Following one of the most historic board meetings to date, the ASP has introduced the option for a new competition format to be implemented in ASP World Tour events in 2009.
While the traditional 48-man format will still be available, events can elect to implement an altered 48-man format consisting of the following: two opening elimination man-on-man rounds. Round 1 will consist of 32 surfers, those rated 17 – 27 on the ASP World Tour, three Tour/Injury wildcards, the Top 15–rated surfers on the ASP WQS and three event wildcards.
The seeding formula will remain the same as the traditional format, with the No. 17 seed up against the No. 32 seed in Heat 8, the No. 18 seed against the No. 31 seed in Heat 9, etc. After Round 1, all remaining competitors will be reseeded for Round 2.
The Top 16 on the ASP World Tour are seeded directly in Round 2 where they will meet the 16 victors from Round 1 in the re-seeded draw. The Top 10 from the previous year’s Dream Tour will be guaranteed a Round 2 seed all year long, while the next 6 seeds have to maintain their seeded position and can be replaced by better performing back 32 surfers after the third ASP World Tour event of the year.
This means that the Top 16 seeds in 2009 will remain unchanged until after the Billabong Pro Teahupoo. After Tahiti, only the Top 10 from the previous year will hold their spots (which is probably a good incentive to do Brazil and Pipeline this season), while the next 6 could be replaced if guys from the back 32 secure more seeding points. Seeding points going into Snapper will remain in effect.
The new format has already been adopted by the Billabong Pro Teahupoo, the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay, the Billabong Pro Mundaka and the Billabong Pipeline Masters. The Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast, the opening event of the 2009 ASP World Tour, has opted to run with the traditional format, and Rip Curl are undecided which format they will implement at their Bells Beach and Search events.
We recently sat down with Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew (AUS), 53, former ASP World Champion and current President of ASP International, Mick Fanning (AUS), 27, 2007 ASP World Champion, and C.J. Hobgood (USA), 29, 2001 ASP World Champion, to discuss the new format:
1 - First off, what is (are) the reason(s) for the option to run an altered format next year? Wayne Bartholomew: As part of the monitoring process it was clear that we needed to develop a menu of formats to fit the needs of the tour. The current format requires four running days. This doesn't sound overbearing in a 12-day window, but we still require two swell cycles to complete the event in quality waves and this proved a bridge too far. To fit into a three-day swell cycle we had to either reduce the field from 48 to 36 or peel it from a different angle.
Mick Fanning: I think some people just think that we waste a day or so when we run the first round with three-man heats and sometimes we can't finish the event with good waves. I think it will make it all a lot more exciting because it is straight cut throat from the first heat of competition. C.J. Hobgood: I think getting the best waves in the allotted waiting period is the primary reason for offering the alternative format.
2 - Who came up with the format? When and who voted on its implementation? Wayne Bartholomew: The ASP Technical Committee waded through a bunch of variations and opted to recommend to the Board a three-day format that still maintains a field of 48. As Chairman of the Technical Committee, I presented these findings and recommendations to the Mid-Year Board meeting in Huntington Beach this past July and we further tweaked it in the ensuing months.
3 - We can see that not all events will be running the new altered format - what is the reason that it was not mandatory for all events to implement? Wayne Bartholomew: Events in 2009 will have the choice of the current format or implementing the new one. Quiksilver have already confirmed they will run with the current format, based on the fact that Snapper is a reasonably consistent wave and it can accommodate a combined Men's and Women's event in the window. Rip Curl is undecided, but are leaning towards the new format.
The Tech Comm is now working on how far out from the start of a waiting period an event has to notify ASP of their preferred option. Billabong have already given notice that Teahupoo, J-Bay, Mundaka and Pipe will run with the new format and events like Boost and Brazil are getting their heads around it. In 2009, it is optional with the view to either making it mandatory from 2010 or running with a format menu.
4 - What are the positives for the surfers, the events and the viewers to run the new format? Wayne Bartholomew: The surfers get man-on-man, no more three-man heats. There are built in seeding incentives based on performance over the season and there is a much better opportunity to pick the eyes out of the surf on offer. The events get to maximize swell cycles and build the event to a climactic conclusion in excellent surf. The chances of getting skunked are dramatically diminished and the opportunity to have Finals in great surf increases. The viewers get knockout competition. There are no meaningless rounds, it is on the line in every heat and they'll see a lot less action in low quality waves.
Mick Fanning: The positives are definitely the shorter period for the event. Most swells around the world only last three days, but our events take four to complete. Cutting out a round cuts that day out, keeps the performance level at high level because every heat counts, makes the Top 16 and Top 10 get an actual incentive for ranking that high instead of just the red singlet.
C.J. Hobgood: I think the positives are better waves for surfers, less days needed to run for the events, better waves and surfing for viewers.
5 - What are the negatives (if any) for surfers, the events and the viewers to run the new format? Wayne Bartholomew: The only negative for the surfer is if one loses in the first round. You are out and it's a long way to go to be bundled out. I surfed my entire career without a safety net but guys get used to the second chance. If the swell absolutely pumps then the event might want the extra day for the beach crowd, the media and the webcast.
So loss of content could be seen as a negative, but the trade-off will be an excellent event held in epic waves. Also, that may be why we eventually perpetuate the optional format menu. For the viewer they can't get enough, so the shorter event might be a negative, but again, the action will be an awesome spectacle.
Mick Fanning: I think the Back 32 will be extremely close when it comes to being on the cusp of qualifying, but everyone has to start at the bottom. The audience won't get to see your favorite surfers hit the water as many times, but it will be crucial each time they do.
6 - We see the Top 16 are seeded directly into Round 2. What happens to the rest? Wayne Bartholomew: The back 32, made up of the back 11 of the Top 27, the Top 15 from the WQS, the 3 tour/injury wildcards and 3 Event wilds, go man-on-man in Round 1. So nobody misses out, but the re-introduction of the Top 16 provides incentive to be at every event.
7 - Part of the reason for the new format is to work towards a one-world ranking. This is something that was mandated in the past, but changed to the two-tiered system. Why are we moving back towards it? What are the advantages? When will is possibly be implemented?
Wayne Bartholomew: We hope to implement a one-world ranking system in 2010. The dynamic is totally different to pre-1992. There will still be 1-6 Stars, still be 6-Star Primes, and they will count towards the Top 45, who will still contest the ASP World Tour. There will most likely be a fluid transition whereby the bottom performing Top 45 will be replaced by high performing ASP WQS surfers in the same season. This will be much more marketable, better for media and more defining for the industry when it comes to sponsorships.
Mick Fanning: I think in this day and age, we need a one-world ranking system. The way the format works at the moment, the general public can't get their heads around it. I think it will help with how the ASP WQS is run also and make it easier for everyone to understand where they are. Also, if people get injured or have a bad year their ranking won't drop dramatically and they won’t fall off tour. We have had a few of these cases over the years and hopefully that will cut that out.
C.J. Hobgood: I’ve always been a huge fan of the one-world ranking system. I never understood why guys like Danny Fuller, Bruno Santos, Manoa Drollet and Jamie O’Brien would make Finals and Semis against the best surfers in the world and not have a world ranking. Like in Chile when the local wildcard made a heat, the people in Chile should be able to look at their guy and see how he ranks on the one-world ranking system. Even if he is 400th, it’s still a ranking. Also, the one-world rating system is easier to understand – I'm so sick of trying to explain to someone that knows very little about surfing our two-tier system.
Renato Hickel (BRA), ASP World Tour Manager, noted also that, “some adjustments may take place in the next Technical Committee meeting. It’s possible that we will reduce the number from Top 10 to Top 8, or even reseed everyone after Tahiti, but we will have to wait until Hawaii to ultimately determine.”