heiress of the North Shore, Ms. Coco Ho, in her Round 3 heat. While Coco's had a lackluster season by her own standards, the tiny technician is not to be dismissed in any heat—especially at rifling Honolua. 

Caroline started with a pair of sixes and the easy lead. Halfway through the heat, Coco found the second best wave of the day and race toward the bowl, backdooring a bulbous tube and raising her hands in celebration. 

Two small issues: 1. In her excitement to make the wave, Coco outran the bulk of the tube, limiting its scoring potential. 2. Following the claim, Coco attempted to peg the lip but was vaporized by the explosion. 

For these reasons, the wave came in at a 6.5, tying Caroline's high score. Coco needed a low-six to take the lead. 

Carissa's heartbeat leapt. 

Caroline took a wave, no improvement.

Coco held priority.

And held. And held.

One minute left.

No minutes left.

The Title race stays alive.

Tomorrow will decide it all.

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Beyond the Title race, Brisa Hennessy's early loss allowed Nikki Van Dijk to requalify for the 2020 Championship Tour, which she achieved with a Round 3 win over Malia Manuel. 

Brisa Hennessy will also requalify for the 2020 Tour by using her QS seed, which pushes Japanese surfer Amuro Tsuzuki out of qualification. 

Separately, Lakey's loss guaranteed Carissa Moore's place on the 2020 U.S. Olympic team, while Caroline's quarterfinal berth granted her the second slot. Lakey Peterson didn't just lose the World Title today, but also a start in surfing's Olympic debut.  

And hundreds of thousands of potential endorsement dollars.

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