As LeBron James once famously boasted: “Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five …”
While he is yet to equal those lofty expectations, that is exactly the case at the Hurley Pro, where the best in the world have fallen by the wayside well short of finals day. Not a single one of the top five on the Championship Tour rankings survived beyond round three, leaving a huge opening for some others.
Jordy Smith and Kelly Slater must be looking around the rest of the remaining Hurley Pro field and wondering how they’ve gotten so lucky. Smith is now the highest- ranked remaining competitor at No. 6 in the world and his Saturday performance has netted him a spot in the quarterfinals. Smith has won each of his three-man heats and also knocked out Kai Otton in round three.
Slater, who is coming off his first CT event win since 2013, has risen to No. 8 in the rankings and would somehow be again in the world title mix if he were to put together back-to-back wins. The greatness of Slater remains on display as he showcases his versatility. He shined in the heavy barrels of Teahupoo and he’s now lighting up the lip at Lower Trestles. After knocking out Aussies Ryan Callinan and Jack Freestone in rounds two and three, he’ll face California native Kolohe Andino in the fifth round.
Smith and Slater are the only two left in the CT’s top 10, as wild cards Brett Simpson and Tanner Gudauskas have proven exactly as dangerous as anticipated. Simpson first took out former yellow-jersey holder, Matt Wilkinson, in the second round. That was only the opening act as Simpo went on to knock off current world No. 1, John John Florence, in round three.
Gudauskas is representing the family name very well, carving his way into the quarterfinals with a pair of three-man heat wins and a knockout of Gabriel Medina. After Florence’s exit, Medina had a golden opportunity to wrestle away the yellow jersey. But Gudauskas threw away a pair of eight-point rides and still had to sweat for a 17.34 to 17.13 win over the former world champ.
Smith, Gudauskas, Filipe Toledo and Alex Ribeiro are the four who await opponents in the quarterfinals. Simpson will take on Michel Bourez, Slater faces Andino, Stu Kennedy takes on Josh Kerr and Joel Parkinson faces Jadson Andre to determine their four opponents.
Sebastian Zietz will leave Trestles with a throwaway score in just his second round-two loss of the season. He was knocked out by Andre, who is guaranteed his third ninth-place result in the past four contests. That’s a huge stretch for the Brazilian, entering this week 28th in the rankings. He’ll move up nicely and should be within that top 22 qualification area.
It’s a bit of a shocker to see Ribeiro into the quarters. In his first full year on tour, the Brazilian was a second-round loser in the year’s first six events, then made round three at Teahupoo. But this is by far his best ever CT result and he’s an interesting spoiler in the final eight.
Nobody is taking the yellow jersey away from John John, but a win for Smith or Slater would certainly add a new wrinkle to the world title race. Either would jump all the way to fourth place and within another win of the top spot.
It still feels like Florence’s title to lose with the events that remain, but he didn’t do himself any favors in San Clemente. Just when things seemed to have started making sense, here we go again.
Tati, Malia set for Round 4
The women had Saturday off as the men’s event ran through two full rounds. When action resumes in the Swatch Women’s Pro, both Malia Manuel and Tatiana Weston-Webb will have elimination heats in store. Each won their opening heats to jump directly to round three, so this will be their first head-to-head matchups.
Manuel will tangle with Keely Andrew, against whom she is 2-0 in elimination heats this season. Coming off a runner-up result at Huntington Beach, the door is open for another deep run at Trestles.
Weston-Webb will be taking on Sage Erickson, who has been red hot lately. Erickson won the QS Pantin Classic Galicia Pro and was a semifinal in Huntington Beach before that. But Tati is now a CT contest winner and nobody can have more confidence at the moment. She knocked off Erickson in Rio for their one CT head-to-head meeting this year.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.