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Mick Fanning...getting the score he needed to claim the World Title during the Quarterfinal against Yadin Nicol.

Mick Fanning…getting the 9.7 he needed to claim the World Title during the Quarterfinal against Yadin Nicol.

The Inertia

After Mick Fanning clinched the 2013 ASP World Title with his buzzer-beater 9.7 against Yadin Nicol, I floated in and out of a few team houses during the final day of the Billabong Pipe Masters with one question: Did Mick deserve the score? (Watch the heat here.)

It’s a fair question. A handful of subjective decimal points sealed the fate of the 2013 World Title, and in a post-heat interview, Kelly questioned the decision’s validity. Obviously, he had a dog in the race, but when Kelly loses (which is rare), he does so with class.

“He needed a nine,” said Slater. “I didn’t even think that last wave was a nine. And he got a 9.5, and we were all blown away….It’s different when you’re at the beach, though. We were watching online. To be fair, we were watching it on TV, and you don’t see the whole scope of how big the wave really is and what the sets look like and there is an emotional part that comes in as well – the excitement, the buildup of the thing coming – you see it coming on the outside, the guy gets it. There’s definitely something poetic about it for Mick.”

The pro surfers in each house I visited were decidedly split on the issue.

“No Australian who is knowledgeable about surfing would ever tell you that wave deserved the score,” said a World Tour veteran off the record. “I do think Yadin’s wave was better than Mick’s. And most of the people I spoke with today felt the same way. It’s one of those things where the judges just don’t seem to see it the way the experienced surfers do. For sure that heat was crucial to the title, and they made a bad call.”

“Wave for wave, I thought it was the better barrel, personally,” said Torrey Meister in support of Mick Fanning’s wave. “Yadin’s was critical at the end, but Mick’s was really critical at the beginning. I thought it was a little bit longer. It was one of the bigger waves of the day, and he rode it perfectly. So I thought it was deserved.”

The pro surfers surveyed were East Coasters, Australians, Hawaiians; all had biases. But these are the folks most intimately acquainted with how waves are measured in competition. And among them, there was no clear consensus. That bothers me, and it reinforces how absolutely impossible the task of judging sport is. Surfing is not the only sport that suffers from this challenge. All sports judged by human beings face the same insurmountable task: being inhumanely objective.

After watching the replay four times, I think the judges made the correct decision, but, ultimately, I’m of the opinion that we don’t yet have the precision necessary to make tight calls objectively. As a result, momentous, hair-splitting wave scores are based on emotion more than anything else. After Mick’s claim, the writhing crowd’s response, and the gravity of the situation on the beach became apparent, it would require a heartless judge to stand between Mick Fanning and a World Title. And judges, last I checked, have hearts.

Was the wave in the ballpark? Yes. Was it a few tenths of a point above or below the necessary 9.57 to decide a World Title? I’d hate to be the person to make that call. When the margins are inconceivably tight, it’s a fool’s errand.

We’ve already heard from quite a few readers lamenting the decision (and from others supporting it), and we’d love for you to re-watch the heat and share your thoughts below.

Mick Fanning making the claim that helped decide his fate. Photo: Matt Dunbar

Mick Fanning making the claim that helped decide his fate. Photo: Matt Dunbar

Yadin Nicol, doing his best to qualify for the 2014 ASP World Tour. His loss against Mick eliminated that possibility.

Yadin Nicol’s 9.33. Nicol was doing his best to qualify for the 2014 ASP World Tour. His loss against Mick eliminated that possibility.

  • Dave

    Deserved score. Mick’s wave couldn’t have been ridden more perfectly, and it was the right judging decision in the broader context or the day.

  • ScoobyDude

    I watched all 4 scoring waves back and forth. I think it was a legit heat win. That wave was a huge (2nd reef?) roll-in, deep tube all the way through. And you can think of it this way too…..they get scored on if they ride the wave as best it can be ridden……biggest wave of the heat, ridden as well as it could have been = excellent score

  • ichorousmedia .

    Mick’s tube wasn’t as much of a spitting monster as yadin’s but it was more technical being a roll in and he covered a lot more distance in the barrel

  • Robert Coote

    Here’s how I see it and I’m Aussie and like Mick.
    Miguel Pupo up to that point had the highest wave score of a 9.7? something. Yadens was a bomb prior to micks of a 9.33. Yadens wave and Miguels were both better than Micks buzzer beater in Rd5 ht 1 to beat C.J. Micks Wave in the quarter was better than his 9.5 in the Rd5 heat… So against that yes 9.7 is fair, BUT!!! the scale is re set each heat and to the conditions. Better than Miguels 9.7 and many commentators stating it was one of the best waves seen and ridden in a contest in decades due to its perfect shape and ease and he was spat out by a larger section…micks way very tight on exit but spat also, Miguels was a larger wave and barrelled from take off and got 2 giant sections? I’d say Miguels was better.
    Micks verse Yadens? Yadens was a bomb and critical drop and section, undisputed 9.3 score. So a 9.7 for Mick on his and a roll in from 2nd reef to set it up… I just don’t see the score justified.
    The impact is huge. Yadin needed to win to re qualify, that’s huge for him, Mick needed to win to shut the gate, was Yadin robbed of his fair chance? I think so.
    Was Kelly robbed of his chance before he even set foot in the water, yes!, I think so. Kelly is a true and worthy champion and if he questioned it, correctly so. He went on to win so was Kelly and Yadin both robbed of there chances they deserved, yes I think so.
    Yadins and Micks waves were played split screen together on the webcast, Yadins was more critical. Was the decision made because of the excitement, yes I think so. It was a buzzer beater to add suspense and build a moment but was it a good wave, fuck yes, was it a 9.7, fuck no.
    Long story, my opinion but Well Done Mick a deserving champ none the less

    • muggers

      In past hair-splitting situations like this, Kelly usually ended up on top to be honest…remember Andy’s frustration when Kelly beat him by a whisker?
      This comp. was in memory of Andy. Maybe that had something to do with it!

  • Adam Enleft

    Haha. Did Mick roll into a 9.57? no. did Mick snag the best wave of the heat?affirmative. Is Slater a douchetar? uhu-huh. retire finally old balls. Did JJF just go full sick? Yes. Long live the king.

    • Zorbo85

      Slater 11 titles..Fanning 3!!!Come back when Mick wins another 8!!!
      REAL fans know Slater was robbed!!!Fanning lost the first heat but was gifted the win and his last wave was NEVER a 9.7!!How ironic that he ONLY managed to beat a 41 year old by decimals!!!

      • Ben

        Shoot, if they keep giving Mick titles for roll-ins and “savage bottom turns” he’ll get to eleven in no time.

        • stinky

          hahaha seriously

  • Gary Young

    The only thing that muddied the score was Renato Hickel coming into the commentary booth afterwards to justify it..

  • Alex Neville

    Mick did deserve to win the heat, but the wave didn’t merit a 9.7

  • David Lockwood


    Posted 14 December 2013 – 07:53 PM PST

    I have not even read anything thats being said on this site about what happened today, I can imagine. I just wanted to say this. I’ve had a little bit for this to sink in and all I can come up with is that it is just really really sad. Mick surfed one of the worst heats I have ever seen against CJ and somehow was gifted the win on a last minute wave that was deemed to be worth more than both CJ’s waves combined. Next mick got dominated in my eyes by Yadin and still somehow won. My question is this. When it is not clear cut, when he didn’t go out and get it. In this situation. With this much on the line. why the FUCK would you just give him the title?? Why not at least give Kelly a chance. I really cannot for the life of me understand. I feel like we were all robbed of what could have been one of the greatest moments in our sport. If Mick went out and threw down fine. GOOD. But he didn’t. And to not at least let Kelly have a shot at what could have been his ride into the sunset moment just makes me really bummed out about the state of the sport. disgusting.

  • Adam

    Should the judges know what score a surfer needs to win a heat? It would be near impossible to keep them in the dark, but lets say hypothetically they didn’t know the exact score Mick needed. What score would they have given?
    If all they did was give their own score for each wave and didn’t know anything else it would take some of the natural, if unintentional, emotion out of scoring a wave in the last seconds.
    It was Richie Porter’s comments to Shane Dorian that he thought Mick ‘got the score’ as soon as he saw the wave that made me think the wave was scored on what was needed and not independently of the heat situation. (I’m an Aussie who is trying to be impartial).

    • mikl

      Great point. So hard to eliminate all the biases that inevitably creep in. As soon as I saw Mick’s wave at the end I couldn’t help but think, “that’s not a 9.57, not even a 9.33, never mind a 9.7, but I bet the judges will give it to him.” It seemed like there was a bit of a feverish atmosphere that something like that was bound to happen.

    • Adam May

      100% agree, contact the ASP, blind judging would be ideal, and doable!

  • Ben

    Yadin was cruelled throughout the heat. Mick should have been comboed after his last wave. That is where the judges failed.

  • Joe M

    Potatoe, Potata. We have to rely on subjective calls in this sport. So, I think it’s wrong to second-guess the result afterward. The athletes are entitled to “A” judgment. Not a scientifically perfect judgment that doesn’t exist. We have a system that is balanced to protect from bias but is also practical enough to be applied accross multiple events (ie not requiring 3 judges from every country on every panel). As far as I can tell, that system was applied consistently here.

    The key point is that winning the world title is not the result of one wave score. It is the culmination of a lot of waves and judgments. So, it doesn’t make sense to suggest that Mick won it based on a bad wave score. He won it fair and square surfing many waves and places and being vulnerable to variable judgments like everyone else.

  • Derf McTighe

    Mick may have deserved the score but if they hadn’t added 5 minutes to the quaters he would have been eliminated and Kelly would be world Champ! No worries everythig works out so it keeps Kelly in the hunt!Congrats to Mick on his Title,Kelly on his 7th Pipe win and JohnJohn on his Triple Crown!

  • Zorbo85

    This was a fix!
    They added 5 minutes to the Quarters and gave the time Fanning needed.
    The fact that Slater easily won the event just proves it was a fix as people were getting tired of Slater always wining!!
    The fact that Fanning could ONLY beat Slater who is 41 by decimals and Mick is 32 is quite hilarious!!

  • matthew hapgood

    I think the debate should be across the 4 waves ridden. I watched it live and was caught up in the emotion and excitement at the time – it was an amazing moment. But, after watching the waves again, I think Mick’s first Backdoor wave was nowhere near as good as Yadin’s lower scoring ride (a 7 point something). So, Mick should have required more than the 9.5 he needed at the end – really he should have been comboed. Watch all 4 rides and work out who had the best two – it was a close heat, but I think Yadin should have got the nod. Let’s hope we see him on the ‘CT again soon.

    • Ben

      Absolutely. The story was about all of Yadin’s waves, which should have handily comboed Mick. Utter bullshit.

    • stinky

      I did the same thing – watched it live, then went back and compared the 2 low scoring waves and the 2 high scoring waves. I think that heat should have gone to Yadin. Mick’s wave was amazing, but I don’t think the heat was scored well.

  • old fella

    “No Australian who is knowledgeable about surfing would ever tell you that wave deserved the score”
    I am an Australian with 35 years of surfing experience. I thought Mick’s wave was superb and deserved the score. There really was something timeless about the slow set up bottom turn that made it special. Kelly’s churlishness about it was disappointing, given that Australians have (rightly ) held their tongues over controversial calls in favour of Kelly for many years. Really unfortunate for Yadin.

    • EY

      Aussies holding their tongues?

  • Alfredo Z

    Really fantastic contest! Great surfing. When you think how amazing both Mick and Yadin surfed it is mind blowing! Both waves were technical in different ways. But if you look at it comparatively, no way Micks wave is equal to Pupos wave and they were both 9.7’s. No way. If anything Yadins waves were underscored. That being said, there is also no doubt that Mr. Kelly has had judges nods his whole career. But to decide a World Title? I think that all in all, in that situation, Mick should have got the nod even though it was more like a 9.3. Just for the whole emotional aspect of the impact at that moment, which judges take into consideration too. That was incredible surfing under the pressure. Super tough call. The biggest loser is good ol’ Yadin. There is the tragedy…

  • Jennifer Baldauf

    I am more upset with the way they (the Judges) underscored C.J. Hobgood’s waves and over scored Fanning’s one nice barrel ride in the heat before (Round 5, i believe). Fanning should have NOT EVER made it to compete against Yadin Nicol… should have been C.J.’s win! There is my expert opinion!

  • Anj

    Imagine if Yadin had denied Mick by dropping in on his 9.7. Even with an interference Yadin would’ve had a heat score of 13 meaning Mick still needed to paddle out and get a 6 with 2 mins on the clock. But then dropping in on someone as tactic is controversial…..

    Prolly the best outcome tho, Mick seems like a good guy and Kelly will stay on tour.

    • EY

      Didn’t you see Mick’s interference in rd 4?

      • Anj

        Yeah! It would’ve been ironic if Mick avoided JJF due to an interference only to lose to Yadin due to an interference.

  • wally

    I looked at the wave Fanning got to win the Round 5 heat against CJ.
    Shane Dorian commentating said “Wow, Oh my god!”. Shane kept complimenting the ride and said, “He was deep, it was pretty much every single thing that the
    judges could want.” Fanning got a 9.5.
    Comparing that wave to the similar ride Fanning got in the Quarter final.
    I think, with the wave in the Quarters, Mick fade is a bit deeper, his bottom turn was cleaner and put him into a more critical position and his tube ride was deeper for longer.
    So, if the Round 5 heat wave was as good as Shane enthused, I think the Quarter final wave was better and a genuine very high score wave.
    I think if John John had got the same ride, we would have all been cheering and shaking our heads and marveling at what an uncanny and spooky feel he has for the Pipe.
    So, I don’t think the 9.7 was an unreasonable score.

  • EY

    Zach, how about asking the asp if drug testing is now optional? Does anyone deserve the title if they opt out of a drug test and suspension in the beginning of the season?

  • Willy

    Wow after all this online backlash you’d think the judges would reverse their decision, but it still reads “Mick Fanning world champion” on the ASP website. Weird.

  • VoiceofReason14

    So, which tour events is Nichol going to be able to compete in next year? Does he do Prime and the one’s he’s sponsored for or does he get in as a wildcard replacement or have to qualify or each or what?

  • mattincabo

    Might as well get used to controversial results because it is literally impossible to judge surfing in a truly objective way. Kelly made a good point in that being there live, in the heat of the moment, has a different impact compared to what I am seeing on my 15″ computer screen. Mick has been scraping through heats the entire year. Why should it be any different on the final day? I will say that Porta sounded like a jackass trying to justify the scoring. The ASP’s bungling of the world title race started with the priority no call on Ace in Tahiti and gathered steam at Trestles and Europe culminating with very questionable judging on the final day at Pipe.

  • neil

    The key to all this seems to be to sort out the judging process:

    Judges should be separated and not able to talk to each other whilst judging and have no access to the webcast with the live scores.

    Head judge should not talk to other judges during the heat – only briefing before and debrief after the day is done or maybe at key moments during the day if the conditions change.

    Judges should not know what the score the other judges gave to a ride so they would have no way of knowing what score was needed or even who was winning any given heat.

    In this way there would be a greater spread of scores from the judges and no one person’s opinion would dominate. There would be less room for emotion in the judging.

    At some point in the commentary on the final day Luke Egan clearly talks about ‘manufacturing an outcome’ – and I think that’s become way too much the culture of the ASP. The judging system as it is allows the head judge to direct the results to obtain a manufactured outcome that is best seen to suit the best interests of the ‘sport’ (read commercial entities behind the sport).

    Surely its the one thing that ZoSea must fix first if they want the sport to be more credible – or maybe they want it to be pure entertainment like pro-wrestling, in which case I will encourage my Granny to watch. Not sure she will be buying too many pairs of board shorts though.

  • Michael Andrew

    I was on the beach, the crowd exploded. Mick had been hucking himself over the ledge all heat. It was crazy when that wave came in, it was a touch wide and fat so he rolled and faded. His last attempt to generate a high score was met with incredible surfing, timing, luck and emotion. As crazy as it sounds, that was the only way he was going to get that score because most of the 9+ waves were breaking deeper on the bowl. He is lucky that wave cupped and barreled like it did, 9 out of 10 those style waves were clamping shut all morning and the night before.

    People want to analyze video, or ask others what they thought but the reality is 10,000 people got off their ass and blew up 50 yards from him and the judges, you send the guy packing with a 8.5 in 10 foot pipe with that energy and your soulless. Last time I checked surfing is all about energy and soul.

  • surfaboy

    It swings both ways. To me, John John’s last minute backdoor wave in the final was just as controversial. I was convinced he got the score. But, maybe the asp wanted to make 3 guys happy and send um all home with a prize. Tough job, and yes, very subjective.

  • slambresi

    I have been on the panel for about 12 WQS comps and I know how this played out. The head judge walked behind the panel and got into their heads. The panel should not know “what he needs to advance”….just give the score on a scale compared to Yadin’s bomb – (in my eye’s it was a 9.0 compared to Yadin’s 9.33. But in reality, it’s not about “getting the score” of a 9.7 at the end. If the judges wanted to throw that score down, fine. Since heats are decided by the best two waves, the bigger problem is with their backup scores. Yadin’s other pipe wave was WAAAAY heavier than Mick’s backdoor wave and that’s where they screwed the pooch. In my eyes, Yadin’s two should have been approximately a 9.5 and an 8.5 which equals 18 points (give or take a tenth or two). Mick’ backdoor wave should have been a high 6, or low 7. He was not all that deep, as we could see his board the entire time. The fact of the matter, when he rolled into that 2nd reefer, he should have needed a combination of scores.

  • Adam May

    sl8r said in his post-heat interview he didn’t think they’d give fanning the score, he said it wasn’t the best wave of the heat in his opinion.. I think he was right… in other words, it wasn’t better than what SHOULD have been the best wave of the heat which was yadins 9.33 – which had 2 moments where I thought he was gunna be buckled off, not to mention the intense take off, huge spit, far higher level of difficulty.. Isn’t that what big scores are about? The wow factor etc..?

    fannings ”9.7” was an easier, more perfect looking wave. Which he claimed the shit out of, that coupled with the emotion caused by the crowd & the buzzer being only 30 seconds away.. The judges emotions clearly clouded their decision making

    I think if Fanning hadn’t claimed his ”9.7” (should have been a 9.2ish/9.3 at most) so enthusiastically, he wouldn’t have got the score..

    i guess the claim was fair enough considering the intense moment, but then again; what would sl8r have done in that situation? I think he would have held his hands up like he did after his ten in the semi’s – a subtle gesture to the judges to say; ”what do ya reckon.. did i get the score?”

    Perhaps some silver lining though.. – sl8r would have most likely retired had he won his 12th, considering how you could never ever retire in a better way (pipe & clinching a world title at the death).. So now we get to see the most motivated, competitive & pissed off man on a mission return with vengeance this year, i reckon he’ll actually win the title early this time around, as he has done in previous years, european leg??


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