Quick—who has the best backhand on tour? I’ve got money that says 99 percent of you will have answered with a goofyfoot—maybe Gabriel Medina (he’s so hot right now), or Nat Young (last year’s rookie of the year). Owen Wright looks strong on his much heralded return from injury, and who doesn't take pleasure from Matt Wilkinson's vicious backside tail drifts? You might even have claimed veteran CJ Hobgood, who has been throwing his butt around since long before the rest of the goofies on tour ever heard the word “pigdog."
I’m willing to bet, however, that very few of you named regularfoots, like Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, Taj Burrow, Josh Kerr or Michel Bourez. In fact, aside from Adriano’s Brazilian Floatergate a few years ago and Kelly’s dominant performances at Cloudbreak/Restaurants over the past few decades, I’d go so far as to suggest that you probably can’t even remember the last time you saw a world tour regularfoot with his back against the wall.
What’s up with that? I’ll tell you in a second. But first, a few statistics:
Percentage of goofyfoots on tour: approximately 33%
Percentage of goofyfoots in the top 10 since 2005: approximately 20%
Percentage of goofyfoot world champions since 2001: 0%
We surf backside around 50% of the time, right? Not on the World Tour.
Granted, the Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, and Andy Irons juggernaut has accounted for 11 of the past 12 world titles. But the competitive dominance of these three surfers notwithstanding, statistically speaking we should have seen at least three goofyfooted world champs since CJ Hobgood won in 2001. And the screwfoots should definitely be better represented in the top 10, especially if they are the first surfers who pop to mind when we consider backhand surfing. After all, we surf backside around 50% of the time, right? Not on the World Tour.
Let’s take a look at the stops on tour, how the waves break, and who historically ends up winning the events held there:
Snapper Rocks is a small right-hand point break that favours high performance surfing and occasionally offers up tight, technical, down-the-line barrels. Aside from Gabriel Medina’s win this year, no goofyfoot has won Snapper since Mick Lowe—and if you are under the age of 35, you probably don’t even know who that is.
Bells Beach is a fat right-hand point, and the backup venue Winkipop is a somewhat less fat right-hand point. The last goofyfoot to win Bells was Occy in 1998.
Margaret River is a new event on tour, and features a powerful if not exactly hollow reef breaking both left and right. However, there were probably less than a dozen scored waves on the left this year, and that will hold true anytime the swell is under eight foot. When the swell is above eight foot, the event will likely be moved to North Point, which is another right-hand point that has been the downfall of more than a few backsiders.
Brazil is typically held in semi-contestable beach break, so sand placement is a major factor in deciding what direction the waves are breaking.
Cloudbreak and Restaurants are both powerful, hollow Fijian reef pass lefts that are won predominantly through barrel riding. Because the waves are usually large and top-to-bottom, pigdogging levels the playing field, and past winners are pretty evenly distributed between the goofy and regularfoot camps.
J-Bay is back on tour this year (finally!), and feature a fast, down-the-line right-hand point break that lends itself to fast, down-the-line performance surfing. It has never been won by a goofyfoot.
Tahiti (Teahupoo): See “Fiji.”
Trestles is half peak, half right-hand cobblestone point, and offers up rippable waves in both directions. However, the rights tend to score better, as evidenced by the fact that a goofy hasn’t won in over 10 years.
This is an incredibly unbalanced tour that heavily favours performance surfing on rights and barrel riding on lefts. No wonder we have no idea how well the tour’s regularfoots surf on their backhands.
Like Brazil, France is held in beach breaks, and when it’s small there are roughly the same number of opportunities on rights and left. Unlike Brazil, the waves tend to be large and hollow, and the barrels seem to prefer breaking right rather than left. Nonetheless, the playing field is relatively even, and we have seen two goofyfoot wins in the past 10 years, which is a lot closer to what we’d expect from the ratio on tour.
Portugal: See “France.”
Pipeline is another hollow, top-to-bottom left-hand barrel that lends itself to pigdogging as well as it does to frontside barrel riding. However, the right-hand barrel at Backdoor features much more heavily during the contest most years (due to swell direction)—and Backdoor is a technical, semi-closed out tube that is notoriously unfriendly to backsiders. The event hasn't been won by a goofyfoot since Rob Machado in 2000—and that was the last time (aside from this past year) that the lefts of Pipe featured prominently in the contest.
Are we beginning to detect a pattern here?
The tour basically includes three beach breaks; two left-hand reef pass barrels that require little more than balls, commitment, and a good line; five performance right-handers that are nearly always won by frontsiders; and Backdoor (with an occasional appearance by Pipeline). This is an incredibly unbalanced tour that heavily favours performance surfing on rights and barrel riding on lefts. No wonder we have no idea how well the tour’s regularfoots surf on their backhands—and no wonder the goofies can’t seem to get a toe-hold in the world title race (Medina’s current ranking excepted). For the past 10 years or so, the ASP Top 5 has remained pretty much static, and has been populated almost exclusively by surfers who ride with their left feet forward. But are these the five best surfers in the world, or simply the five best suited to the type of surfing the tour favors? Does our current schedule inspire creativity and the development of a wide range of skills, or insipid adherence to a tired, lopsided competitive formula?
Ask yourself this:
If the tour was flipped, and the waves at the 11 venues were mirror images of themselves, how many world titles would Kelly, Andy, Mick, and Joel have won in the past 12 years?
Margaret River, and at least one of the four right-hand points, need to be replaced with events at Raglan and the sand-bottom points of northern Peru.
Here’s what I’d like to see done: First of all, Margaret River, and at least one of the four right-hand points, need to be replaced with events at Raglan and the sand-bottom points of northern Peru. And then, for good measure, let’s just dump another right-hand point all together. Then let’s get rid of Brazil (because honestly, aside from marketing value and throngs of beautiful people, that event is pretty much worthless), and add two big, hollow right-hand reef pass barrels—maybe somewhere in the Pacific and somewhere in Indo (because a tour without Indo really isn’t a tour at all). Then, just to make things interesting, let’s add two big wave events—either Mavs and Punta Lobos, or a couple of waves that go both ways, like Jaws and Puerto Escondido. That would give us an equal number of right- and left-hand point breaks, reef passes, and big wave spots, plus a couple beach breaks and Pipe/Backdoor to complete the package. Then—and only then—will we see who the best surfer in the world really is (not to mention who has the best backhand).
*Before you write this rant off as the bitter whinging of a goofy conspiracy theorist, pick up the next surf magazine you see, flip through its pages, and tally up the images of frontside vs backside surfing. It is incredibly rare to find backside surfing represented in more than 25% of a magazine’s images. Could this suggest that frontside surfing is roughly three times more pleasing to look at (and therefore more likely to score high in a contest)? This regularfoot thinks so.
Words by Matt Rott.