Nick Carroll On: The 10 Barrier

20 Jul 2017 16

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

Holy Toledo, Photo by WSL/Cestari

Holy Toledo, Photo by WSL/Cestari

COASTALWATCH | 2017 CORONA OPEN J-BAY

Why the scoring bracket’s glass ceiling needs to be broken, soon.

Here is a humble suggestion for the WSL Rules group, or commission, or whatever it is they’re called these days.

You have an issue with 10. An issue magnificently demonstrated today by two rides: one, Filipe Toledo at 7.45am, and the other, Frederico Morais at 3.45pm.

Filipe produced a ride in excess of the current surfing imagination. The judges gave it a 10. It’s ALL they could give it. The wave was more, it was a 12-plus. But the top end of the scale compressed the ride into a score that didn’t reflect its impact on the event and even on the whole idea of how to surf J-Bay, like ever.

SEE ALSO: Nick Carroll On, Sharks, 20s & Form Revealed At The Corona Open

It was a game-changer, yet the panel could only award it the same as they threw to Fred on the last wave of the day, for a super strong but quite conventional ride featuring a series of top turns and cutties, a couple of which were done unintentionally almost out of control. (Go have a look at the first turn again for a start; if you reckon Fred meant to teeter half on the rail and half on the fins like that, well we are watching two different sports.)

There’s a school of thought that says nobody should EVER get a 10, that perfection in surfing is an impossible pipedream because something could always have been done a tiny bit better. I have sympathy for this view in an abstract sorta way, but in a practical sense I think it takes hold of the issue from the wrong end. Surfing may never be perfect, but it can be improved, all the time, any day of the week, especially in waves like this.

I think capping a score at 10 puts an artificial limit on that potential for improvement. It’s part of the reason why conventional wisdom in pro coaching holds that 80% is the preferred performance range for most heats — because going bigger falls prey to the law of diminishing returns. Two 8.5s wins most heats, and a controlled performance from a great surfer can elevate someone else’s 6 into an 8.5 or 9. That’s a two and a half to three point gain, without pushing the risk factor too much. But to get to 9.8 or more? That’s either up to the wave, or to a performance that risks failure. Every 1/10th of a point at the top end comes hard.

SEE ALSO: Here's Why Tomorrow At J-Bay might Be Too Much To Handle 

10 right now is just a barrier. It’s like reaching the speed of sound in a plane — things get rattly in the last five percent, then you pass through the sound barrier and boom! Everything’s smooth again.

Thing is: once it’s busted through the sound barrier, the plane’s allowed to go faster. The surfer can’t. You can’t ever get more than a 10. Your 10 is always and forever the same as every other bastard’s 10, even if it was several orders of magnitude better.

Those two rides were bookends of a strange and choppy day which never quite turned epic. Too many bumps: the shark, the puzzling Jordy/Conner re-surf, the two hour let’s-go-surfing pause through lunch. And as much as Fred was stoked by his 10 and win, I think Johnny Florence just got gloriously burned.

But let’s just push that away for the moment. I dare you guys. You’re smart. You think about this stuff. You’ve gotta think of a way to incentivise the top end. I’m not talking about the Spinal Tap solution — turning up the amp to 11. I’m talking about somehow finding more gas in the scoring tank, to suit where some of these guys are capable of taking the sport.

There’s no down from zero, fine. That’s ground level. You gotta find a way to make it so at the other end, there’s only ever up.

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