Stats help Aussie WSL men bridge gap

Owen Wright is currently the leading Australian on the World Surf League Championship Tour.
Owen Wright is currently the leading Australian on the World Surf League Championship Tour.

Australian surfing has turned to analytics to end Brazil's "golden era" as the country's male contingent face their worst season in nearly 25 years.

Owen Wright (seventh) will be Australia's highest-ranked man on the World Surf League's Championship Tour entering Hawaii's Pipe Masters finale in December.

Not since 1995, when Matt Hoy finished equal sixth, has an Australian man not featured in the top five at season's end.

Since then Mark Occhilupo, Mick Fanning (three) and Joel Parkinson have won titles ahead of a host of other Australian contenders, while Julian Wilson has flirted with a crown in recent years.

A world title runner-up in 2008, Bede Durbidge now heads Surfing Australia's elite performance program and admits Brazilian trio Gabriel Medina, Filipe Toledo and Italo Ferreira are causing some headaches with their aerial prowess.

"The Brazilian boys and (Hawaii's) Kolohe Andino and (South African) Jordy Smith are so far ahead right now (in the tour's top five); it's definitely been a tough year for our boys," he said.

"Those three are just pushing each other and, like we had with Parko, Mick and the rest, it's a golden era of their own."

But with a new focus on analytics - Surfing Australia statisticians now collate data on every wave surfed on tour - Durbidge is confident the men can keep up with a sport that's quickly transforming.

"All the crew on tour can do incredible airs, it's just about bringing up the percentages because the stats show that the Brazilians' strike rates are just a lot higher," he said.

"Compared to when I was on tour there's been a shift in approach, judges are rewarding progressive and innovative surfing and we need to adapt to that."

Wilson (10th), Ryan Callinan (11th), Wade Carmichael (15th) and Adrian Buchan (16th) trail Wright, while Portugal Pro quarter-finalist Jack Freestone (19) can surge up the list if he wins the title this week.

The women's program remains dominant, with Australians winning 17 of the 21 titles since Layne Beachley claimed the first of her seven in 1998.

Australia's top two men and women will compete in surfing's Olympic debut next year, with the men set to jostle for spots at a high-stakes Pipe Masters to join Sally Fitzgibbons and Stephanie Gilmore in Tokyo.

"The talent is there and (to get ahead again) we have to keep thinking what surfing is going to look like in 10 years time and keep pushing the boundaries," Durbidge said.

Australian Associated Press