All eyes on JJF. (Frieden)

All The Results, Controversies And Happenings Of The 2018 WSL World Tour As They Will Definitely Happen

…Probably maybe

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Hi. Last year Surfing World Magazine asked me, Mike William Jennings of Mentone Beach, Australia, son of Kevin, daughter of umm… no-one, I’m not a daughter…, to write a big old feature predicting where the men and women on the World Surf League Championship Tour would feature by the year’s end.

I did lots of work. Looked at stars. Wrote mathematical equations on whiteboards with permanent marker. Stared deep into my tea leaves for signs of Michel Bourez. Burnt the angelic face of Stephanie Gilmore into my morning toast. Googled pictures of Julian Wilson’s hairline. And then I wrote that Mick Fanning and Carissa Moore would be World Champions and Leo Fioravanti would win the men’s rookie of the year race by a nautical mile. Mick ended up finishing 12th, Carissa seventh, and Leo Fioravanti finished 26th and didn’t even requalify on the QS – all of their worst years ever. Clearly, I have the magic touch. Thanks to my excellent record, I am once again going to look into my crystal ballbag, and see what I find. Thanks. Thank. Thank you. Merry surfing.

“Mick Fanning retiring? Surely Jennings has lost the plot on this one. Surely.” Were the words uttered at the time of print. And look at us now, eating every last one of them like a sad old salad sandwich left out in the sun. Gone are the days, farewell to our heroes, so long Mick! Meanwhile Jennings retains his 1 in 200 strike rate. (Wilson)

MICK FANNING
Will Retire From Competitive Surfing At The Rip Curl Pro (Yep, Jennings* Is A Genius After All)

At the time of print they told me I had lost the plot. But look where we are now. It can be hard to type predictions about surfing when you have to keep blowing your nose and wiping tears from your laptop keyboard before their salinity cuts into the circuitry and stops the laptop from working. Then what what do you have? A CT without Mick Fanning and a broken laptop. Some life that’d be. But we must all face this horrible truth: Mick Fanning, our three time World Champion Mick Fanning, the shark punching overcomer of every conceivable obstacle Mick Fanning, the face of Australian surfing Mick Fanning, will hang up the contest rashie this year. He’ll do it at Bells, the event run by his career-sponsor Rip Curl, the event he has won more than any other (four times!) and the event that he won first as a 19-year-old wildcard back in 2001. It will be a big ol’ celebration and we will get to look back at the ridiculous and amazing CT surfing career Mick has taken us on. And Taylor Knox will be there too, and he’ll be smiling and maybe he’ll even have a big handlebar moustache. Yes. It will be raining on the day of Mick’s final heat. And as Mick is carried up the stairs, everyone getting all wet as they high five him, surfing will feel empty. “Don’t cry because it’s over,” Joe Turpel will say on the broadcast, “Smile because it happened.” “Yep, that’s what you’ve gotta do,” Martin Potter will respond.

*This is why we don’t place bets with Mike Jennings, 2016 women’s fantasy surfer runner-up / all seeing psychic genius.

 

KELLY SLATER
Will Also Announce His Own Retirement

Never one to be outshone, following the announcement of Mick’s retirement, Kelly Slater will join in on the party with his own big announcement. “I’m out, too!” This should be of little surprise given that before Slater broke his foot at J-Bay last year, he had one fifth place finish, three 13ths, and he didn’t bother going to Rio due to a back injury, which is fair, but the old Kelly probably would have surfed through that injury. Therein lies the difference between old Kelly and old Kelly. Had Kelly not broken his foot, there was every possibility he was on his way to not requalifying for the 2018 CT, which is equally as hard to believe as it is significant. So, again, we must face the inevitable horror that is a future of competitive surfing without Kelly Slater. Slater’s last event will be the Surf Ranch Open in Lemoore California in September – bookending a competitive surfing career that he not only dominated and stamped himself upon as the greatest to ever do it, but that will be completely revolutionised by his own Willy Wonka wave pool creation. Looking around the fenced in enclosure of Slater’s wave on his last proper competitive day, it’ll be pretty clear that what pro surfing turns into beyond 2018 will be recognised as the house that Kelly built.

 

Much like Gabby Medina, Carissa Moore saved 2017 from complete disaster with a blinding turn and sprint into the home straight that saw her fall only a few heats short of the World Title. This year she’ll be looking to lead from the start in hopes of shaking up Tyler Wright, a two-time World Champ who has ditched her cheeky, carefree, podium-dancing persona and replaced it with a competitive mindset that is ice cold and confident. And with Courtney, Sally and Steph all still aching from their own capitulations last year, the 2018 Women’s Tour might not be the bubbly best-friends fest we’ve come to know over the past decade. A wild year looms. (Poullenot)

THE WOMEN’S WORLD TITLE
Will Be A Two Horse Race, Won By Tyler Wright

Did you know that other than Tyler Wright there are no two time World Champion women in WSL/ASP history. You have to go all the way back to the IPS days to Lynn Boyer to find another two time World Champ. Did you also know that when a female World Champ wins their first two world titles in a row, they go on to win at least four. Steph, Layne, Lisa, Frieda all have four or more titles, and other than Frieda Zamba, they won at least four in a row straight off the bat. Tyler Wright will keep that tradition in 2018. She won the 2017 World Title in a year she ruptured the ligament in her knee and commentators the world over wrote her off. If she stays injury free in 2018, it’s hard to see the likes of Steph, Sally, Carissa or Courtney challenging her. She’s worked pro surfing out. Her toughest rival in 2018 will be Carissa Moore. Much like Gabriel Medina, Carissa had a shocking 2017, absolutely terrible, but was jolted back into action after winning the wave pool exhibition comp in September and finally got past the quarter-finals for the first time in the year in October when she finalled in Portugal. She won at France in the same month, but by then, the year was too far gone. If she rides that consistency in to 2018, she could possibly put the brakes on Tyler. But that Tyler train is a tough one to derail. The other possibility is that Steph Gilmore wins the World Title and equals Layne Beachley’s record of seven World Titles. Just putting that here to cover my bases. Bases. Covered.

 

The best thing about Wilko’s rise from mid-ranking journeyman to World Title contender is how much fun it is watching him win. And this year Jennings believes he’s got a Pipe or Chopes victory in him! Bring on the goats! Bring on the llamas! Bring on the rollerblading perm! Go Wilko! (Corey Wilson)

MATT WILKINSON
Will Adopt A Baby Llama

Did you know that after Wilko won Fiji in 2017 he held a big old party at his home on the NSW north coast, and the star of the evening was a billy goat? A literal goat, from a farm, that was celebrated and held aloft alongside Wilko’s Fiji trophy. For the past three years, Wilko has improved his year-round consistency and become a better competitive machine than the year prior.. Expect the same this year, Wilko will win a big event (Teahupoo or Pipe) and in celebration he will adopt a baby llama which will hopefully accompany him to all future events on the CT. He will name it Taj Burrow.

 

JORDY SMITH
A lot of people will lose money on a Jordy Smith World Title campaign… again.

Jordy Smith is amazing. Yes. True. And when the conditions favour him, he is damn near unbeatable. Pumping Bells? No problem. Rippable Trestles? Too easy. But the events of Pipe, Teahupoo and the two legs in Europe are too much of a problem for Jordy at the moment. And so is the new inclusion of the Surf Ranch – unless it gets a redesign and is four feet bigger this year. And those five events make up 45% of the season! The removal of Trestles is also a bummer for Jordy, but that is offset by the inclusion of Keramas this season, where Jordy will be a top three favourite to win. So yep, we’ll see Jordy get off to a flyer once again at Snapper, Margarets, Bells, Rio, Keramas, and J-Bay – the first six events of the season all lining up in a row to have Jordy dominating at no.1 as we turn the corner for the home stretch. A rampaging favourite for the Title, no doubt, but that second half of the year… oh boy, that’s tough. That hurts.

 

FILIPE TOLEDO
Will Make A Legitimate World Title Run

Once deemed the undisputed best small wave surfer in the world, Filipe Toledo’s ability as a best in the world surfer goes up in wave size about a foot every year, as demonstrated by the way he won Jeffreys Bay in 2017 in pumping eight foot surf. Filipe is the favourite going into Snapper, the favourite going into J-Bay, the favourite going into the surf ranch event. And he is capable of doing anything in any of the other events that aren’t Chopes or Pipe, though we shouldn’t be surprised if he sneaks keeper results of quarter final finishes or better in those big events too. You know what’s craziest about Filipe Toledo? He’s still only 22. Only 22 and he already has five years of experience on the Championship Tour. He gets better every year and in 2018 he will make a genuine World Title run, his first ever. He won’t win, but his experience in the fire and ice at the top end of pro surfing will be invaluable for future campaigns. Look out.

 

WSL
More People Than Ever Will Complain About The WSL Ruining Surfing

Despite it being more entertaining, with better performances than ever, with better coverage, better commentary, better judging, and more transparency than surfing’s ever had in competitive history, surfing will cop it hard in 2018. The wonderful connectivity of the modern world gives anyone with any opinion no matter how ludicrous the opportunity to find others who validate and reinforce said opinion. If you think John John Florence is being pushed through heats over Gabriel Medina because that means more money for the WSL, you can find thousands of people who agree with you. If you think Gabriel Medina is being pushed through heats over John John Florence because it means more money for the WSL, again, there are so many people for you to light pitchforks with in your little pity parties on social media. None of this is real.

 

CAROLINE MARKS
Will Become The Rookie of The Year

With only 16 spots for women in pro surfing’s top tier, it’s an inevitability that sometimes there will only be one rookie in a given season. That’s fine. Seeing as this young Californian was just 15 when she qualified, her journey will be valuable and entertaining regardless in 2018. Give her the trophy now, she’s the only who can claim it. Book the restaurant already, plan the party. Order the lasagne and ask for double parmesan and maybe eat dessert at the same time. Nothing means anything.

 

SURF RANCH
Open Will Be A Night Time Event

There are so many significant cultural changes, seismic tectonic plate shifts to pro surfing as we know it that the Kelly Slater Wave Pool comp will bring. Most significantly the ability to put a fence up and sell tickets. To put a fence up and charge online viewers. To put a fence up and sell specific broadcast times to TV networks. And amongst all those landmark changes comes the opportunity to present surfing as a nighttime event spectacular. With fireworks and hopefully a performance by Kid Rock or Leo Sayer. It’s been no secret that the WSL wants to be more like the big time sports of America; NBA and NFL and MLB. And a thing about those leagues is that their most successful and popular events are scheduled for nighttime. Whether it’s the final, early rounds, or some kind of exhibition, there will be surfing at night at the Surf Ranch Open, which also makes for very good live TV scheduling in both North American and Australian regions. And I’ll bet a Golden Gaytime to anyone who’s game that an almost A-Grade American Hollywood celebrity – a bit past their prime – will be in attendance and that the broadcast will make a big deal about it and that it will be kind of a little bit embarrassing to watch. Let’s say… ummm… Adrien Grenier? Tim Allen? No, Jeff Bridges. It’ll be Jeff Bridges. Who doesn’t love Jeff Bridges?

 

KEELY ANDREW
Will Win Her First CT at the US Open

The US Open, a Championship Tour event for the ladies, makes a habit of hosting surfers’ first event wins. The last three years it’s been Johanne Defay, Tatiana Weston-Webb and Sage Erickson taking their first ever CT wins on the beach at Huntington. Similarly, Lakey Peterson won it back in 2012 – still her only event win. This year that’ll continue with, umm, let’s say… Keely Andrew. Why not? She had a mini-breakout year in 2017, making three quarter-finals and one final. In 2018 she will take the US Open.

 

JJF during his now legendary early season pow pow-fest on the rolling walls of the North Shore. Check how horizontal the first part of this turn is and how he swings it into the bowl. Sweeter than shave ice baby. (Frieden)

JOHN JOHN FLORENCE
Will Win The World Title… Unless Someone Else Does, Someone Else Named Gabriel Medina

John John Florence is possibly the most gifted and talented surfer of all time. John John Florence is so good that there are only three surfers who could possibly beat him for the World Title. I mean, yeah, every surfer on the Championship Tour is a chance at winning the World Title, and every surfer starts at zero at the beginning of the year, blah blah blah… but, c’mon, Willian Cardoso is not taking the World Title in 2018, and neither are 29 others. Those three surfers that could are Filipe Toledo, Julian Wilson and Gabriel Medina. And no I am not forgetting Jordy Smith (more on that later) But Filipe Toledo – due to injuries, underperformances at favoured events, and an indiscretion that saw him banned from Cloudbreak last year – has never featured in a World Title race at the pointy end of the season when it matters. And Julian Wilson, while having the ability – shared only by Medina and JJF – to win at absolutely any event on tour in any condition, has yet to put together consistent performances across the whole year he needs to give him his shot of claiming that World Title trophy (plus, he’s having a baby this year, which is sure to prove a bit of a sleep stealer). Which leaves one Gabriel Medina. Oh, Medina. Medina could do it. He has done it before, and he is unflappable in any situation. And he got the groove of CT competition surfing down before John John Florence did. Medina doesn’t care what you think of him, whether you love or hate him. He only cares about winning, God, and hanging out with the who’s who of Brazil’s Instagram elite. And is that the problem?. Check Instagram and you’ll find Medina having the best time ever with his buddy Neymar (the highest paid footballer in the world) and living the good life. You don’t see John John hanging out with Lebron James, or taking photos of himself with America’s pop stars… nah, instead we see John John going sailing. Or surfing. Or doing nothing. This isn’t a judgement, I’d rather be living that Gabriel Medina life, drinking cocktails in an open-to-the-wind billowy white shirt like a millionaire in the 80s, but, I don’t know, it feels like when event no.1 at the Quiksilver Pro rolls around, the guy who spent the offseason snowboarding, surfing and sailing, will be better prepared to get 2018 rolling than the guy who appeared in a sultry Brazillian pop music video.

 

If you need three good reasons why Joel Parko should never be asked about retiring here’re eight: Snapper, Bells, Margarets, Keramas, J-Bay, Chopes, France and Pipe. That’s a top 10 finish for the next five years at least and that;’s saying nothing of his favourite event at Cloudbreak, due to return in 2019. (Poullenot)

JOEL PARKINSON
Will Not Retire, Despite Being Asked About It At Every Tour Stop

Parko has successfully raised a large happy family on this Championship Tour. He’s started businesses. He’s invested in sports teams. He’s won World Titles. His kids have been growing up beside him all over the world, at home on the CT. There is no rush for Parko to get off the tour and  begin the next phase of his life. There are no phases for Parko, it seems. No compartmentalising tour life vs family life vs business life. Parko just lives it all, sipping champagne with the wife he’s still mad in love with as he does, and it’s amazing and inspiring to watch. And so long as he’s surfing well enough to stay on the CT, he’ll remain there. And he is surfing well enough. Parko will finish 13th after picking up good results at Snapper, Bells, Teahupoo and Pipe. He will continue surfing on into 2019. Which will be great, because after the retirements of Kelly, Mick, Bede, Taj, Kerrsy and anyone else over 30, Parko can stand alone as the one true veteran of the CT. We can nickname him Tour-Dad or something equally fun. “He’s got a few tricks in him yet, old wiley tour-dad.”

 

Jennings reckons Jeremy Flores will be the cult hero of the 2018 World Tour and we’re backing him all the way. And if J-Flo wins a third Pipe Masters it’s free Moskova undies for all! (Poullenot)

JEREMY FLORES
Will Become A Cult Hero

2018 is the year we’ll all finally realise how bloody good Jeremy Flores is. Rather than a guy who flirts equally with falling off tour or a spot on the edge of the top 10 every year, we’ll remember that he’s a multiple Pipe Master, of which there is only one other on the CT (Kelly), a multiple Chopes winner, of which there is only one other on the CT (Kelly), a winner of Andy Irons Most Committed Award and the first surfer from Europe to achieve any of these titles. Plus, he’s devilishly handsome and speaks French, so, yep, cult hero time. An oft forgotten fact about Jeremy Flores, too, is that he’s the same age as Julian Wilson and Jordy Smith. I’m not sure how that relates but it is interesting, isn’t it? Is it? He’s always seemed so much older. Is he really 29? That can’t be right.

 

HELMETS
Someone Will Wear A Helmet At Pipe, or Chopes, or both

Head injuries are the issue de jour in major sports. In Australia, the AFL has completely evolved the way the game is played and officiated around curbing head injuries in the past half-decade. In the NFL, the issue of concussion threatens to bring down the giant sport and its 14 billion dollar industry altogether. Following Dusty Payne’s head injury when he hit the reef at Pipe this Hawaiian winter, and Evan Geiselman’s near death the year before, the WSL must be pondering their duty of care and the possibility that someone could very realistically suffer a life-altering brain injury during one of their events at the same venue. Before the WSL addresses that, though, someone on the CT will elect to wear a helmet at Pipe or Teahupoo voluntarily. It’s not really a big deal anyway. Barton Lynch won at Pipe with a helmet on. Tom Carroll did too. It begs the question why surfers stopped wearing them at all? In more recent times, Jeremy Flores won Teahupoo in 2015 while wearing one, and Sally Fitzgibbons wore a helmet at a couple of comps following her perforated eardrum in 2015 at Fiji. In modern surfing, big wave surfers wear flotation vests when they ride breaks where they’re at risk of never coming to the surface again. So shouldn’t surfers wear helmets when they ride breaks where they’re at risk of caving in their melons on rock hard shallow reefs? Don’t be surprised if a brand like FCS enters the surf helmet market, either. Gath have had that Sabre Norris monopoly for far too long. Personally, I’d like to see Rosebank, the brand behind the iconic 80’s “StackHat” develop one. That would be legendary.

 

This wave of Miggy Pupe’s at last year’s Pipe Masters was the biggest 10-gone-begging of the entire season (he scored a 9.8 for it). He failed to requalify for the CT but don’t expect him to be gone too long, Jenning’s is calling he’ll sweep the QS and be back just in time for the new-look tour in 2019. (WSL/Pollenout)

MIGUEL PUPO
Will Win The Men’s QS

Take a look at who’s on the QS this year. Miguel Pupo, Jack Freestone, Nat Young, Wiggolly Dantas, Leo Fioravanti, Ethan Ewing, Stuey Kennedy, Jadson Andre. The Men’s QS will be dominated by requalifiers, more than ever. It’s too strong. Too young. Too hungry. Conversely, on the women’s side, Australian Macy Callaghan will take it out amongst the usual cycle of CT surfers not qualifying on the CT making up the other six spots available on the QS.

 

POLITICS
Pro Surfers Will Remain Bizarrely Silent On Political Issues

Aside from environmental causes, surfers will continue to stay silent on the burgeoning political awakening enveloping most every other sport and cultural movement in the western world. Surfers (and the WSL too) have neglected to use their platforms to talk about Trump and the rise of alt-right movements in America, about the marriage equality vote or the campaign to change the date of Australia Day in Australia, nor about the #metoo or #itstime movements the world over. Whatever pressing issues come up in 2018 will continue to not exist in the world of surfing, despite a history of pro surfers doing the opposite in decades past (arguing with flat earthers on your Instagram doesn’t count).

 

ALL THESE PREDICTIONS
Every last one of them, down to every last sentence, word and letter. Will be true.

Especially the one about the llama. I’ll buy it myself if I have to. I found one on Gumtree for $600.

Mike Jennings