What's the Beef? WSL Judging Controversy Explained

Once again, the world of professional surfing is embroiled in controversy. This time, however, the waves of dissent have swept across mainstream media platforms, even catching the attention of the venerable New York Times.

At the heart of this storm are the events of the Surf Ranch Pro, held at Kelly Slater's Wave Pool in Lemoore, California. Brazilian surfing maestros, Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira, were eliminated in closely contested heats—Ferreira in the finals against Griffin Colapinto. The outcomes were not taken lightly by either athlete, who expressed their disappointment on social media, suggesting a perceived bias against Brazilian surfers in the judging.

Medina and Ferreira, known for their competitive intensity, united in expressing dissatisfaction. Medina stated, “The surfing community, especially in Brazil, is stunned by the seeming inconsistency and lack of transparency in judging for years, but it's become even more apparent lately." Echoing his sentiment, Ferreira admitted in his Stab-In-The-Dark interview that he feels he must surf twice as well as his competitors to achieve victory.

Brazilian surf fans, known for their vehement support and strong reactions to defeats, took to social media in the wake of the controversial outcome. This passionate fan base—arguably both the best and at times, the most challenging in the sport—expressed their feelings and, alarmingly, some issued threats of harm towards WSL surfers and staff. This was the point at which WSL CEO Erik Logan was compelled to intervene.

Logan categorically rejected the notion of bias in competition judging, stating, "We completely dismiss the suggestion that our competitions' judging is in any way unfair or biased." He also addressed the fan reactions with profound concern. "Such behavior should never occur in our sport or any other, and we're appalled that members of our community have been targeted. It serves as a stark reminder that words have consequences."

In his statement, Logan clarified the judging criteria, which were provided to all athletes before each competition. In the Surf Ranch Pro's case, the information was disseminated on May 20th. He emphasized that the existing rules allow any athlete to review their scores with the judges and gain a deeper understanding of the scoring process. Logan concluded by stating it was unacceptable for athletes to question the judges' integrity, reinforcing that no single surfer or judge is above the sport.

Logan's strong stance drew comments from several media outlets, and it brought some closure to the brewing controversy. On reviewing the contentious heats, which are available on WSL's YouTube page, one can appreciate both sides of the argument. Ferreira does execute some highly technical moves, but he also has moments of imbalance and even falls during maneuvers that should've been executed smoothly—this is where Griffin's flawless execution gave him an edge.

The Surf Ranch's wave is consistently perfect, and so the judges expect surfing to match. It appears the crux of this debacle isn't so much the judging, but rather Ferreira's risk-taking approach, attempting maneuvers with a confidence that doesn't always hold up. At this venue, perfection is favored over experimentation.

I extend hearty congratulations to both Griffin and Italo. Both demonstrated stellar surfing skills, and a second-place finish is commendable. As we look forward to the upcoming El Salvador Surf City Pro (June 9-18th)—a tournament that draws a large Brazilian contingent—we can anticipate more exhilarating performances and fierce competition. So, tune in.

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