This year’s World Championship Tour lesson: Expect the unexpected

Well that escalated quickly.

Just a few weeks ago it appeared that Carissa Moore was in complete control of the women’s world title race. She had won her first two contests and was coasting into the final at Margaret River to hopefully notch number three. Defending world champ Stephanie Gilmore was nursing an injury. Sally Fitzgibbons and Tyler Wright, two other members of last year’s top four, hadn’t been making the most of their home leg through Australia.

Since that time, Moore’s stranglehold on her would-be third world championship has loosened quite a bit.

With her second victory in as many contests, Courtney Conlogue has now equaled Moore’s number of wins on the season and sits just 2,800 points behind in the world title race.

Conlogue’s win at the Oi Rio Women’s Pro, along with Filipe Toledo’s victory on the men’s side, have shaken up both leaderboards and created much tighter races at the top heading to Fiji. After breaking Moore’s winning streak in the final at Margaret River, Conlogue took down Malia Manuel in the Rio quarters, Wright in the semis and Bianca Buitendag in the final. Having suffered a midseason injury in 2014, Conlogue said she would be training harder than ever to return to the world title mix in 2015. She’s quickly done just that.

Moore still wears the gold jersey, but Rio was her lowest result of the season as she lost to Buitendag in the semifinals. Through almost no fault of her own, a substantial lead has all but evaporated and it’s now a virtual tie at the top of the standings. Everything was going perfectly but Hawaii’s top wahine now has a paddle battle on her hands that doesn’t seem to be easing up anytime soon.

Moore’s four results this season are identical to the way she started last year – two wins, one second, one third. But things took a turn downhill at that point. She made just one semifinal in the next five events before finishing the year with a win on Maui.

Though she seems to have been on the cusp of greatness for some time, Conlogue is into uncharted waters. She’s never been this high on the Championship Tour rankings and had only won two contests in the past four seasons. Now she’s taken back-to-back event titles, she can nearly touch that No. 1 ranking and it’s all happened in the blink of an eye. How she responds from here is the key question.

For the men, the Brazilian takeover is growing more and more formidable. Adriano de Souza still holds the top spot, but he was a third-round casualty in Rio. Toledo continued to show off his aerial repertoire and tantalized the home crowd on his way to win number two on the season. He surges back into second place, 550 points off the lead, and is the only surfer with multiple wins in 2015 (Gold Coast).

If last season was somewhat predictable and consistent, this year is its polar opposite. Defending world champ Gabriel Medina, who seemed to do everything right in 2014, dropped all the way to 19th place for the year after a third-round defeat. Kelly Slater had one of the best heats of the season in Rio before losing just one heat later to Matt Banting and dropping to 13th place.

Bede Durbidge hadn’t won a heat in his previous two contests but surfed all the way to the final in Rio. Italo Ferreira and Matt Wilkinson were tied for 17th on the year but both made it to the Rio semis. Of the current top 12, half were not in the top 12 of last year’s final rankings. That’s how topsy-turvy this year has been.

Socrates famously said “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” He’d be thoroughly enjoying this 2015 season.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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