Stab Magazine | Who's Gonna Score Those Elusive Injury Wildcards?
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Who’s Gonna Score Those Elusive Injury Wildcards?

Three men and two women are vying for limited golden tickets. Who “deserves” them most, and who’s actually gonna get ’em?

news // Dec 17, 2019
Words by stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Every year, the WSL leaves one female and two male CT slots to be filled by whomever they choose. This coveted hall pass is often referred to by the misnomer “Injury Wildcard,” while its official name is the “Season Wildcard”.

It’s true that these slots are typically bestowed upon athletes who were wounded in their previous CT campaign, making it difficult or impossible for the surfer(s) to requalify on their own merit, but the WSL can officially give those slots to anyone they please. 

With the WSL’s autocracy established, we can now look at the ’19/’20 wildcard situation with clear eyes.

First, the women. 

 

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Ty gets low. Photo: WSL

 

Any remotely tuned-in surf fan would tell you that Tyler Wright is first in line to receive the singular female wildcard for 2020, and they’re probably right. However, there’s one relatively obscure issue here that must be discussed. 

In 2018, Tyler pulled out of the J-Bay event after contracting a then-unknown virus somewhere in the mother continent. The Australian then missed the rest of the 2018 season, followed by nine-tenths of 2019, until she made a surprise return at the year’s final event at Honolua Bay, defeating the World Title hopeful Lakey Peterson and finishing second in the process.

But Tyler’s illness wasn’t meant to lay her up for 18 months. Prior to the 2019 season, Tyler expected to return to competition no later than half-way through the year, so the WSL took the logical step of gifting their 2x World Champ the Season Wildcard. While Tyler got last-place points at every event, her spot in the draw was filled by the WSL replacement wildcard, Keely Andrew. 

So, when Tyler decided to return to competition at Honolua, she came in as the 17th seed (last place on Tour), not the 18th (wildcard). This pinned Tyler against Lakey P (not Carissa M) and would have knocked Keely Andrew out of the Honolua event, had it not been for Courtney Conlogue injuring herself in Europe and leaving another slot to be filled.

Meanwhile, 11-year Tour vet Coco Ho injured herself halfway through the year practicing airs in Waco. As a result, Coco missed the first CT event of her career(!) and struggled with pain throughout the remainder of the season, competing nonetheless. 

While Tyler’s ailment was probably more severe than Coco’s, the argument could be made that Tyler was given the wildcard in 2019 and didn’t fully utilize it, meaning Coco has a legitimate claim for the 2020 pass.

Frankly, even if Coco used this bargaining chip (which we doubt she is), the odds of the WSL leaning in the Hawaiian’s favor are infinitesimal, for the following reasons:

  • Tyler is a 2x World Champ; Coco has won one CT event
  • Tyler’s ailment kept her out for 18 months; Coco’s just one event
  • Tyler’s first event back netted her a second-place finish

Unless the WSL goes against all perceivable logic, we’ll see Tyler and not Coco on the 2020 Tour. 

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Now, the men. 

As referenced above, there are three CT surfers with legitimate, injury-based claims for the 2020 CT Season Wildcard—Adriano de Souza (knee), Mikey Wright (back), and Leo Fioravanti (shoulder).

Right off the bat, we can assume ADS is getting one of them due to his 2015 World Title (plus the fact that he didn’t need to use a wildcard to requalify last year, despite getting hurt in Europe).

That leaves Leo and Mikey—two young, spry, surfers looking to shove the Quik-laden noses up the top-10’s tightened sphincters.

Mikey pulled out of the Tour after Keramas, citing intolerable back pain from an old injury sustained at the Volcom Pipe Pro. Also having broken his back at Pipeline, but totally unrelated to his current ailment, Leo missed events 4-8 this season due to a shoulder re-injury he sustained while warming up at The Box. 

Following surgery and intense physical therapy, Leo returned to competition four months later at the Quik Pro France, where he had a remarkable comeback performance, netting a third-place result. This put Leo in a position to “organically” requalify with another strong result at Portugal or Pipe, but he was unable to attain the requirement. 

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In the midst of Leo losing his Round 2 heat at Pipe, the WSL brought WSL Commissioner Renato Hickel onto the webcast to explain their wildcard selection processes, which painted a grim picture for the Italian. 

The gist of it was:

WSL doctors first examine the “legitimacy” of the applicants’ injuries, all of which be given a thumbs up in the cases of ADS, Mikey, Leo.

Next, they determine which surfers will be physically ready to surf next year. Leo obviously fulfills this requirement, as he’s already back in competition, but we can’t be as certain about ADS or especially Mikey, who, as part of the Wright clan, is genetically predisposed to uncommonly long recuperation periods followed by immediate competitive triumphs.

That does leave a window of opportunity for Leo, except here’s the kicker: 

The third and final metric that the WSL uses to determine wildcard viability is what they call “technical merits.” These include: past World Titles, past CT season finishes, how the surfer qualified (via the CT or QS), and other such performance barometers.

In this category, Adriano, with his World Title, is the clear victor. Mikey Wright, who finished 11th last year without even holding a full-time Tour spot, comes second. Leo Fioravanti, who has never finished inside the CT top-25, is last.

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But at the end of the day, the WSL maintains complete discretion as to whom they grant these wildcards, and for them, the most important thing is getting eyeballs on their events. 

Between Mikey and Leo, it could be argued that the Australian is the more dynamic and widely adored surfer for his brute force, sky-high airs, and long, flowing mullet. I doubt many in the know would disagree.

But this begs the question: would you consider the “Bible of our sport” readers in the know? Because just two weeks ago, it was revealed that they—being Surfer Mag’s holy contitutents—voted Leonardo Fioravanti as the Surfer of the Year, based on a criteria of “impact, performance, and consistency”.

Surfer Mag editor in chief, Todd Probiotic, would later call the result, “kind of shocking,” which is disrespectful both to his readers and the award recipient, but I digress. 

The point of bringing this to your attention is that Leo could use his standing as the “world’s most popular surfer” to sway the WSL’s wildcard decision in his direction, assuming their agenda is to collect more eyeballs (and it is). Even better for Leo, it’s been said that a sizable portion of WSL employees don’t actually surf, so his assertion of popularity based on a clearly skewed metric might actually pass as legitimate. 

To further his point, Leo recently dropped a mini biopic about his recent recovery process, which was no doubt intended to coincide with the WSL’s wildcard selection process. Quite clever, really.  

But what does all of this mean?

Barring persisting injuries, and despite Leo’s best efforts to convince the WSL of his relevance to the Tour, ADS and Mikey will most likely receive the two wildcards. 

Italy weeps!

P.S. If you’re interested in this kinda chat, check out episode 1 of CUSP (the Currently Untitled Surf Podcast) with myself (Michael Ciaramella) and CT super-coach Stace Galbraith. We talk about Honolua, Sunset, wildcards, Pipeline, the whole shebang!

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