World Surf League kicks off 2017 at Quik Pro
Let the fun begin!
It's been three months since the men and women of the World Surf League's Championship Tour last competed, but that's about to change in a few days. The 2017 WSL Championship Tour kicks off with the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast and the Roxy Pro Gold Coast at Snapper Rocks, Australia. Last year it was Hawaii's John John Florence and Australia's Tyler Wright that won the men's and women's world titles, respectively. This year, it's anybody's game. The stakes are high. The surfers are hungrier than ever. The race for the 2017 starts now. The Quik and Roxy Pros run from March 14-15, let the fun begin!
All eyes on John John
All eyes will be on 2016 WSL World Champion John John Florence as he looks to defend what's his. Florence has kept a relatively low profile in the offseason, which doesn't bode well for his fellow competitors. He really found his groove the second half of the season last year, and if he can keep that focus and momentum going, he's going to be extremely dangerous. Currently, he's considered by most everyone to be the best surfer on the planet, but how he deals with the pressure of stardom and being a world champ remains to be seen. He's been in the spotlight most of his life, so the smart money is on him keeping the roll going. That said, there are a lot of folks out there that would love to knock him off his pedestal.
Wright digs deep
Last year was Tyler Wright's year. She won five events and basically ran away with the title. Wright's a competitive animal and there are no signs of her letting off the gas this year. Carissa Moore and Stephanie Gilmore will do their best to reign her in, but given her potent combination of talent and passion, that's a tall order. The girls on tour are going to have to dig deep in 2017 if they're going to have a chance at catching Wright.
One last run
At 45 years old, Kelly Slater is the most senior man on tour. He's also the most winningest. After showing up at Hazeltine National Golf Club for the Ryder Cup Celebrity Matches last September (as seen with fellow aquatic freak of nature Michael Phelps), one would assume that more golf and less surfing is in the cards for the 11-time world champ, but he's vowed to return to form for one last shot at a title: "Hugely inspired by the young guys on tour these past few months and what @john_john_florence has accomplished this year," wrote Slater on Instagram. "So next year I'm gonna get my sh*t (and my body) together for real and see if I can make a last run at a title."
In December 2015, Owen Wright suffered what many thought would be a career ending head injury while surfing Pipeline. Sidelined from competition for over a year and a half, he's finally cleared by doctors to return to competition. He's accepted the 2017 WSL injury wildcard and will be back on tour full-time this year. "I'm so thankful for the support of my friends and family, my sponsors, the WSL and all the people in the community who sent positive thoughts to me throughout my recovery," said Wright. "I'm feeling stronger every day and I'm very much looking forward to returning to the Tour and further honing my fitness and surfing throughout the 2017 season."
Sweet as sugar and as kind as they come, Carissa Moore was not stoked to finish third in the world in 2016. Already with three world titles to her credit, over the course of her career, she's established of winning titles every other year. She may be the best pure surfer on the WSL's Championship Tour, but as noted earlier, Wright is a fierce adversary. By no means is a fourth title out of the question this year, but she's going to have to go all in if she wants to contend at year's end.
Back in the mix
Another surfer that's returning back to the men's tour in 2017 is three-time world champ Mick Fanning. After a crazy year in 2015 that saw him get attacked by a shark, his wife divorce him and his older brother pass away, he took 2016 to go soul searching. But it's a new year and Fanning has announced that he wants in on the action. "I've decided to come back to competition full time and do the Tour this season," said Fanning. "It was nice to have 2016 off somewhat and decompress, but I'm excited to put the singlet on again. 2015 was a tough year. A lot happened to me on camera and in my personal life. I just felt exhausted by the end of it. Fortunately, I was in a position to step away from the Tour and have some time to myself. I ended up doing a few events and qualifying which was great because I didn't want to take the wildcard off of Bede (Durbidge) or Owen (Wright). I'm coming into 2017 seeded 18th which will be a change for me."
Queen of the tour
The undisputed queen of the tour, Gilmore has six world titles to her credit but as of late, injuries and other interests have taken her out of the equation. Can she return to form in 2017? Well, she won the women's Pipeline specialty event in December and certainly appeared savvy enough to give it a go. It will be interesting to see what kind of preparation she's done going into this season and how she goes out of the gates.
The trajectory of Medina
Brazil's first world champ has had a lot to think about lately. Gabriel Medina's stepfather and cornerman has been suspended by the WSL for the first half of the season because of behavioral issues going back to last year. Could his title have been a case of too much too fast, or is he the real deal? 2017 will tell us volumes about the trajectory of Medina.
Shaking the bad mojo
It might be easy to discount Julian Wilson as a title contender in 2017, but given how well he surfs Snapper Rocks and the latest video edit he just dropped, we have to think he's going places this year. Wilson was in the water with Fanning during the now-famous attack and his rhythm hasn't been right since. Judging by the video evidence, he may have shaken the bad mojo. We'll find out at the Quik Pro.
Hardest worker of the tour
In keeping with our theme of dudes coming back from the brink, at the 2015 Pipeline Masters, Bede Durbidge went over the falls on a wave, slammed into the reef and shattered his pelvis. He spent 2016 rehabbing and is coming back this year stronger than ever. One of the nicest guys and hardest workers on tour, he's gone from sitting in a wheelchair to competing on an elite level. Needless to say, he has a few fans pulling for him.
Waltzing into year three
Dont be surprised if you see Tatiana Weston Webb's name a lot this year. Waltzing into her third year on tour, more and more she's proving to be a title contender. Wright and Moore are the obvious favorites, but Webb knows this and is very capable of using that fact as motivation. She's hungry. She's talented. She's fearless in heavy surf. She's going to give everyone in the Islands a lot to cheer about this year.
The talented rookie
There are a lot of super talented rookies joining the tour this year. Hawaiian Zeke Lau is one of them. The consummate power surfer, he may be the second coming of Sunny Garcia. He's been grinding for a long time and deserves to be where he is. Now it's time to put all the work to good use.