Wilko’s Saviour and the Mick Fanning Effect
The consequence of point poachers for those in the Title race.
So you’re John Florence, you stand tall and shake your blonde curls as you stick your fifth technical air reverse of the competition. For the first time in your surfing career, the yellow jersey seems in reach. It’s at your fingertips. This is your most consistent season yet, you are on your game, finally answering the calls for ‘the world’s best surfer’ to actually become the legitimised, official world’s best surfer.
Then Mick comes in. The man who defeated a shark and paddled back out. The best righthand rail surfer in the game. Two perfectly timed set waves, a high 9 and a 7.7, and you are left scrambling for the leftovers, knowing that the jersey won’t yet be yours. Though, it isn’t Mick’s either. In 2016 it will never be Mick’s, because he doesn’t even want it this year. He is just requalifying.
Mick isn’t the first guy to poach CT events to requalify – in 2009 Andy Irons took a break and only surfed in a few events. In the end, however, he had to ask for a wildcard entry. In 2013 Kelly did the same, winning Fiji, Pipe and Snapper and skipping most of the rest. While this is a perfectly legitimate tactic, and not many surfers on tour are capable or confident enough to go into an event knowing that they must win to stay out of the Q grind, or can steal a wildcard spot that someone else might legitimately need (er, uh, Owen, Bede), it raises the question – how does this affect the Title?
Wilko is thrilled. Second and third round knock-outs have caused some turbulence in his title lead and Gabs and John are hungry, freakishly talented, and pulling closer. But the jersey remains Wilko’s. In fact, he has now been clad in gold through every event of the first half of the season, a feat unmatched since Kelly was dominating the circuit. And while Wilko has a shot at taking out Tahiti with that goofyfoot edge, and running seven straight contests on top, in J-Bay, Mick saved him.
“World Titles aren’t the biggest thing for me anymore,” admitted a redeemed Mr Fanning after tackling his fears and winning in South Africa. This means he will continue to disrupt the rankings and make or break title aspirations for the foreseeable future because every time a surfer chooses to requalify instead of campaign, they affect those truly hunting for the big win.
This year, more than ever, we’ve seen surfers skipping select events – namely the Oi Pro, which Mick, Kelly, Taj and Kai all missed for various ‘personal reasons’. They felt comfortable that they would requalify without the sacrificed points, and are content watching the title race from the sidelines. This may seem like a perfectly reasonable choice, because a break from the rigorous schedule of the tour is always nice, maybe even deserved, but as spectators we deserve to see the world’s best compete with the world’s best, not a ruptured amalgamation of those who bother to show up.
So can the WSL force the surfers to compete? They are formal employees of the League, taking home a healthy cheque for even a second round loss, and generally (in my experience) those who don’t show up to work don’t keep their jobs. But this is surfing, we’re relaxed here, competitors high-five and hang out and party after heats. And while there’s a plethora of legitimate reasons for surfers to pull out of events, whether it’s family crises or injury, or both (you’re an absolute boss Mick), one can’t help but wonder what the full extent of surfers taking advantage of the WSL’s relaxed system would look like, and the effect that it might have on the future of the sport.
In the meantime, when competitors choose to poach events to requalify instead of competing, and win, wherever there is a defeated John John there will be a rejoicing Wilko, and a dissatisfied spectator begging to watch Mick fighting them both for the trophy.
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