This Year’s ASP Title Race: Who’s Going to Win It?

jon-jon-jacks-surfboards-team-riderYou probably saw Kelly Slater win the Hurley Pro Trestles last week, or at least heard the news. If you watched the event, you saw some of the best surfing we’ve ever seen in competition—giant air reverses weren’t even getting out of the mediocre score range, if that’s any clue.

But perhaps more importantly, the Hurley Pro Trestles set the stage for the end-of-the-season world title race. Going into the final four events, we now have a pretty clear picture of what the race looks like, at least by the numbers.

Quick refresher on the scoring system for the world-title race: first place gets 10,000 points, second gets 8,000, third gets 6,500, etc. There are ten events, but only your top eight scores get counted—you in effect get to drop two scores. If you look at the current ASP rankings, the low scores haven’t been dropped yet, so those rankings might not give you the best idea of what the race actually looks like.

Consider Kelly Slater. He sat out Brazil with a dubious injury, and fizzled out early in Fiji. He thus sits in third place in the rankings. But if you drop those two scores—which Kelly likely will at the end of year—he has a total of 33,200 points. If you drop Mick Fanning’s lowest scores, he has a total of 33,000. So even though Kelly sits in third place on the rankings, he actually has a slight advantage in points over first-place Mick Fanning right now.

Unless someone further down the rankings makes an amazing late-season run—which can always happen—it looks like a three-horse race between Kelly, Mick, and Joel Parkinson, with John John Florence within striking range. If you drop the two lowest scores, Joel’s less than 3,000 points behind Kelly and Mick, and John John’s 3,600 points behind him.

The numbers might look close, but it seems like this would be a tough one for Joel to win, since, despite his consistency, he hasn’t yet won an event. It’d be hard for Joel to pull ahead of Mick or Kelly without a 10,000-point win or two—because whoever wins the title will probably win at least one more event, if not two or more. It’d be different for Joel if he only had one guy to catch, but he can’t really count on both Kelly and Mick fizzling out at the end of the year. A series of second places will probably earn Joel just that: second place.

We might be biased, but John John might have a chance at this thing. Not only has he improved over the season—after starting with a thirteenth and a ninth he hasn’t placed worse than fifth—but he’s shown that he’s capable of winning events. Plus, Pipeline is the last stop of the tour, and John John might’ve surfed there more than anyone else (despite being one of the youngest surfers on tour). So if he can stay within striking range over the European leg and at Santa Cruz, we could see John John make a big move at Pipe. If we could dream up the perfect scenario, we’d have the title race come down to Kelly and John John at Pipe—could anything be better than that?

The waiting period for the France event starts on September 28. After that, we’ll probably have an even clearer picture of the title race. We suspect, though, that it’ll be a close one, and it’ll be fun to watch.

Hurley Pro Trestles

hurley-pro-trestlesWe’ve now completed the first two rounds of the Hurley Pro Trestles, and so far the waves have been pretty good—a little inconsistent, but when they come through they’ve given surfers more than enough to work with. And with a similar but slightly better forecast for the rest of the event, we’ve seen enough of the action to have a pretty good idea of how things might go from here.

Let’s note that Trestles might be one of the toughest contests to predict of the year. Various commentators and media have all picked different favorites—Kelly (of course), John John (always a threat), Gabriel Medina (who tore it up at the Nike Pro at Trestles earlier in the year), maybe a rejuvenated Jordy, or maybe Mick or Parko or—or, really, any of the top 16 guys could win this one.

The big reason this contest is so open is that everyone has filled in the gaps in their game. The younger, more air-focused guys have honed their rail games—Julian, John John, and Jordy can all put it on rail with the best of them. And the older, more traditional surfers can now throw down airs to match the groms: for the best air of the event so far, it’s a toss up between Taj Burrow (age 34) and his full-rotation reverse, and Heitor Alvez (age 30) and his totally unexpected rodeo.

When you have sixteen or so guys who can all match each other trick for trick and turn for turn, and when you have a canvas as easy as Trestles for them to work with, the results often come down to luck and tiny mistakes—both of which are tough to predict.

But one thing we’ve learned so far is that, at decent Trestles, local knowledge isn’t as important as it is at other breaks. Kolohe Andino and our own team rider Patrick Gudauskas probably surf Trestles more than any of the other guys on tour, and both of them went down in round two. Kolohe surfed well but fell victim to Heitor’s rodeo. Likewise, Patrick seemed on-point but lost to an on-fire Jeremy Flores. Both of these guys can surf Trestles with the best of them—and can snag waves when Trestles is at its most crowded—but that didn’t turn out to be enough of an advantage to get out of the first two rounds.

But the good news here is that the surfing action has been awesome, and with the official Surfline forecast predicting the arrival of a nice swell over the next couple of days, it’s only going to get better. If a giant rodeo flip only scores a 9.0, the rest of the Hurley Pro Trestles might feature some of the best competitive surfing we’ve ever seen.

The Billabong Tahiti Pro So Far

tahiti pro 2012

Tahiti pro 2012

The first two rounds of the Billabong Tahiti Pro happened so long ago—almost a week now—that they seem more like qualifiers than the actual contest. But with the official Surfline forecast showing a promising swell for this weekend, it looks like there’s a chance of finishing up the contest in some pretty good to great waves. Here’s a look back on what happened in those first two rounds and what to expect when the contest resumes.

One third of the field was eliminated in round two, and the biggest surprise is probably Jordy Smith’s quick exit. Actually, it’s probably not that surprising—after Jordy’s injury in Tahiti last year he’s had trouble finding a competitive rhythm. It could be the lingering effect of the injury, it could be complacency, or it could be that the new kids on the WT (mainly John John and Gabriel Medina) are making the tour all that much more competitive. Whatever the cause, it’ll be interesting to see how Jordy fares on the back half of the tour.

The waves in some of the round-two heats were inconsistent with long lulls, and that’s what undid Jack’s team rider Pat Gudauskas. In his heat against Michel Bourez, Pat only managed a total heat score of 3.4. If you’ve seen Pat surf, you’d probably guess that the only way he’d get a score that low is if he was riding a chunk of sheetrock or if he didn’t get any waves. In this case, it was the latter. He waited the better part of the heat for a decent wave, but the only wave that came was a shoulder-high crumbler without a barrel—and it wasn’t enough to get much of a score, no matter what Pat did with it.

If the competition continues to see heats like Pat’s without many scoring opportunities, it probably won’t come down to who’s the best tube rider or who’s willing to take off on the heaviest wave. It’s more likely that success will come to the savviest competitors. Typically the tour veterans have an edge when it comes to competitive strategy, but some of the younger guys—Gabriel Medina in particular—have shown a knack for knowing how to win even when the waves don’t cooperate. So if the surf is inconsistent, the drama might be less about deep barrels and more about priority and positioning (and maybe even some hassling), which is still fun to watch, in its own way.

But the forecast shows that the waves should be okay by Tahitian standards—that is, hollow and overhead—so if the weather cooperates and the swell stays consistent, hopefully the rest of the contest will be decided on the waves. Strategy and savviness are an important part of surfing—ever try to catch a wave at Lowers on a summer afternoon?—but at Teahupoo it’s way more fun seeing who can take off deepest on the biggest bomb.

U.S. Open Recap: The Rise of the Air Reverse

Photo courtesy of surfersvillage.com

Photo courtesy of surfersvillage.com

The best—or craziest, or most crowded, or whatever adjective you choose—week of the year at Huntington has ended, and Julian Wilson walks away with the most prestigious contest win of his young career. There were lots of memorable moments from this year’s comp—anyone see Dane Reynolds’s backside tail-waft snap-things?—but what I might remember most was that this contest was defined by a single move: the air reverse.

I briefly started watching the heats on demand to count how many air reverses were attempted in the pro men’s division throughout the contest, but it just seemed too daunting. So I’m going to make the claim that this year’s U.S. open featured more air-reverse attempts than any previous pro men’s contest. If you want to try to prove me wrong by watching a few hours of heats on demand, go for it. But either way, anyone watching this year’s U.S. Open saw an enormous number of air reverses. As Kelly Slater said from the guest commentator’s tower, “Everyone’s sticking air reverses. It’s literally the new drop in. It’s almost like nothing.”

Let’s back up for a second. Even pro surfers and pro-surfing commentators can get a little loose on their terminology sometimes, but for our purposes here an air reverse is that it’s when a surfer and his board leave the water completely and rotates his tail in the direction they’re moving down the wave and land with their fins forward. If that’s confusing, check out the first four tricks on the U.S. Open highlights video. Those are frontside air reverses, and good ones too. Backside air reverses are the same thing but—you guessed it—when a surfer’s going backside. A lot of times you’ll see surfers continue to spin after they land so that they’re again facing forward, but don’t be fooled—it’s still an air reverse. If the full spin is done in the air, it’s a full-rotation, like this, and it’s generally awesome.

Photo courtesy of stabmag.com

Photo courtesy of stabmag.com

Okay. So now that we’re all brushed up on our terminology: why were there so many air reverses at this year’s U.S. Open? Well, the air-reverse is a cool, crowd-pleasing move and—unlike big barrels or gouging turns—air reverses are one of the few cool, crowd-pleasing moves that can be done on two-to-three-foot onshore semi-closeout beachbreak, a la the Huntington Pier.

And, more importantly, this was a contest, and air reverses are one of the higher scoring moves a surfer can do on a closeout. Some of the heats didn’t offer too many open-faced waves, which means that the surfers either had to settle for low scores or make something happen on a bad wave—and usually that something was an air-reverse. All of the quarterfinal heats were won with the help of an air reverse. Without a reliable air game, you can’t get far in a tournament of less-than-perfect waves.

But an air-game alone didn’t win the contest. Julian Wilson—one of the best air-reversers out there—won his finals heat with traditional turns, four meaty backside snaps on two different waves. He won his quarterfinal against John John with one air reverse and one wave that was just smart competitive surfing—all he needed was a mid-range three, and instead of doing an air reverse he did a small no-rotation air. It was an air Julian would probably be embarrassed of in a free surf, but it got him the score he needed to edge out John John. Julian showed that he had the whole package: smart surfing, top-notch turns, and, yes, a solid air reverse.