2014 ASP World Tour Preview
2014 ASP World Tour Preview
In 2014, the Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour is set to relaunch under new management. The goal is to bring surfing to the forefront of the sporting world, giving the men and women on tour a platform to showcase their multitude of talents. While change is blowing in like an onshore wind, one thing remains constant: winning a world title is the end all, be all in competitive surfing. In 2013, Mick Fanning and Carissa Moore claimed the men's and women's ASP world titles, both winning in dramatic fashion. But it's a new year and there's a hungry pack hoping to knock them off the top of the podium. The following are some storylines that are sure to keep us watching all season.
Historically, Mick Fanning has struggled in the years after winning titles, but he's a much more mature, grounded surfer than he was in 2009, when he won his first. Expect him to be right in the mix this year. He has been working closely with his surfboard shaper on refining his equipment, and per usual, his fitness level won't be in question. For Fanning, success in 2014 is dependent on how much he's willing to buckle down and block out the distractions.
This is the wave that won Mick Fanning a world title at the Pipeline Masters in 2013. With his back against the wall (and needing a big score), Fanning paddled into this bomb and clinched his third title. It was as dramatic as any moment in the history of the ASP.
In a back-and-forth race for the 2013 women's ASP world title, Carissa Moore rose to the occasion to claim the second title of her career. Fit, confident and with all of the momentum in the world, she could assert herself this year as the most dominant woman in surfing. She has the talent and drive to easily rattle off five or six more titles. Best of all, she'll do it with an appreciative smile on her face.
With two world titles already in her possession, Carissa Moore is already on a stratospheric ascent to the top of women's professional surfing. When people wonder who's going to match Kelly Slater's 11 titles, it could easily be Moore. As her father prognosticated when she was only 13, "Nobody has any idea how good she's going to be."
Swinging for the fences, the ASP infrastructure is quickly becoming the Kelly Slater show. With his manager Terry Hardy fronting ZoSea (the media group that owns the ASP), Slater also has friends in the broadcast booth. Coincidence? In Slater's pursuit to remake professional surfing in his likeness, his intermingling with the current ASP staff could either be construed as a fantastic conflict of interest or a step in the right direction.
Hoping to defend his Quiksilver Pro title, Slater knows more than anybody that a solid start at the first event of the year is critical. A game of momentum, early wins at either Snapper Rocks, Margaret River or Bells all can play critical roles in determining the year's outcome. Bad results right out of the gate means you're playing from behind all year, and that's tough to do given how long the ASP season is. Last year, Slater missed out on winning his 12th world title by nothing more than a couple of waves, which means every heat counts.
Coming off wins at the Pipeline Masters and the Pipeline Pro, both held in memorable conditions, Slater is as sharp and on point as he's ever been. Somehow he continues to defy age (42) and gravity. It remains to be seen how he fares in the small stuff against kids 20 years younger, but he's made no bones about his intent to try and win a record 12th ASP world title in 2014.
John John Florence
Will 2014 be the year of the Two Johns? In a word, yes. Casual and nonchalant on land, there's a competitive fire starting to burn in his belly. "If you win a world title without Kelly [Slater] on the tour, it's just not the same. I want to beat him," Florence says.
Earning rookie of the year honors in 2013, Nat Young made his hometown of Santa Cruz proud. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Respectful and driven by all the right things, Young wasn't expected to have such a dramatic impact on tour in his first year. "You have to make the most out of every opportunity," he says. In just his second event on tour, he made the finals, and he finished the year ranked eighth. The challenge now is to maintain that high level of success.
If the pro surfing thing doesn't work out, Fitzgibbons has been getting into adventure racing and could easily dominate those ranks with her athletic prowess. Of course, she would love nothing more than to beat Carissa Moore for a world title. She's been right there in the mix for the past couple of years, but somehow keeps getting edged out. If she's not careful, she could end up the female version of Taj Burrow -- an incredible talent but perennial runner-up.
Parkinson was unable to defend his 2012 ASP world title, which isn't a huge surprise. Only Kelly Slater and Andy Irons have been able to notch back-to-back titles in the past 15 years. But last year, Parkinson did prove that his surfing is as clean and vibrant as ever. The man with the best style on tour would love to hoist another world title cup or two before it's all said and done, but as long as folks come out to watch, he's content doing what he's doing. "It's a dream job, really," he says.
It's always hard to figure where Jordy Smith's head is. He got married this offseason and has indicated that he intends to give a run at the 2014 title. But over the years he's demonstrated an innate ability to lose the plot at some point during the season. Injuries, movie projects, love: They've all distracted him and become excuses for not contending. But he has the talent to win anything, and with Jeffreys Bay in his native South Africa back on the schedule, there may be added incentive.
Courtney Conlogue is the Rocky Balboa of the women's tour. A hard-swinging powerhouse from inland Orange County, her rise to title contender hasn't been the easiest, but it is one of the most inspiring. She has been training like a beast all offseason and comes into 2014 in possibly the best shape of any woman on tour, save maybe Sally Fitzgibbons (who thinks running is actually fun). Conlogue has been working closely with her surfboard shaper, Tim Stamps, and understands her equipment better than most, especially in small waves.
Clifton James Hobgood
CJ Hobgood is coming out spitting fire in 2014. Sponsorless and with a chip on his shoulder, last year he surprised even himself, finishing 11th in the world. Sadly, his brother Damien had a tougher go of things and fell off tour after a long, fruitful career. Going it alone this season, Hobgood has something to prove. "I expect to beat everyone I compete against and I'm not ready to hang it up," he wrote on Instagram. "That mind set will help me achieve my ultimate goal, winning contests."
Last season Owen Wright suffered a crippling back injury that took him out of competition. It's taken almost a year to get back to fighting form, but when the Quiksilver Pro Australia kicks off, nobody will be more eager to pull on a jersey.
Kolohe Andino spent most of the offseason at home in Southern California surfing with friends, snowboarding in Mammoth and moving out of his parents' house. Coming of age, he made great strides on tour last year and hopes to keep the progression. He's feeling more comfortable in Pacific reef waves like Teahupoo and Cloudbreak; at pointbreaks like Snapper and J-Bay, he has refined his rail work to a point where he's not completely reliant on his notorious air game. At 19, he's still one of the youngest people on tour, but he's starting to come into his own.
Alana Blanchard would like to prove to the world that she's a serious competitive threat. She may never win a world title, but given her experience in Hawaiian waters, if ever she was going to surge up the rating, 2014 would be it. Thanks to the addition of women's events in Fiji and Maui, she'll be able to perform in more familiar conditions.
Taj Burrow deserves a title. He's probably never going to win one, but dang it, the man's put his heart into the tour, logged some heady performances over the years, and posted a few big wins, but Burrow just can't get himself to the top of the mountain. His window is rapidly closing as guys like Gabriel Medina, Julian Wilson and Nat Young come of age.
A five-time world champion, Stephanie Gilmore slipped to fifth in the world rankings in 2013. Realizing she was out of the race halfway through the year, she mailed it in for the rest of the season, opting instead to focus on endeavors outside of surfing, like her love of music and fashion. With women like Carissa Moore, Tyler Wright and Sally Fitzgibbons on such a competitive tear recently, it's hard to determine how engaged Gilmore still is. No doubt she can contend, and she'll go all-in if she has a hint of a chance at a title, but her most dominant years may be behind her.
Gabriel Medina has done a pretty good job of staying off the radar in the offseason, which is probably freaking a few guys out. Hardly just a high-flying Brazilian, his chops in serious surf aren't to be trifled with. There has never been an ASP men's world champion from South America, and Medina wants more than anything to change that.
Before the recent Australian Open got underway, Laura Enever divulged to the Aussie media that during the past couple of years, she has battled issues with anxiety that have affected her surfing and contest results. In better head space going into this season, she's hoping to climb back into the upper tier of the rankings.
The jokester of the tour, Matt Wilkinson requalified last year by the skin of his teeth. Whether that makes the man more serious remains to be seen, but the tour could benefit from more humor.
Sebastian "Seabass" Zietz
Shakas and smiles, Sebastian "Seabass" Zietz is the tour's ambassador of aloha. Keen to enjoy the ride, he had a lot of fun during his rookie year on tour in 2013. Whether he buckles down and becomes a fierce competitor remains to be seen. He posted a few good results, and when he's hot, he's tough to beat. But like a lot of the younger guys on tour, the hard part is stringing success together for a complete season.
There are a lot of eyes on Julian Wilson this year. In the past, they were the eyes of teenage girls, but his surfing has matured. He ditched the puka shell necklace long ago, and now old "Jules" needs to win to validate himself. Climbing up to sixth in the world last year was a big accomplishment. He was one of the most dominant surfers during the back half of the season. The onus is on him to put in a complete year, and he needs statement-making results at places like Teahupoo, Fiji and Pipeline.