Would another title make a difference to the GOAT? Turns out, yes.
New Math: Should Kelly Have Won A 12th World Title?
At the beginning of the 2018 season, the WSL changed its point rundown for all placings below first. Had these changes occurred before the year 2013, Kelly Slater would have 12 world titles today.
The WSL has made a wide variety of changes for its 2018 season. There’s the CT schedule, which lost Fiji and Lowers and gained Lemoore and Keramas. There’s the head judge, Pritamo Ahrendt, who replaced his long-standing predecessor Richie Porta. There’s even the structure of the competition itself, which, without so much as a warning from WSL, lost an entire round of heats (and good riddance to that Round 5!).
Another thing the WSL failed to explain, except for briefly on the webcast, was that their placing-based point system would be shifting this season. And while we wouldn’t consider these changes to be anything major (see below for details), a historical search proves they could change the outcome of a World Title scenario. For instance, if the current point spread existed in 2013, Kelly Slater would be a 12x World Champion (more on that below).
The point system
As any WSL fan knows, a competitor can place either 25th, 13th, 9th, 5th, 3rd, 2nd, or 1st in a CT event. Each of these placings holds a different point value, which when added over a series of events determines each surfer’s ranking on the Tour. Naturally, a better event placing equates to higher points (1th place = 10,000 points, 25st place = 420), and at the end of the year, whichever surfer has accumulated the most points across his best 9 of the 11 events becomes World Champion.
But this year, for the first time since 2011, the WSL has changed the points allotted for (most) placings in a CT event.
The point spread from 2011-2017 was:
1st: 10,000 points
2nd: 8,000 points
3rd: 6,500 points
5th: 5,200 points
9th: 4,000 points
13th: 1,750 points
25th: 500 points
The point spread for 2018 is:
1st: 10,000 points
2nd: 7,800 points
3rd: 6,085 points
5th: 4,745 points
9th: 3,700 points
13th: 1,665 points
25th: 420 points
Excluding first place, the new point spread takes points away from all of the potential placings. Proportionately speaking, third and fifth place have taken the hardest hit, losing 415 and 450 points respectively, with 306 being the average points lost between placings 2-25. Below is a breakdown for reference:
2nd: -200 point difference from 2017
3rd: -415 point difference from 2017
5th: -450 point difference from 2017
9th: -300 point difference from 2017
13th: -85 point difference from 2017
25th: -80 point difference from 2017
When considering these changes, the first question that comes to mind is why? Why did they WSL decide to adopt these changes, seemingly out of nowhere? Logic tells me it’s to further reward high finishes, but then why are 5th and 9th place finishes being disproportionately punished? It doesn't quite make sense.
The next question is why did they choose the numbers they chose? Integers like 6,085, 4,745, 1,665, an 420 seem very arbitrary, which wouldn’t be abnormal to the surfing industry, but in the current WSL era I’m inclined to believe they took significant care in developing the new system, meaning that those numbers would be purposeful. Or, being that it’s 2018, perhaps some computer algorithm spit out the “perfect” point spread.
At time of publishing, the WSL has not responded to our questions. However Kelly had some thoughts on our findings.
After questioning whys of the situation, I became interested in the hows. Primarily, how could these changes affect end of the year rankings -- and most importantly, world titles?
While we can’t yet see the future, the historical data on the WSL site allowed me to investigate how these changes would have affected past titles. As stated above, the last changes to the point spread happened pre-2011, so I ran the numbers on every season between 2011 and 2017 and -- voila! With the current point system, Kelly Slater would have beaten Mick Fanning in 2013, bringing his World Title tally to 12 and Mick’s to two.
So these 2018 changes, while small, do matter in the long run.