ASP deactivates mid-season rotation

Joli

17-year-old Gabriel Medina got onto the ASP's World Tour via the mid-season rotation in 2011 and went on to win two events in the second half of the season. But his crop will be the last as the ASP cans that system.

Even more changes are afoot with the seemingly ever-changing structure of the Association of Surfing Professionals. It seems that the ASP, which implemented a mid-season rotation as part of its new format in 2010, including more prize money and the One World Ranking, has now deactivated that rotation for 2012. This means that the elite 32 surfers of the ASP World Tour will stay on for an entire year.

The primary reason cited has been "scheduling uncertainties."

"We believe that the 2011 rotation brought in some incredible talent that proved they deserved to be amongst the world's best with their performances throughout the back half of the year. However, the instability of the ASP schedule, especially in 2012, makes the concept very difficult to manage," said Dave Prodan, spokesperson for the ASP international.

Indeed, the surfers to gain spots on the World Tour last September were deserving of their slots. Gabriel Medina went on to win two elite events on the back half of the season and John John Florence won the Vans Triple Crown. And the schedule has been in a state of flux.

In the last few weeks, it was announced that the Rip Curl Search Pro has been pulled from the schedule, along with the highly successful Quiksilver New York Pro. O'Neill's longstanding qualifying event, the Coldwater Classic, has been upgraded to the World Tour.

"Where would we schedule the rotation? How do we ensure there are fair and balanced opportunities in every rotation for surfers to qualify? As we have been since our inception, we are a sport governed by the surfers for the surfers and it is in this spirit that we have voted to deactivate the midyear rotation in 2012," Prodan added.

While the surfers have been opposed to the mid-season rotation, some of the event qualifying event sponsors have been for it. The new One World ranking system created a situation where top World Tour surfers had to compete in the Prime and six-star competitions. That raised the profile of these events. Promoters of those contests may not be pleased. Moreover, those events were also mostly on the first half of the year and the O'Neill CWC is now part of the World Tour, making an unbalanced Prime schedule.

The mid-year cut-off was controversial from its inception. The deactivation marks the latest in a very heavy news cycle for surfing that go back to discontent among the athletes at surfing's governing body and a rumored "Rebel Tour" breakaway said to be spearheaded by Kelly Slater. The ASP rolled out its new structure in 2009, as an effort to make the sport more relatable to casual observers and grow the fan base for 2010 and beyond.

The mid-season rotation was never a popular one. For one thing, it took the surfers considerable time to understand the new format. The first rotation in August of 2010 was particularly dramatic, as it not only bought in new surfers, but served as the point at which the ASP cut the number of surfers on tour from 44 to 32. It should be noted that several surfers who were dropped that first time have never resurfaced.

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Of all the things the outspoken Bobby Martinez sounded off about in 2011, the mid-season cut off was his biggest issue.

Heavy as it may have been, it was soon overshadowed by the death of Andy Irons and Kelly Slater's tenth world title that November. Then, the addition of three new events being held at urban beaches for 2011 drew even more fire from critics, despite conditions winding up solid.

Controversy continued to plague the ASP this year when marquee performers like Kelly Slater, Bobby Martinez, and Dane Reynolds were no-shows at the Billabong Pro South Africa.

Martinez intentionally skipped the South Africa and Tahiti events and announced an early retirement, citing his dissatisfaction with the surf world in general. He was very vocal, specifically about his disdain for the mid-season rotation. At the Quiksilver New York Pro, he made an expletive-laden rant about the state of professional surfing. Although not a completely focused attack, he made it quite clear that he was not in favor of the rotation.

However, the ASP took the most heat when it crowned Kelly Slater as 2011 World Champ before he had actually accrued the points needed for the title. That faux pas led to the resignation of CEO Brodie Carr, who had overseen all the aforementioned changes.

In all fairness, the ASP's recent Vans Triple Crown set a new record for action sports webcast viewing numbers.

"The midyear rotation worked out better than we could have imagined this season, but looking ahead, the surfers feel that it will not have the long-term effects desired for the sport," said Keiren Perrow, the Surfers' Representative, "This is felt by the majority of the surfers from the very top of the ASP Top 34 to the qualifiers in the Prime and Star events. What we have created is a system in which the very best surfers in the world are currently within the ASP Top 34, but the process of getting there is becoming disorganized. We don't want that and the decision to not have the midyear rotation in 2012 is the best thing for the sport."

The ASP Women's Tour, with a very abbreviated schedule for 2012, never had a mid-season rotation, and hence will not see any such change.

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John John Florence qualified after the first half of 2011 and proved that the system worked, as he went on a rampage for the second half of the year.

The change will ensure that Taylor Knox, who turns 41 in May, will be assured a slot all year. Young Kolohe Andino won't have to sweat a September cut either. Fred Patacchia, who just lost his slot, will get a first alternate spot, but still can't officially join the world tour again until 2013. Brazilians Willian Cardosa and Thiago Camarao, who finished 2011 within spitting distance of the tour, will face similar situations.

Prodan also said today: "We believe this decision is best for the upcoming season and we will continue to discuss the future of the rotation within the sport."

This is not likely the last we will hear on this subject.

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