John John Florence clinched his first WSL World Title in Peniche, Portugal. Video: WSL
Man, what a crazy year 2016 was for the WCT! Matt Wilkinson--the guy who rollerskated to the Bells event in 2015—took Snapper and Bells to take an early lead. Sebastian Zietz, who finished 26th in 2015 and is his own brand of fun, took the Margaret River contest as an alternate—only in because Wright and Durbidge were out with injuries. After not placing better than 9th in any WCT in 2015 or 2016, Keanu Asing took down France. And John John got his strategy game together to smash ‘em in Brazil and Portugal, as well as, grabbing 2nds at Jeffreys Bay and Tahiti, leading, of course, to his title. Sure, Medina, Smith and Slater took down a comp each and Fanning got back on the shark to win at Jeffrey’s Bay, but the year belonged to the young guns.
Sebastian Zietz goes down in heat 8 round three of the billabong pipe masters Photo: WSL / Tony Heff
Well, for starters, they’re shit hot surfers. Florence’s alley oops are so giant, the F.A.A. has started to reroute planes around WCT contest sites. We’re also seeing more variation beyond the air reverses Medina perfected, which is a godsend. The judges don’t like predictability and Vegas stopped taking bets on whether Medina would throw a reverse in a heat halfway through the year. Plus, Florence threw some solid old school carves in for good measure and guys like Andino and Wilko followed. There’s nothing anyone on the WCT can’t do and the level is only climbing higher.
Secondly, they can’t be intimidated. Slater and Irons used to beat guys before the heat even started. But that’s not happening anymore. The young guys throw proper respect to Slater, in particular, in most post-heat interviews, but the admiration stops when the heat horn sounds and the clock starts ticking down. They’re not getting suckered into bad waves. They’re not losing composure in the dying seconds of a heat (See Kanoa Igarashi’s Pipe heats against Smith and Slater—Wow!). They’re not giving up.
Slater. Slater had the worst start of his career with a 25th, 13th and 25th, sparking the typical ‘he’s done’ commentary. While he got it together by Fiji and finished the year strong (except for France—ewww), his slow start opened the door for Wilko and Zietz to gain momentum and for the rest of ‘em to sniff his fallibility. For the first time in surf history, Slater appeared mortal…well, as mortal as Slater will ever be. That being said, Slater is going to be fun to watch in 2017. His 2016 missteps lit a fire under his ass, but more than anything, his success in the back half of the year gave him confirmation that he still had what it took to win the title. Bad news for the rest of the guys. Remember, Slater’s not on tour to win here and there. He’s only there for a title and anything less is a disappointment. Yes, even at 44 and with nothing left to prove.
Kelly Slater at the Billabong Pipemasters Photo: WSL/Poullenot/Aquashot
So, who’s poised to take the title in 2017. My call is Florence again. He’s flying high with a year that included the Eddie, the title and the Triple Crown. He’s better than ever and now knows how to play the game. He’s dangerous in any conditions, boosting higher than anyone in Brazilian slop and threading the deepest barrels at Teahupoo and Pipe. He’s humble and his brothers keep his head in check. A lethal combo to be sure.
Slater will also be right up there and, truthfully, I’d love to see him retire with 12. Medina will try to do what needs to be done and he just may pull it off, but he needs to get away from the airs he knows he can do in his sleep and push himself. It’s a shame when one of the best surfers in the world is damn boring to watch.
The top 8 will be rounded out with (in no particular order):
-Kolohe Andino, who’s finally shaking off his golden boy, Trestles wunderkind persona and becoming a man.
- Matt Wilkinson, as he’s riding high from seeing the payoff of putting down the beers and picking up the weights.
-Jordy Smith. Always a title contender, but can’t quite seem to close the deal. There’s an x factor in the recesses of his brain he has to push past. When he does, he’ll be the Jordy we always expect him to be. But he won’t nab a title in 2017.
- Conner Coffin is our new resident powerhouse and while I tend to stay away from comparisons, the Occy resemblance is uncanny. Have to say, there’s even a little Richard Cram from the ‘80’s in there too. He’s no joke and the tail whippers should watch their back.
-Julian Wilson’s air game and longboard past flow sensibilities will keep him winning heats here and there. But enough to take the title? Personally, I don’t think so. I’d love him to prove me wrong, but at least in 2017, I don’t see it happening.
There are several dark horses I believe will catch a few off guard and cause consistent upsets.
-Remember how Stuart Kennedy came out of the gates at Snapper and had every CT pro talking about his style and equipment? Mind-blowing. But he didn’t follow it up. If he can, he’ll send a few home early.
-Leonardo Fioravanti has traveled with Slater heaps over the past bunch of years and apparently the kid was taking notes. He’s fearless, solid and super happy to be on tour. Many other guys won’t be so stoked to draw him.
-Josh Kerr. Always liked Kerrzy. He toned down his early dominant air game to cement a solid presence on the ‘CT and always seems on the verge of blowing up and winning comps. Like Slater, he only gets better with age and with a family in tow, I don’t believe he’s content with Top 16. He’s got a fire in him that’s intriguing and it may prove too hot for a bunch of guys this year.
2017 will be a good year for fans, for sure. Nobody will dominate and every contest will be anyone’s opportunity. Plus, the level of surfing will not just rise above 2016, it will destroy it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see 540’s, legit backflips and the gnarliest carves we’ve seen in a long time. So, strap in and enjoy the ride. It’s gonna be siiiiick!