Surfer/Writer/TEDx Speaker

Photo: WSL / Heff

The Inertia

Progression is inevitable in sports. The moment an athlete does something nobody else ever considered in competition, the game is forever changed. The rest of the field and even the game itself must either change with the times or fall behind.

Basketball is a great example of an ever-evolving sport, where in-game technique and rule changes move side by side. Today, we are all familiar with the popular strategy to foul at the end of a game. In the early eighties, “The Valvano Rule” was introduced to the game in response to North Carolina State University head coach Jim Valvano encouraging his players to intentionally foul at the end of a game when they were trailing, stopping the clock, disrupting play, and ultimately forcing a change of possession. There was no shot clock as we know it in the game today, so teams could theoretically sit on possession of the ball for as long as they pleased otherwise. But Valvano’s tactic forced them to take action and ultimately kept his team’s chances alive when they were behind.

The entire game had to adapt its style of play for this new strategy, and the following season the NCAA attempted a two free throw penalty for fouls in the last two minutes. In the early nineties, the NCAA introduced the double bonus as a way to discourage intentional fouls but again, teams adapted and free throw shooting is considered a valuable skill today. Even now, the game evolves with the use of fouling as a strategy, instituting a new flagrant foul system in the NCAA as recently as the 2017-2018 season.

Regardless of your personal position on Gabriel Medina’s end-of-heat blocking strategy, you should expect competitive surfing to evolve just as basketball did. New rules will need to be enacted…or they won’t. Maybe surfers will simply need to adapt their own strategies, doing what they can to either avoid the Medina block or employing one themselves in close heats. Could Caio Ibelli have put up a heat-winning score when Medina blocked him at Pipe? It’s certainly possible. Critical turns would have been hindered with Medina in his way but imagine this being the norm in competitive surfing; how will athletes adapt? In the semifinal of that same contest between Griffin Colapinto and Gabriel Medina, Medina could have theoretically used the same tactic to secure another heat win. Instead, in the final seconds of the heat, Colapinto ended up taking off on a right in front of Medina, preventing even the possibility of a block.


If the rules remain as they are, we shouldn’t be surprised if we see this strategy used more often. In the meantime, we’ll all have to wait and find out whether the WSL rulebook or its field of competitors evolves first.

Darcy Roland is a serious surf fan, a writer, and a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard.


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