We got ourselves a cracker of a year, folks! After seven events, the WSL title race is tighter than ever. Six surfers have a legitimate shot at being the world champion by year’s end, and every possible storyline is on the table: old vs. new, USA vs. AUS vs. BRA, and Kelly Slater gettin’ number 12.
Each surfer is in a unique situation, given his position on the rankings, his strengths and weaknesses as a surfer, and his competitive background. Let’s take a look at their perspectives as event number eight, the Hurley Pro at Trestles, gets underway:
Adriano de Souza
Current Rank (Points): 1 (34,950)
What He Needs at Trestles: Quarters or better. While de Souza has shown flashes of brilliance in Europe, his performance has been spotty, especially in France. He has a string of 13ths to his name at Pipeline. He is also already counting a 13th on the year, so anything but a strong showing at Trestles could spell doom.
What He Needs Beyond Trestles: Consistency. For someone regarded as one of the most reliable competitors on tour, AdS has been shockingly inconsistent in Europe. He won the 2011 Rip Curl Pro Portugal but has also failed to make it past Round 3 twice in the last five years. His last five results in France include two 13ths and three 25ths. That won’t fly this year.
World Title Likelihood Ranking (1-Most Likely, 6-Least Likely): 3. Adriano de Souza does not crack under pressure. But he doesn’t need to crack to miss out on the World Title. If he just does what he’s always done, that won’t be good enough.
Current Rank (Points): 2 (34,700)
What He Needs at Trestles: Mick has a very solid history at Trestles, including a 2009 win. But even if he loses shockingly early, White Lightning should still be considered a serious threat to the World Title.
What He Needs Beyond Trestles: More of the same. He won Portugal last year and has won three times in France. It will be a surprise if he’s not wearing the yellow jersey for Pipeline, where he’s got just as good a shot as any of the other six to perform well.
World Title Likelihood Ranking: 1. Aside from the fact that we’ve already watched him do it three times, there’s not a single surfer in the Top 5 who has demonstrated his ability to perform over the next four events to the degree that Mick Fanning has. He should be considered the favorite to win the World Title at this point.
Current Rank (Points): 3 (34,400)
What He Needs at Trestles: Anything lower than a 9th would put Owen in a tough position, but it wouldn’t knock him out. Really, he just needs to stay close to the other surfers in the Top 5. If they’re all in the quarters, Owen should be too.
What He Needs Beyond Trestles: I’m as big a fan of Owen’s backhand surfing as the next guy. But his results show that his upside is much higher in lefts (New York, Fiji, Chopes). Trestles, Hossegor and Supertubos have in the past offered high scores going both left and right, but the rights have probably offered a little more scoring potential at the beachbreaks—and definitely at Trestles. Owen will have to execute on his backside to win a World Title. He has shown brilliance in Portugal before, and his performance at the Box this year and J-Bay last year showed us all we need to know about his potential. But can he keep it up for an entire event? How about three? Will the Pipe Masters be won at Backdoor or Pipeline? The answers to these questions will determine how realistic Owen Wright’s championship chances are.
World Title Likelihood Ranking: 4. He’s actually in fifth right now if you drop everybody’s two worst events. Julian’s a former Pipe Master and event winner in Portugal, Mick is Mick, and Adriano’s currently in first. But Owen is right there.
Current Rank (Points): T-4 (33,200)
What He Needs at Trestles: 9th or better. He’s already counting a 13th.
What He Needs Beyond Trestles: Though they have sharply contrasting styles, Julian is rounding into Mick Fanning Lite, and he looks to be dangerous at every single stop left on the tour. He needs to match Mick blow for blow, and history shows that he has the ability.
World Title Likelihood Ranking: 2. And it’s pretty close. While Julian’s never been gunning for a World Title quite like he will be this year, he came into Hawaii in 2014 with his back against the wall requalification-wise. He walked away with a Triple Crown and a Pipe Masters victory. He can handle the pressure.
Current Rank (Points): T-4 (33,200)
What He Needs at Trestles: A win. Anything else will be a disappointment for Toledo, who dominated the Oakley Lowers Pro so thoroughly that he has to be considered the favorite to take this competition out. However, the forecast, which calls for slightly overhead waves on the first few days of the waiting period, might work against Filipe, whose advantage lies in executing searing forehand carves and impossibly high aerial maneuvers on small waves that leave other competitors gasping for air.
What He Needs Beyond Trestles: A better performance than he’s ever given. Small waves.
World Title Likelihood Ranking: 5. Filipe Toledo has put on some of the most electrifying performances of 2015 so far. His on-rail surfing was recently praised in Surfer by none other than Nate Fletcher, who said, “the thing that impressed me most lately was watching Filipe Toledo hit those little waves at Snapper…his rail-to-rail power surfing…blew me away. It’s hard for my brain to process that kind of surfing.” That being said, he will have to have the title nearly sewn up by the time Hawaii comes around in order to have a realistic chance at winning it, and it seems unlikely that the other competitors will all fade out. Due to his high seed, Filipe could reasonably get a 9th at Pipeline (that’s how he got one at Teahupoo), but his 0.00 heat total in Round 5 at Chopes suggests that he still has a long way to go before we can count on him to come through in heavy waves. The heavier France and Portugal are, the lower Filipe’s chances of being World Champion become.
Current Rank (Points): 6 (28,400)
What He Needs at Trestles: Semis or better. He is on the outside looking in.
What He Needs Beyond Trestles: At least one win and probably a 3rd place or better in every event from here on out. The Top 5 are within 1,750 points of each other and Kelly is almost 5,000 behind Filipe and Julian. He’s already used up his allotment of poor results and has made it out of the quarters just once. His back is against the wall.
World Title Likelihood Ranking: 6. His chances are low at best, due to his current ranking. He could have the best finish out of anyone and still not sniff the World Title. To win it all this year would be superhuman. But for Kelly Slater, ‘superhuman’ is well within the realm of possibility, and you know that none of the Top 5 are counting him out.