It ain't cheating, exactly. But it sucks…
It’s a funny thing when an obvious problem escapes notice…
It’s no secret that competitors can influence their heat draws by throwing Round Four. Fanning used it to his advantage during the 2013 Pipe Masters, tossing a shoulder -hop drop in at John John in the dying minutes of the heat, knocking himself from second to third, and changing his draw from Julian Wilson in Round Five and an on fire John John in the Quarters to CJ Hobgood in Round Five and Yadin Nicole in the Quarters.
Not an easy setup, but nowhere near as insurmountable. And it was good tactics. Fanning won his heats, the contest, and the title.
Call it what you want, sandbagging, match fixing… it sucks. As spectators we want to see guys and gals surf their best, scuttling a heat to ease your path to victory easier is lame, nothing Spartan-like about it at all.
But it ain’t cheating, and that’s what’s important.
Sure, you could say that the use of tactics over ability is weak and boring and leads to people who don’t deserve to win hogging space in the winners’ circle, but that wouldn’t be fair. Professional surfing is a sport and a job and you can’t really blame an athlete for doing whatever it takes to win, especially when they are operating within the rules. Even more especially when the title is on the line.
Which is why Stephanie Gilmore’s plan to skip her Round Four heat to save energy and baby an injury exposes a huge loophole in the WSL rules that needs to be closed immediately.
I’m not trying to assign some nefarious motive to Gilmore’s actions. She was hurt and wanted time to recover, and the fact that she withdrew from the event entirely prior to Round Five goes to show she’s no malingerer. But the fact that the current WSL rules allow skipped heats can only lead to more competitors taking that path in the future.
Fortunately, it’s an easy fix.
Treat a missed heat like what it is: a forfeit. If an injury is truly severe enough to warrant a skipped heat it’s unwise, and unsafe, to allow a surfer to continue later in the event. Being given a short chance to rest up, only to exacerbate something that would have healed on its own, isn’t something either viewers or the WSL wants.
It is in the surfers’ interests as well. Events missed due to injury provide the surfer the minimum number of points, but absolutely zero prize money.
And I know some lower seeds could use that cash.