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Pro Surfer Ratings Need a Fresh Look (Part 1)

When I first saw Joel Parkinson, he was tearing apart the competition at Sunset Beach on FUEL TV (back when it was a cable station). While us surfers prefer it when the ocean surface looks like glass, the surface of the ocean that day looked more like gnarly mogul downhill course, and Joel was the only surfer who understood the line.  He dominated that event like I’ve seen few surfers dominate since.  Since then he has been a perennial top 10 surfer, but played second fiddle to Kelly, Andy and Mick. He finally eaked out a Championship in 2012, mathematically winning without winning a single event. The same year, Kelly won 3 events, and held up well in most others.  While we all love Joel’s surfing that years result felt a little bit wrong.

Top 5 ranked surfers in the world from 2012 from the WSL website.  Who would have thought Kelly would be the only one without another title by 2017.
Joel Parkinson at the Hurley Pro Testles – on his way to the title through another 2nd place finish. (Credit: Brandy Pearson)

The championship race played out similarly in 2013.  Kelly dominated more events than Mick, then barely lost the title.  In 2015, Mick got the raw end of the rankings stick: In a normal event, the winner receives 10,000 points and the second place surfer receives 8,000.  At Jeffrey’s Bay, when a great white shark came infamously close to Mick during the final, both were swooped out of the water and received the 8,000 points for second place. At the time, I was confused, and thought they should have both gotten 9,000 points.  This would have changed the math going into the final events.  Mick lost the Championship by only a few thousand points that year, so that 1,000 points from J-Bay might have given him a psychological edge. Who knows.

What Should Have Happened After the J-Bay Final

The shark incident got me to finally think about how many points should be awarded.  It never before occurred to me that the ratings points awarded might be skewed.  Indeed, the farther a surfer advances, the more points he acquires.  An event win grants 2,000 points more than a finals loss, more than any other round increase. But how much should each round award?  It seems somewhat arbitrary.  But at the same time, we should be able to check scenarios to see if the current situation feels right.

For today, let’s look at the shark attack scenario:

  • The total points awarded in the final should not be affected by a shark attack.

This feels right.  So if 18,000 points is awarded when there is no shark sighting than in the case of a sighting the 18,000 should be divided evenly between the two competitors.  9,000 points each seems fair. 8,000 points each feels wrong. As another way of looking at it, Mick and Julian each got jipped out of approximately a 50/50 chance at 2,000 points, so they should each get 1,000 on top of a second place finish.

FIX 1: Award points in cancelled rounds

Future Posts

To answer the question of how many points should be awarded is a bit of a journey.  Changing the rating methodology may not award Kelly with two more titles, but it might make our guts a little bit more comfortable going forward.   In the next series of posts I’m planning to cover:

  • Part 2:Evaluation of points awarded for Quarters Semis and Finals
  • Part 3: Evaluation of points awarded for the early rounds and math explanation
  • Part 4: Coverage of how other major sports do their ratings

It’s time to tune up pro-surfing!

Preview of new ratings

To give you a taste, the next few posts will present a few different ways of doing ratings. I have an excel spreadsheet where I can change the ratings awarded back to 2012, and I’d like to make that functionality available to you. But I’m just not that good at wordpress/javascript yet. For now, I put together 3 other ways that we could be doing the ratings (Table 1). In the table below that, you can change to any of the 4 available methods to see what would have happened in 2012.

Table 1: Different Methods for Awarding Ratings Points

Current WSL Ratings Constant Expected Value Aggressive Decreasing Expected Value
1 10000 10000 63000 15500
2 8000 7000 31000 15000
3 6500 5500 15000 14000
5 5200 4000 7000 12000
9 4000 2500 3000 9000
13 1750 1500 1000 5000
25 500 0 0 0
INJ 500 0 0 0
Q 0 0 0 0

Table 2: 2012 World Tour Ratings Calculator

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