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Understanding the World Surf League’s Mid-Year Cutoff and What It Means for Our Favorite World Tour Competitors

Understanding the World Surf League’s Mid-Year Cutoff and What It Means for Our Favorite World Tour Competitors

If you’re as big a fan of professional surfing as we are, then you may have found yourself wondering what the commentary team at the Bells Beach Pro were talking about when they kept referencing the mid-year cutoff. For those of you who still don’t fully understand the World Surf League’s new format—and we don’t blame you, because it’s painfully complicated—here’s a comprehensive explanation of how it works and how it affects your favorite competitors.

First of all, as in year’s past, the WSL Championship tour has 10 stops. The biggest differences in the schedule this year is that the men and women are surfing all 10 stops together, as well as the fact that Sunset, G-Land, and El Salvador are all on tour this year, while Snapper Rocks, Mexico, and Fiji are not. Oh, and just for good measure, the tour started in Hawaii this year instead of ending here.

Halfway through the season, after five events have been contested (Pipeline, Sunset, Supertubos in Portugal, and Bells Beach and Margaret River in Australia), there is a mid-year cutoff. At this point, the men’s tour roster is cut down from 36 to 22 surfers, while the women’s is cut down from 18 to 10. The idea here is to cut away any deadweight so that the events in the second half of the year can be shorter and therefore more likely to score good conditions through the entire contests.

Understanding the World Surf League’s Mid-Year Cutoff and What It Means for Our Favorite World Tour Competitors

Once the mid-year cut happens, the tour contests five more events at G-Land, Surf City (El Salvador), J-Bay, Rio, and Teahupoo. At this point, the top five rated men and top five rated women all move to the WSL Finals, which is a one-day event held at Trestles in September. The fifth-rated athlete will surf a heat against the fourth-rated athlete, with the winner moving on to surf against the third-rated athlete, then the winner of that moving on to surf against the second-rated athlete.

The winner of that heat will then surf three heats against the top-rated athlete, with the best-of-three winner being crowned world champion.

At the same time, everyone who makes it through the mid-year cut after Margaret River automatically requalifies for the 2023 world tour.

Anyone who doesn’t make the cut misses out on the second half of the season, which means they don’t surf in Indonesia, El Salvador, South Africa, Brazil, and Tahiti. They also don’t automatically qualify for the 2023 world tour. Instead, they are directly seeded into the Challenger Series, which runs from May through December. The Challenger Series is essentially all of the 10,000-point events from the qualifying series (formerly known as 6-star events), with contests at Snapper Rocks (Queensland), Manly Beach (Sydney), Ballito (South Africa), Huntington Beach (California), Ericeira (Portugal), Hossegor (France), Saquerema (Brazil), and Haleiwa.

The Challenger events will be made up of the leftover surfers from the championship tour (after the cut), as well as anyone who qualifies for the events based on their points from smaller qualifying tour events. The top 12 men on and top 7 women on the Challenger Series at the end of the year will qualify for the 2023 championship tour, along with those who made it through the mid-year cut.

If you are confused by any of this, don’t feel bad—it’s a crazy, complex system that half of the world tour hasn’t figured out yet. What they have figured out is that after the Margaret River event—which starts in a few days), a bunch of them will be going home early, their championship tour careers effectively ended (unless they can put in a big performance on the Challenger Series).

After four events (Bells finished this weekend, as we are sure you are aware, with Felipe Toledo and Tyler Wright winning in dominant fashion), a total of 13 men and 4 women have officially made the cut and clinched spots in the second half of the year, based on their current points. These include Felipe Toledo, Kanoa Igarashi, John John Florence, Kelly Slater, Barron Mamiya, Callum Robson, Italo Ferreira, Ethan Ewing, Caio Ibelli, Miguel Pupo, Seth Moniz, Griffin Colapinto, and Jack Robinson on the men’s side, and Carissa Moore, Tyler Wright, Brisa Hennessy, and Lakey Peterson on the women’s side.

Where it gets interesting is in numbers 14 through 22 on the men’s side and numbers 5 through 10 on the women’s side. These spots are all up for grabs at Margaret River, although the surfers who are already ranked highly obviously have an advantage, as they are simply trying to defend their spots on tour with a decent result, rather than needing to make up ground with a huge semifinal or final finish. At the moment, Johanne Defay, Tatiana Weston-Webb, Malia Manuel, India Robinson, Steph Gilmore, and Courtney Conlogue are currently above the cut line, while technically every other full-time competitor on tour is theoretically within striking distance if they win at Margaret River, or even with lesser results if the surfers ahead of them on the ratings slip up. This includes Sally Fitzgibbons and Hawaiians Gabriela Bryan, Luana Silva, and Bettylou Sakura Johnson.  

On the men’s side, big names like Jordy Smith, Kolohe Andino, and Nat Young are all pretty safely within the 22 cutoff, while local boy Ezekiel Lau and rookies Jake Marshall, Samuel Pupo, Jackson Baker, and Lucca Mesinas are right on the bubble. This is especially dangerous for the rookies considering that power brokers like Conner Coffin, Owen Wright, and Frederico Morais sit right behind them in 23rd, 24th, and 25th spots and have all proven their skills in open-ocean waves like Margaret River in the past. The cutoff number will likely be around 14,500 points, so theoretically anyone from 32nd ranked Matthew McGillivray and up could break into the top 22 with a win at Margarets, although we are more likely to see big moves from the guys who are only a few thousand points behind the bubble.

No matter what happens, Margaret River is going to be a make-or-break event for a lot of people on tour this year. And once the dust settles in Western Australia, we will have a much better idea of what the back half of the season is going to look like!