Plain and simple: The judges got it wrong at Bells

Courtney Conlogue moved atop the Championship Tour rankings with a win at Bells Beach on Friday, topping Sally Fitzgibbons in the final. Conlogue has reached the final at the season’s first two stops as she tries to better her second-place overall finish from a year ago.

But my focus is on a result a bit earlier when Malia Manuel took on Stephanie Gilmore in round four, because the scorecards didn’t do justice to what transpired in the water.

In the ledger, it will go down as a narrow Gilmore win that moved her into the quarterfinals. Only that isn’t what actually happened.

Malia won that heat.

Now, any time judges are asked to determine winners and losers, it opens the door to skepticism. Take boxing. How often to we reach the end of 12 rounds and mentally prepare ourselves for a terrible decision?

The judging on the WSL is usually good. It’s at least consistent. Bad decisions don’t occur all that frequently and the fact that every single wave is scored by outside eyes means they do have plenty of opportunities to screw up.

But they got this one wrong and it seemed as if everyone knew it.

We talk about home field advantage and what a huge impact it can have on a competition. Whether or not there was any sort of home cooking for Gilmore, or if she simply got the nod for being a six-time world champ in a fairly early round, is an unknown. But it wasn’t because she surfed a better heat, because she didn’t.

This isn’t the first time Manuel has been on the short end of a questionable decision. It’s also not the first time she has voiced her displeasure at the outcome.

She had a 2014 heat with Pauline Ado at the Swatch Women’s Pro where Manuel surfed very well, though Ado got the result. She posted on Instagram that she disagreed with the decision and wondered why some of the characteristics that seem to score well on the men’s side aren’t getting the same respect from the judges in the women’s events.

This recent result, to me, was more clear cut and an even stronger case of injustice. Manuel had the most critical maneuver of the heat and simply outsurfed Gilmore, who got the necessary score late on a very mediocre wave. Malia’s big wave barely reached the excellent range (8.33), but Gilmore somehow topped it with only some repetitive wraps for an 8.67.

Afterwards, Malia tweeted “Is it April Fools today or something?”

I don’t blame her. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing near upsets undone in the closing minutes of a heat where the favorite finds the necessary wave and puts together a clear statement of victory. That didn’t happen here. Gilmore, who is certainly as great a surfer as the women’s world tour has ever seen, backed into a win she didn’t earn.

Malia seemed as if she had taken matters out of the judges’ hands with a fairly one-sided win, but things still didn’t go her way. Carissa Moore surfed out of her mind (totaling a 19.23) in the quarters against Gilmore, so this was likely just a difference between ninth and fifth for Manuel, but that can still be a substantial difference at season’s end.

Playing College Football Playoff games on New Year’s Eve. Throwing the ball from the 1-yard line with Marshawn Lynch on your team. Hiring Isiah Thomas to do anything. There have been a lot of bad decisions in sports and there will continue to be many, many more.

This one doesn’t quite make that esteemed list, but it seemed like a pretty bad mistake. Hopefully this is the last time Malia is on the short end of a questionable decision.


David Simon can be reached at


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