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Nine-time world champ speaks out on the post-Tahiti tour restructuring
Photos: Alan van Gysen
SURF NEWS INTERVIEW: KELLY SLATER | Nine-time world champ speaks out on the post-Tahiti tour restructuring

July 24, 2010
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During the Billbong Pro J-Bay, much of the murmurings from the competitors' area related to concerns about the restructuring of the ASP World Tour after Tahiti. Everyone and their dog has an opinion about cutting down the number of surfers from 45 to 32. As well they should -- it's been the Top 45 since 1992. Careers will be affected. Livelihoods threatened. Contests shortened. A big deal.

Shortly after his early-round bow out at Jeffreys Bay, we caught up with Mr. Robert Kelly Slater, the nine-time world champ who started competing on tour and winning world titles in 1992, to get his thoughts on the matter.

Surfline: I'm sure for you, right at the top of the ratings, it doesn't make a big difference in terms of staying on tour, but we'd like to ask you about what you think about the implications this has for the overall talent pool. There are already so many great surfers who aren't making it on tour at this stage, and now we're cutting out another 16 of them. Guys have got some pretty mixed opinions about this, but where do you stand?
Kelly Slater: My opinion hasn't changed in years: I think we have too many guys on tour. The best surfing inevitably comes from the quarterfinals on. That's when the best guys do their thing. I almost feel like with the second round, people actually just want the contest to get going -- the surfers included. But, you know, I think what we have is... it's hard to say because there's obviously a lot of depth, and there's a lot of guys who aren't on tour that I'd like to see on tour, and trimming the number down is going to make that even harder for a guy who is generally a great freesurfer. We're probably going to lose a couple of really great surfers this year -- guys who are rookies or guys who are trying to get their feet wet and loosen up. So instead of them feeling like they can perform, they're just trying to get to that point to save themselves for the halfway mark and then save themselves again at the end of the year. So it's a lot of stress for them.

Well, you already had to be in the top 16 or maybe the top 20 to feel remotely safe, and now it's just become even harder.
Yeah, but, you know, that being said, if you win four heats you're going to make it.

What do you mean, like in one event?
No, over the course of a year! Even if you just win one heat per contest, more likely than not you're going to make the cut. And if you can't win one heat per contest...then what are you doing?

"If you can't win one heat per contest...then what are you doing?"

You shouldn't be there?
Well, I don't know if you shouldn't be there, but there's something blocking you from performing at your best. Every guy at this tour should be able to, at one point or another, win a couple heats in a contest because that's the level and that's the depth that we have. I've watched a lot of good surfers, like obviously Dusty, guys like Nate Yeomans and the Gudauskas brothers, those guys have tended to have really tough draws this year, so that's prohibitive for rookies, obviously. That makes it harder and I'm not sure if that's the fairest thing, but I don't know how else we would do it. There are some proposals for other ways to seed based on past results and you might have a top seed who hasn't done well at a past event and if that's the case, then maybe they should be seeded lower and the lowest guy wouldn't have to necessarily get that guy -- he'd draw a middle guy. It's tough, but at the end of the day we're trying to logistically trim down our events so that we can use three days in an event. I don't know if there's another way to do that and also allow everyone to have enough time to surf. So it's a tricky thing. All of us are going to lose friends on tour and guys that we feel are more than worthy to be on this tour, but I have felt for years that we have too many guys just based on the conditions we are forced to surf in when a swell dies.

It leaves very little room for error, though. You get a tough draw, you have a bad heat, you maybe get an injury and miss one or two events. It's as though now, so much has to go right -- and by reducing the numbers it's almost like you can't afford for anything to go wrong. Now, it's so top heavy. The guys that come in early, the top seeds, they go up against the wildcards and the lower ranks, and it almost seems like the guys who are up there are secure and they can stay -- and you're going to see a lot of switching around the bottom the whole time. So these lower-ranked guys end up working twice as hard because they're also trying to fill up their points with 'QS results.
It's a tough answer. There's no easy answer. But at the end of the day it's one out of four guys that goes, and if the cream rises to the top - and that is an 'if,' because as you said, there are hard draws and guys are going to have bad breaks or injuries or confidence issues, or maybe they're not great at those breaks, Like, for instance, we have a lot of rights and there's a bunch of goofies on tour and maybe it doesn't favour those guys. Yeomans surfed great here at J-Bay, and Bobby from what I saw, but Snapper doesn't really favor backsiders and Bells doesn't really favor goofyfoots. I'm not so sure about Brazil. I don't think the waves in Brazil favoured anyone -- they were just really hard to surf. It's hard man, I don't wish to see anyone go, but I also feel there are too many guys on tour. Look, surfing is the product of the ASP and in order to have the best product you have to have a way to display that in the most fair way. Who knows what the perfect answer is?

Is this just a very experimental stage? The ASP has been jumping stuff around since the late '80s or early '90s.
Well, really since about '91, '92, when I got on tour. The first year I got on tour we had a best-of-three situation, where you'd go out and surf three three-man heats and the top sixteen out of those results ended up going through to the round before the quarters. It was a really bizarre thing. We only had that for two events and basically if you lose either of your first two heats there was basically no way you were going to make it into that 16 bracket, which definitely is unfair to the lower draw guys. Now we're bouncing ideas around and we're trying to come up with the best of the ones that get thrown around.

But you're pretty set that less surfers, more days, premium surfing -- that's the way to go.
I think it's proven to be, historically. Even at Teauhupoo, we've had two or three years that have been miserable and had we had one less day of surfing, we would have had good waves for everybody and it's just that half a day extra that we needed to trim off, so it really comes down to a timing issue. It's not so much trying to get rid of people, it's just timing to run the event. You know, if we were able to maybe use the overlap heats at every event, then we could trim a half day off every contest no problem. We could probably even trim a day and a bit of each contest. But, the surfers are reluctant to do that because guys in different heats could mess with each other if they wanted to. There could be problems. And if a guys doing terrible and going to lose a heat and he messes with a guy in another heat, how do we rectify that? How do you make that fair? So, I dunno, we're just trying to do the best we can with the options we brainstorm out of ourselves.

How would this affect wildcards?
We'd still have the same number of wildcards -- three or four. I think it's four now. I think it would be 32 plus four guys -- one ASP and three wildcards. In fact, the numbers get better for the wildcards because there's more wildcards compared to the number of guys on tour.

Posted via email from Newport Beach Blog

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