World Title Predictions: This Time He Means It!
Mike Jennings revisits his early season Title Predictions (miles off) to announce (for real) who will be 2017 WSL World Champions.Read more
They were such innocent days back in early 2017. The sun was shining, a heat on the WSL CT had yet to be surfed in anger, and I had been gifted the privilege of writing a 5,000 word analysis of who would win the year’s World Titles. Such beautiful, innocent days. I read statistics, I clicked through heat analyser, I went on long thoughtful walks where I ruminated deeply about what was to come. And then I typed and laughed and ate fresh mangoes whose juice dripped onto my MacBook Air as I made my steadfast predictions. Mick Fanning would be World Champion, obviously. Carissa Moore too. It couldn’t have been clearer to me. and everyone who would read my considered words would think of them as they watched the surfing of the year play out. Such beautiful, sunshiney days. Fast forward to today and boy is my face red, my keyboard sticky with mango, and my pride as an idiot who writes about surfing wounded. Not to worry, it’s been a great year of surfing nonetheless, with one of the best World Titles races in years, and in light of the great World Title races and their exciting climaxes to come, let’s get back up and rush foolishly into more 100 per cent locked in, no possibility they could ever be wrong, predictions about the oncoming 2017 World Titles! There are only three events left, but there is so much history to be made.
Gabriel Medina: Where Do You Go, My Gabby? I Wanna Know
Honestly, I just don’t even know what’s happened to Gabriel Medina. It’s so hard to comprehend why he isn’t ruling. He can win in every event, and he has more competitive fire than Lleyton Hewitt in a Davis Cup match, so where is he? I had Medina as equal favourite to take the Title with Mick Fanning in my 2017 predictions, like I’ve had him as the favourite every year for the past three years since he won the 2014 Title. At the Billabong Pro Tahiti, where he finished second, Medina was the form surfer of the event, and for the first time this year he was back to surfing like the Gabriel Medina. The World Champ. The star. The competitor. It sparked the idea that this World Title race might be joined by someone nobody else in it would be happy to see, but then at Trestles, he lost in round three and went back to leaving events days before he should be comfortable with and threatens to slide out of the top 10. He’s still only 23 though. He could fall off tour, take three years off, and win three more titles before he hits 30… which would actually be a lot of fun, for drama’s sake. Do it Gabby! Slide on outta there!
The star. The competitor. It sparked the idea that this World Title race might be joined by someone nobody else in it would be happy to see, but then at Trestles, he lost in round three and went back to leaving events days before he should be comfortable with and threatens to slide out of the top 10. He’s still only 23 though. He could fall off tour, take three years off, and win three more titles before he hits 30… which would actually be a lot of fun, for drama’s sake. Do it Gabby! Slide on outta there!
Matt Wilkinson: Down But Not Out, Is He The Real Deal?
In 2017, Wilko embarrassed my predictions, in the fact that he didn’t even feature in them. Shame shame shame on me. He finalled at event 1 and won Fiji, a blue ribbon CT event, proving again that he’s the real deal. In only two years Wilko has gone from an eccentric personality of the World Tour – who’d requalified without the help of the WQS just one single time in his eight year career – to a multiple event winner and World No.1 gold jersey wearer. And that’s amazing, but ahead lies a perhaps even greater challenge for Wilko, a challenge that all World Title winners have faced before: Taking his weaknesses and destroying the shit out of them. It’s two years in a row now that Wilko has been World No.1 going into Teahupoo, where he isn’t that bad, and then fallen away. At Trestles he has never gotten past Round 3, and this year he claimed a 25th; at last. If he can improve and turn that 25th into a quarterfinal or semi-final next year, and then again turn that quarterfinal or semifinal into a win… he’ll have built himself a box seat heading into the last few events to take a World Title and reach surfing immortality in 2019.
Filipe Toledo: Will 2017 Be The Biggest ‘What If’ of Filipe’s Career?
There’s no glossing over it, Filipe fucked up in 2017. Royally. The question at the start of the year was whether or not Filipe could win the World Title without charging Teahupoo, Fiji, or Pipe. And the answer to that question is yes. But… it would require him to win where Filipe can win, and this year, for the most part, he hasn’t. He took a last place at the event where he is head and shoulders the best surfer on the planet, Snapper. Then in Brazil, where he should bank a keeper result too, he got an interference that sent him out of the comp with a 13th, and worse, reacted in a way that got him banned from the next event in Fiji. On the bright side, Filipe’s only 22 and is continuously improving, he already has five years of experience on tour, and think about how much he’s improved in that half decade: J-Bay was solid this year, and Filipe won that in a final that was surfed entirely on rail. Margarets too was an event of bigger waves, and Filipe finished third there. Imagine how much better he’ll be in another five years when he’ll still only be 27. As it stands in 2017, Filipe is the only surfer to have won two events, dominating J-Bay and Trestles, and yet he’s still only the slimmest of an outside chance at a World Title that should be all his, and his easily. If the WSL format was to remain the same he’d be the clear favourite to win the Title in 2018. But in 2017 he has left himself with far too much to do going into the last three comps of the year. Bummer.
Julian Wilson: Has Jules Finally Stepped Up To Where He Belongs?
After taking Teahupo’o, Julian thrust himself to where he belongs: The World Title race. And Trestles would have been a great place to reaffirm that foundation at the top. But no, he lost to Kanoa Igarashi. If Julian Wilson is meant to win a World Title, then he is meant to beat Kanoa Igarashi in a round 4 heat at clean, albeit slow, skate ramp Lowers. There is nothing to blame. Consistent mid-level performances are below par for Julian Wilson, and it’s exciting that for the first time in his career he’s stepped a couple of inches beyond that. What’s exciting for Julian is that there isn’t an event he can’t win, no matter what conditions they get surfed in. And there are few, if any surfers that can boast that pragmaticism with their surfing. His record over the final three events is enviable, too. France, Portugal, and Pipe? Second place at one, wins at the two others. At third on the rankings, he is the frontrunner of the pack that’s hunting Jordy and John John, and the most likely canditate to displace them at the top. So, yep, he can win this year’s Title for sure. But here’s the strangest statistic that might mean he won’t: Every single CT event Julian has ever won has been done so against Gabriel Medina in the final. Which logically means that for Julian to win the World Title, he needs Gabriel Medina to come second, right? And this year Gabriel has been nowhere to be seen. No dice for Jules then. That’s airtight logic!
Prediction: Third, or if he goes on a tear through Europe and Pipe, second.
Jordy Smith: Is This The Year Jordy Delivers?
Talk about a best Jordy year ever, and to achieve it at just aged 29 in only his ninth year on tour… incredible! Jokes aside, the prodigious South African talent, for the first time in his career, has surfed a World Title year. He is World No.1, and he is surfing like the World No.1. He walks into the water with the board under his arm with nothing to prove ’cause the proof is right there on the yellow of the rash-vest, “This guy is No.1,” it screams, there is no disputing it. And where some surfers feel the weight of the yellow rash vest, it seems to only make Jordy stronger. Jordy has John John on the ropes, pounding away at him with the consistency a World Title needs. He’s finished in the quarterfinals or better in every event but two, and, tellingly, he has also stopped blaming factors outside of his control for his heat losses. Of the Title contenders, he’s surfing the hottest and is heading to the end of the year and the World Title with the momentum of a runaway train. His big problem, however, is that all of his best events are behind him, and he didn’t get enough distance between himself and the defending World Champ as he would have liked while his surfing could be most damaging. Jordy can win the World Title, and has never been in a better position, never looked more in control of his own destiny to do so, but he’ll still need to rely on John John to underperform through Europe and at Pipeline, while he will have to over perform himself, which is probably not going to happen. He has John John on the ropes, sure, but Foreman had Ali on the ropes, and in the eighth round it all turned. Jordy’s eighth round for the heavyweight title begins in France.
Prediction: Second. Unless Julian gets on a tear through Europe and Pipe, in which case Jordy will be third.
John John Florence: Can He Be The First Back To Back Champ Since Andy?
When predicting the challenges facing John John Florence at the beginning of the year as he looked to defend his maiden World Title, I listed Kelly Slater’s intentions for a full crack at the World Title, the return of the most consistent competition machine in the game in Mick Fanning, an injury free Filipe Toledo finally free to make a proper claim to the throne, the possibilities of Kolohe Andino making the next step in his destiny to greatness, and a momentum riding Jordy Smith finally ready to throw his weight around the tour. The 2017 World Title was going to be a much harder prospect than his first, where none of those guys really got involved and left him relatively unchallenged. Eight months later and would you take a look at that, most of those threats have fizzled. Kelly is out for the season, Mick has had the worst competitive year since forever, Filipe kooked himself out of contention, and Kolohe is back to being Kolohe (getting 25ths and punching inanimate objects). It essentially leaves John in a similar spot to last year, only this time with a better final boss to face in Jordy Smith stepping up and doing everything he is supposed to. Jordy has been the most consistent surfer this year, and has made the quarterfinals in all but two events. But here’s a fun fact: So has John John. And while Jordy holds the yellow jersey, the difference between their rankings is less distinct than the differences between the colours of their rashies. Jordy has just 2,450 points on John, and if you adjust the ratings to take out their lowest scores, it’s even closer. Just 200 stinking, measley little points between them at the top. Considering that the minimum difference between a won and lost heat is 1,200 points, they are essentially sitting on equal terms going into the last three events of France, Portugal, and Pipe. And with John John Florence having a way better record at all three of those events – having won both European legs, and being considered one of the greatest to surf surfing’s holiest break of Pipeline – this World Title is essentially John John’s to lose.
Prediction: 2017 World Champion.
Sally Fitzgibbons: The Most Underrated Comeback Of 2017?
It has been the year of the heroic comeback, but lost in that narrative somewhere is Sally’s incredible return to the top of the world. Perennial runner up in the World Title race, Fitzgibbons hadn’t figured in a World Title race since the final day of 2014, wrapped up in a towel on the clifftop at Maui, hugged by her family as she watched Steph Gilmore win yet again. In 2016 she finished eighth, her worst result ever, and with the breakthrough of Tyler Wright as the new superpower in women’s surfing alongside Steph and Carissa, the fighter and World Champion inevitability of Courtney Conlogue, as well as the rise of Tatiana Weston Webb, Lakey Peterson and Johanne Defay, it appeared as if Sally’s time to challenge at the apex of competitive professional surfing was coming to a close. But in 2017 Sally has defied all of that. She won Margarets and took the Jeep leader’s jersey for the first time since it’s existed, and she took the World No.1 jersey again at Trestles, and what’s most interesting about that is that she took it this time round with her equal worst result of the year: a quarterfinal finish. That’s how consistent she has been at the top, and the way the WSL is set up, consistency is rewarded with World Titles. With Tyler Wright winning last year, Sally has seen firsthand now that Carissa and Steph’s hold over the World Title can be destroyed, that anyone, including her, can be World Champion. Unfortunately for Sally, when you deduct the two lowest scores from her year she slides all the way to fourth. If Courtney, Tyler, or Steph, can string three finals appearances together, they will beat Sally to the Title. On the other hand, if the likes of Carissa Moore, Lakey Peterson, Silvana Lima, Sage Erickson or Tatiana Weston Webb can disrupt the Title race with standout performances, Sally might just walk through the open door and finally get that long awaited World Title. And wouldn’t that be something.
Stephanie Gilmore: Will She End The Drought And Become Truly The Greatest Female Surfer of All Time?
Poor old Stephanie Gilmore is in the longest World Title drought of her career. Steph of course won six World Titles in her first seven years on the Championship tour, but right now it’s been two years, two whole freaking years, that she has had to live with without a shiny new World Title trophy. She also went without a win in those dark days of 2015 and 2016, but she remedied all this at stop 1, winning Snapper, and then backing some consistent results through the rest of the year to keep her around that top echelon and within striking distance of the 2017 World Title going into the home straight. Like Jordy Smith, Steph’s problem is surfing wherever her competitive prowess is significantly weakened, usually when forced to compete away from well organised right hand breaks. When it breaks right and breaks long, she’s given the platform to show the world of difference that sits between her and her opponents. Bells, Snapper, Trestles she is golden. Beachbreaks and lefts are a different story. The strange anomaly here is the final event, and probably where this World Title will be decided, at Honolua Bay, Maui. In its three year history, Steph has surfed here twice and both of those were her worst events of the year. That’s not a great sign, and one that suggests 2017 will not be the year Steph equals Layne Beachley’s record of seven World Titles.
Prediction: Third .
Courtney Conlogue: Is This Her Time?
Courtney Conlogue is the only surfer on the Women’s Tour to have won two events, and despite starting the year off terribly with a 5th and a 9th, she’s built the strongest foundation from which to leap for the World Title from. In fact, discard the weird anomaly that is the Oi Rio Pro, and the last four events for Courtney have been two wins and two semi finals appearances. She’s the back to back defending champ of the next event, the Cascais Women’s Pro in Portugal, too. So, there’s no doubting that Courtney is the hottest surfer as the finish line comes into view, particularly after you eliminate the two worst results from her scoreline, which puts her as the clear World No.1. Her record at the final two events is not too shabby either, making the semis at both last year. Her problem is that Tyler’s record in France and Maui is better. Either way, it’s going to be very very tight between the new two leaders of women’s surfing. Who would win a surf off, do you think?
Prediction: 2nd in a coin toss
Tyler Wright: Will She Keep Up The Tradition Of Aussie Women Going Back To Back?
Fun fact, Tyler Wright has made the final at the Roxy Pro France for five years in a row now; 2011, when she was a 17 year old rookie, is the only year she hasn’t been in the final heat of that event. So you have to give her the advantage la bas. She also has the advantage over Conlogue in Maui, where she has finalled twice and won it once, Conlogue on the other hand has never made the final there. We’re really splitting hairs on who will win the World Title between Courtney Conlogue and Tyler Wright here – Conlogue is better than last year and Tyler Wright is not, but by how much? It’s just so tight between the two, and a slow, inconsistent heat at the beachbreaks of Europe, or drawing a low seeded Carissa Moore at Maui, where she is near unbeatable, could be the difference in the end. But so long as we’re flipping dollar coins between the two, we’ll land on the head of Queen Elizabeth II, and not Susan B Anthony, for the tradition’s sake of when an Australian woman wins the World Title, she wins a whole bunch in a row. Beachley, Gilmore, and now, Miss Tyler Wright. Let’s go Ty!
Prediction: 2017 World Champion.
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