"People in both fields operate with beliefs and biases. To the extent you can eliminate both and replace them with data, you gain a clear advantage.” Michael Lewis, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
In the interlude between Iggy Pop performing at Pipeline and a 25-foot, onshore-lashed North Swell, there’s been the briefest of lulls in the general hype that is the Billabong Pipeline Masters. Yep, it’s not called a waiting period for nothing. It looks like this World Title race might come in inconsistent 10-foot wind affected drips and closeout riddled slab drabs.
In the interim then, after Iggy has been escorted to his Miami bungalow in the Billabong private jet, when the freesurf sessions of JJF and Gabby have been reedited into a million data packets and the first round part-way complete, we can at least turn to the stats. Yep, there is nothing like some good old fashion metrics to really get the blood pumping.
Having poured over the data supplied by the gurus at Surf-Stats the major numerals that jump from the spreadsheet is John John Florence’s dominance, not just at Pipeline, but over the course of the year. Okay, yes, this isn’t a reveal in the scale of, say, Luke Skywalker’s Old Man, but the numbers are still impressive. His Average Heat Score (AHS) for the year is at 15.63. This tallies with his AHS over the last three events, an indication of current form, which of 15.50. That shows the incredible consistency that Florence has shown throughout 2017 which has resulted in him winning 75 per cent of his heats this year. Machine-like isn’t an adjective you would often use to describe the Hawaiian’s eclectic talents, but in terms of posting scores he’s been more Terminator than Tchaikovsky.
Medina, the John Connor to Florence’s terminator, if we are going to push the analogy to the point where the Brazilian is a future leader of a resistance movement against an army of machines, is very much backing on his current form, rather than 2017 as a whole. His AHS over the last three events is greater than his year average, unsurprising given he has won the last two events. However in both cases it is still more than a point and a half less than Florence’s averages. That he is even in the hunt with such a dramatically lower AHS is remarkable.
If we drill down into the two’s previous at Pipeline, things gets a little tighter. Of the surfers who have surfed in three Pipelines Masters since 2014, it is Florence who has the highest AHS at the event. His 13.31 is followed by Kelly Slater (13.15) and then Medina (12.93), even if Medina has made the final twice in the last three years. Again that shows that Medina doesn’t always need big scores to win. He will simply do just enough to beat his opponent. And that’s all you ever need to do.
It’s worth a note that the other World Title contenders AHS at Pipeline is poor. Julian Wilson comes in 8th overall and Smith 10th. Both need the frontrunners to fall early and for them to win, however based on their historical numbers, that seems highly unlikely.
The stats, like the Jeep Leaderboard, indicate that this is very much a two-horse race. But in that race it has been John John Florence that has been consistently posting far better numbers than any of his peers. If we can forget the intangibles; his background at the break, his innate tuberiding ability and just look at the data, he has been, by far, the better competitive surfer for the last two years. There’s no indication that will change in the next 10 days.