Who’s entitled to what from here?
Since Mikey Wright was handed a wildcard into eight out of eleven world tour events last year, it’s fair to say the nature of wildcards and how they’re given has changed.
Mikey wasn’t the first to hold favour with the commissioner’s office—Yago scored back-to-back wildcards in 2017—but he definitely used it to the best effect, and in essence, forged a path to qualification that wasn’t available to surfers in previous years.
Whether you agreed with the amount of opportunities he was given or not, the fact remains the WSL saw a sufficient investment in giving Mikey and his mullet repeated starts and he in turn paid them back by nabbing a couple of big results.
And already we’ve seen a similar pattern emerging in 2019, with Reef Heazlewood putting in a big performance on the back of his Quikky Pro trials’ win and thus landing himself a berth down at Bells—but what happens from here?
Jacob Wilcox was the trials’ winner for the Rip Curl Pro, and while he might not have turned heads in the same way Reef did on the Gold Coast, he surfed his way to a quarter-final finish, which is better than Reef has done in either event.
That’s not to say Jacob deserves the next wildcard more than Reef does or vice versa, but you can see how things start to get blurry.
Does the WSL keep backing Reef, who’s currently ranked 16th on tour after two events, or do they back Jacob, who’s ranked a spot higher with just one start?
And how much do QS rankings come into play in making that decision?
As it stands now Reef is ranked 23rd, while Jacob isn’t even in the top 50.Meanwhile, Matt Banting is ranked 2nd (and with Jaddy sitting on top, is currently the highest non-CT surfer on the QS) and he’s yet to have a sniff.
Ethan Ewing missed the cut for the CT by one spot in Hawaii last year and as a result is probably somewhere near the top of the list for replacement wildcards, but again, nothing yet.
None of this is to criticise this new system from the WSL that rewards surfers who deliver when given a call up to the big stage, but you can see how the choice to give who what only gets more complicated as the year progresses.
With at least the next four events lacking major surf company sponsors, it’ll be interesting to see who’ll be given a chance.
A clear statement from the commissioner on why each wildcard is being awarded won’t perform the miracle of satisfying everybody, but it’ll at least give fans something solid to go off in what can sometimes seem a pretty subjective process.