The WSL has announced a new CT format for both Men’s and Women’s events in 2019. They aren’t drastic changes, but for the pro surf nerd there is still plenty to digest. We take a look at the changes, the possible implications and a few of the alternatives that were overlooked.  

What Is It?

As before the Men's Round one comprises 12 three-person heats, however first and second place goes straight into a one-on-one Round Three. The 12 third placers from Round 1 heats go into round two where they surf in another four three-person heats. First two go through, the third placers are shot, I mean eliminated. 

The format is repeated for the Women’s just with 6 three-person heats in Round 1, three in Round 2 and one-on-one heats from Round 3. 

The Main Differences

From Round 3 all heats will be only two surfers, as opposed to last year, when Round 4 still had a no loser’s round. That Round has effectively been pushed back to Round 2. 

Any Other Changes? 

All head-to-head heats now have the option to ‘overlap', also known as the Slater format, which is often used at the Pipe Masters. This means two heats can run at the same time and cut down on the total event running time. 

What Are The Implications? 

Strangely the new format involves the exact same amount of heats, 47 in the Mens and 23 in the Women’s, as the old system. While it’s generally been agreed that events need to be shorter to maximise better surf, this format change doesn’t address that, although the overlapping heats will help. 

The Loser’s Rounds

It’s now possible for a surfer to fail to win their first two heats (finishing 2nd or 3rd in Round 1 and 2nd in Round 2) and still go on to win the event. That’s because there are no sudden deaths heats until Round 3. 

What They Said

"Our goal is to further raise performance levels with a surfer-first mentality, while also engaging the fans. We hope that going straight to head-to-head matchups from Round 3 onwards will drive more direct competition while making the format more engaging for viewers.” Sophie Goldschmidt, WSL CEO

“There is no discernible benefit in winning in either Round 1 or 2. It’s a double loser’s round. All that time will be burned, to eliminate just four people. It’s an awful way to start an event.” Nick Carroll, less enthusiastic, writing in Surfline. 

Potential Alternative Formats

Most of the format issues arise from the unwieldy 36 and 18 surfer fields. With that maths there will always have to be one non surfer-on-surfer round. However keeping the same numbers, you could eliminate third place in Round 1, leaving 24 surfers in the Men’s. That would mean 12 man-on-man heats in Round 2 and then four, three man heats in Round 3. If third place is eliminated that would leave the Quarterfinals and so on. That system requires a total of 34 heats in the Mens, cut down from 47, and every heat matters. 

More brutal would be to reduce the number of surfers. You could have 32 surfers in the Men’s and 16 in the Women’s and then make every heat sudden death from the off. Not something the surfers might go for, but it sure would add real jeopardy from the very first hooter.