July 22, 2015
by Christopher Parker (@wheresbossman)

Bad Date: Australia’s Campaign For The 2016 ISA Worlds Is Already In Trouble

ISA Team Australia

The 2016 ISA World Championship is still a good 8-10 months away, however some of the medals may have already been decided. That’s because Australia, the winningest nation in ISA history, just changed the dates of its National Titles selection event to a weekend where virtually all its best paddlers will be overseas.

The Aussie Titles, the event solely responsible for deciding Australia’s team for the Worlds, was originally set for mid-November. However a few weeks ago the national governing body, Surfing Australia, brought the event forward to October 11th-15th. The same weekend as the big Pacific Paddle Games…

The Pacific Paddle Games, the new & improved replacement for the Battle of the Paddle, is happening in California on October 10th & 11th. Even in its inaugural year, the PPGs are already expected to be one of the biggest international races on the calendar. And almost all the top Aussies will be there.

Right now it’s unlikely that Australia will have any more than 1 or 2 of its 12 best paddlers competing at the 2015 national titles (and therefore available for the 2016 national team). That’s going to hurt big time, especially seeing they’re now the under-dogs after Team USA swept the event in Sayulita and ended the Aussies’ glorious winning streak.

Australia has 10 guys ranked inside the world’s top 40 paddlers right now. That’s more than any other nation; Hawaii has 9, France 5, USA 4. I just polled all 10 of these guys to see if they plan on competing: Almost everyone said they’ll be at the Pacific Paddle Games and not at the nationals.

So far nobody has said they’re definitely going to compete at the Aussies. Only Toby Cracknell, who will probably miss the Pacific Paddle Games due to work commitments, is a likely starter, along with James Casey. However both those guys said they’d prefer the original dates.

Interestingly, pretty much every single one of these athletes was available on the original Aussie Titles dates in mid-November. That even included Australia’s highest ranked paddler, Travis Grant, who was likely to fly back from his new home in Hawaii just to compete at his first Aussie Titles. Assuming Travis kept his world-beating form going til November and qualified for the team, that would have done wonders for Australia’s chances at the 2016 Worlds.

The Aussie Titles does have a window from Monday 12th October through Wednesday 14th for the course race, while the distance race is set for Thursday 15th. So it would be theoretically possible to hop on a plane late Sunday night after the Pacific Paddle Games, fly back to Australia and arrive early on Tuesday morning. But that would be an absolutely insane travel schedule and no way to recover from/prepare for a major race. Plus a couple of the top paddlers from Australia will probably fly directly from California to Hawaii for the Turtle Bay race on the 18th/19th.

Availability of Australia’s Top Ranked Paddlers for the 2016 National Team
Will you compete at the Aussie Titles on the new dates in October?
Would you have competed on the original dates in November?

(#4) Travis Grant: October NO / November MAYBE
(#5) Jake Jensen: October NO / November YES
(#11) Beau O’Brian: October NO / November YES
(#14) Kelly Margetts: October NO / November YES
(#20) Lincoln Dews: October NO / November YES
(#23) Matt Nottage: October NO / November YES
(#35) James Casey: October MAYBE / November YES
(#36) Michael Booth: October NO / November YES
(#37) Toby Cracknell: October MAYBE / November YES
(#39) Jayden Jensen: October NO / November YES

(The number in brackets is their current world ranking)

So if Surfing Australia sticks to its strict policy of selecting its national team team based on the winners of the Aussie Titles, and assuming the top guys all compete in California that weekend, the once mighty nation will be severe underdogs at the 2016 Worlds.

The story isn’t much better on the women’s side, with Australia’s top two – world number six Angie Jackson and #7 Terrene Black – both saying they’d be in California and unavailable for the Aussie Titles/national team selection.

It’s an unfortunate situation for Surfing Australia, who have actually done a better job than most national governing bodies in trying to promote the sport and organise competitive national teams. But whether it’s their fault or not (and it’s probably not – the PPGs announcement did come rather late), the fact remains that Australia’s 2016 team will be uncompetitive unless Surfing Australia:

a) changes the dates of the Aussie Titles

or b) changes the national team selection criteria

I reached out to Surfing Australia for comment and will update this story once they respond. Hopefully we can find a resolution, otherwise the Americans and Hawaiians might as well start popping the champagne already…

ISA World Champions Team Australia

Team Australia during brighter days… (photo: International Surfing Association)