NewsJoel Parkinson

Why World Title Surf-Offs Are So Compelling

A World Title was decided in a winner-takes-all final last year, and it was one of the most exciting moments in over a decade of competitive surfing.

When Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira paddled out at Pipeline, only one of them was going to bag surfing's greatest prize, and we all knew neither of them was willing to give an inch.

OAHU, UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 19: Italo Ferreira of Brazil winning his maiden WSL World Title and his maiden 2019 Billabong Pipe Masters after winning the final at Pipeline on December 19, 2019 in Oahu, United States. (Photo by Kelly Cestari/WSL via Gett Italo Ferreira WSL / Kelly Cestari

That was the Holy Grail of our sport -- a title race that went down to the very last heat of the year. But the the trouble is, they don't come around often.

That's about to change. World Surf League CEO Erik Logan has announced that, under a revised Tour format for 2021 and beyond, the World Title will now be decided with a two-person surf-off.

For another example of why this change will be a pressure cooker for compelling, get-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat moments, you only need to look back to the last time, prior to 2019, that the Title went down to a final at the year's penultimate event.

Kelly 2003 Kelly 2003 WSL / Pierre Tostee

It was 2003, and Andy Irons and Kelly Slater were engaged in the fiercest rivalry surfing had seen, and probably ever will see. The Title was decided in the final event, in the very last heat of a year in which Slater had made a full-time return to competition following an extended break.

Andy and Kelly Andy and Kelly WSL / Pierre Tostee

Andy and Kelly had been squaring off for months. Slater was already surfing's biggest name, and Andy an explosive star on the ascendancy. It came down to the wire.

Andy secured a second World Title, pouring even more fuel on the fire between these two athletes. This was a match-up that forced to you to pick a side (Joel Parkinson even infamously blocked Kelly for Andy in the four-man final) and to take notice, much like last year, when two equally-talented but unquestionably different athletes had to go head-to-head at Pipe.

You only need to look at the faces of Italo Ferreira and Gabriel Medina, or Andy and Kelly in 2003, to see how much emotion, passion and competitive fury is involved with having to fight right until the very last buzzer.

And we won't have to wait 16 years between World Title surf-offs anymore.

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