The ASP’s most fundamental shift in two decades is well underway

The ASP World Tour as you’ve known it is no more.

The full impact of the changes announced last fall during the European leg are now being realized, and they’re much more significant than first thought. Apparently Slater’s threats weren’t in vain.

The reason for the surprise? Well, the ASP didn’t actually implement their new “world ranking” system until the beginning of this year. Word on the street is the process was a much more painful to figure out than anticipated (which explains why they unveiled it with very little fanfare).

The major sticking point was deciding how to properly format the new “world ranking” that will ultimately control a surfers destiny in the years ahead. Valuing the ASP’s various tiers: World Tour, Prime, and Star events, was no easy feat, as each level’s results had to be merged into the larger ranking picture.

When their homework was finally completed the ruling was to punish losers and reward winners more significantly at every level. Going forward, this means there will be a much higher turnover at the top ranks, and job security for surfers like Jay Thompson (above) will be non-existent as ranking volatility increases.

Ultimately, the best part of these changes is surfers can rise faster than ever before to the world championship level. The scariest part (for them) is they can fall just as fast.

Most fans are already aware this season has been essentially cut in half. Indeed, after stop number five in Tahiti, the 12 lowest ranked surfers on the current World Tour will be sent back to the minors as the field is reduced to 32. Only the top 22 of the remaining 32 will qualify for the 2011 World Tour based on their World Title ranking. The remaining 10 slots will be filled by using the all-inclusive “world ranking.”

All points earned — regardless of tier level — count toward a surfers World Ranking.

While things out on the World Tour just got a lot tougher, with the new world ranking the Prime and Star rated events play a much more significant — and immediate — role in the larger picture as well.

In fact, the payoffs available in Prime and 6 Star events are now impossible for World Tour surfers to ignore, which is why 33 of the Top 45 showed up at Margaret River for the recent Prime event there. The Nike Pro at Trestles, Hurley U.S. Open in Huntington and Cold Water Classic in Santa Cruz is slated to be stacked as well.

Why are the big guns showing up? Well, the breakdown on the right will help explain it. Note how even a 37th place finish in a Prime event (the second tier in blue) will net him 368 more points than yet another 33rd in a World Tour event (in black). Frankly, this is as it should be, since a 33rd on the World Tour is a last place finish, and a 37th place finish in a Prime event means that surfer made it through a couple tough rounds.

A surfer that actually goes on to win a PRIME event will net as many points as if he finished in 3rd place in a World Tour event, which will play a huge factor in boosting his world ranking, whether he’s already on the tour or not.

The greater meaning of all this is the minor leagues aren’t so minor any more. That’s a good thing for surfing fans.

What’s most encouraging about this new rating system is it takes solid results to survive at every tier. Mediocrity is being punished, while winning pays more than before. In fact, this year the point spread between a last place finish (33rd) and World Tour win is 9500 points — a 73% jump from 2009. The spread between a win and 17th place is 50% larger; 9th place by 26%; 5th by 15%; 3rd by 11%, and 2nd place by 7%.

In other words, the thrill of victory is growing…but so too is the agony of defeat.

Come 2011, those factors will be magnified as the ASP says it will be constantly refreshing it’s World Tour events using the up to date world ranking. It has yet to be decided how often they’ll be hitting the reset button, but the fact is one no longer has to wait until the year’s end to climb to the top (or fall out of it).

A surfers world ranking will be based on the best 8 results of the last 12 months, regardless of where we are in the current season. So while the year-end ranking will matter if you’re shooting for a world title, the process of moving up and down the ranks will be much more fluid throughout the year.

With events at every level weighing much heavier in the big picture, things are sure to get a lot more interesting.