Sally, you poor thing! Photos: WSL
What's The Purpose Behind The WSL's The "Drop Your Two Lowest Scores" Rule, And How Does It Affect Our World Champions?
Bonus trivia: which surfer has been singly cursed by this long-held sanction?
We recently discussed how the WSL's "drop your two lowest event scores" rule perceptually decreased Carissa Moore's World Title lead heading into both Portugal And Honolua.
While Carissa appeared to have an 8,000-point lead over Lakey Peterson heading into the Rip Curl Pro Peniche, the realistic gap was nearer to 3,000 points when you eliminated Carissa's two low event scores (both quarterfinals) compared to Lakey's (two ninths).
The same rule applies heading into the season's last event at Honolua Bay, where Carissa's apparent 3,000-point lead is functionally closer to 1,000 points on account of the final event drop. That means if Lakey wins Honolua, she will win the Title.
If you want the nitty gritty details on all of the above, click here.
After learning about the Carissa points debacle, several of our commenters were shocked that the Hawaiian was effectually "losing" World Title ground due to her consistent performance throughout the season.
"Why are they dropping ANY events off the point total?" asked the Don of Yaupon. "What is the purpose of keeping track of total points if you are just going to shave a few off of everyone? They could just not mess with the points and then the person with the most points wins. Pretty simple concept."
Replies to comment this included:
"Because you can risk something and not play safe all the time in order to not lose early. It is bad for very consistent surfers that come far but don't ever win, but it is in favor of those that have many high results, but from time to time lose early or get injured in one or two events," from Berritorre, and...
"Takes acts of god / variables out of the equation. If Jeremy has a baby, Kelly gets insanely sick hours before his heat, JJF dry docks his sailboat on a deserted island. Well to have the odd 'freebie' is going to be better at determining the true champ," from david f.
One self-aware criticism came from 7dollarsurfboard:
"Being penalized for consistency is fucked. I hope the WSL realised their shitty system is flawed. The WSL love trying their hardest to confuse us with this stupid system, the seeding round, the whole fucken Freshwater pro format etc. Dont they realise that surfers aren't the sharpest tools in the shed."
These were all insightful points, and they made us realize that we didn't actually know why the WSL started this rule in the first place, or even when it came into existence for that matter.
So, we followed the path of every great investigative team before us—some would consider Stab both the TMZ and the Bernstein and Woodward of surfing—and sent a formal information request to professional surfing's governing body, the WSL, asking for the precise reasoning behind their oft-criticized "drop your two lowest events" rule.
Their response was shockingly to the point:
- to accommodate for injury.
- to accommodate for how dynamic a field of play the ocean is: swell consistency, tides, winds, slow heats, etc.
The WSL also noted that the rule has been in place since the Tour's inception, so it's got legacy on its side.
Now, we could debate the WSL's logic until we're sweaty and breathless, but I think the more meaningful question is: is the rule effectual?
In order to answer this question, we went back and looked at the Men's and Women's World Title races from 2010 to 2018 (the WSL's publicly available data on CT seasons/events stops at 2010, hence the relatively small sample size) to discover how many potential World Champs lost a Title on account of this rule.
What did we find?
Well, over the last 18 World Title races (nine Men's, nine Women's), there has only been one surfer who would have been a World Champion were it not for the WSL's "drop your two lowest event scores" rule—Sally Fitzgibbons in 2017 (Sally actually got third that year behind Tyler Wright (1) and Steph Gilmore (2)).
In each of the other 17 races, the World Champion would have been the same person whether they kept all of their event scores or eliminated the worst two.
What does this tell us, beyond the fact that strong teeth do not a World Title surfer maketh?
That at the end of each year, the dominant competitor on both the Men's and Women's tours, wins. Also, the "drop your two lowest scores" rule does little to achieve its intended result— at least in recent history—so statistically speaking, we could probably do without it.
However, I actually think the rule serves a clever purpose, and if it were my decision, I would choose to keep it in place.