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.