With no title on the line, Maui Pro stands on its own to cap 2016

Much of the drama has been removed from the Maui Women’s Pro, which opens today at Honolua Bay. The world title will be going to Tyler Wright for the first time, after she clinched by reaching the final in France. Courtney Conlogue will almost certainly finish in second place for the second year in a row and Carissa Moore will most likely finish just behind her in third.

But there is still plenty to surf for as the women put on the jersey for the final time in 2016. Wright is going after her fifth win of the season, which would tie Stephanie Gilmore for most in one calendar year (2008). Moore will be eyeing her third straight Maui Pro victory, also hoping to win the season’s final event for the fourth year in a row.

The qualifiers are mostly set, unless Bianca Buitendag pulls a rabbit out of her hat. After finishing last season comfortably in fourth place on the Championship Tour, Buitendag has had a much rougher go in 2016. She’s only reached finals day twice and hasn’t made a final. If she hopes to make it back for 2017, she’ll need to drastically outperform the rest of her resume and win the whole thing on Maui. That’s the only chance she’ll have to overtake Laura Enever for the final automatic re-qualification position.

It’s a scenario that neither Tatiana Weston-Webb, nor Malia Manuel will have to stress over. Both Kauai wahine are safely re-qualified for next season. Tati is having her best season on tour, sitting in fourth place. Manuel has been super consistent and sits in seventh with a chance to jump to as high as fifth under the right circumstances.

The two women had the world’s stage to themselves once this year. A crowded Huntington Beach may as well have been an early-morning Hanalei session when the pair took over the US Open of Surfing to create an all-Kauai final. That’s certainly one of my most memorable moments of 2016. The way the tour is currently comprised, just reaching a final is an extreme accomplishment. For Tati and Malia to do it simultaneously isn’t likely to happen again.

But we can certainly hope it does.

Each of their quests for one more opportunity begins in round one non-elimination action. Weston-Webb opens in heat two against Sage Erickson and Alessa Quizon. Erickson has been one of the season’s best stories with a flurry of big results at just the right time. She’s secured herself another spot in 2017 and didn’t need the Qualifying Series to do it. Quizon is going to wind up just short on both the CT and QS leaderboards, so she won’t be getting that automatic bid.

Manuel is set to begin against good friend Coco Ho and Stephanie Gilmore. Thanks to a win at the Supergirl Pro, Ho reclaimed her 2017 spot via the QS. Gilmore and Manuel have an interesting history in head-to-head heats, but this one shouldn’t be quite so controversial with nobody at risk of elimination.

There’s a chance one additional Kauai surfer makes the main event with a one-heat wildcard winner still yet to be determined. Before any other action, Bethany Hamilton will take on fellow Hawaii surfers Summer Macedo, Brisa Hennessy and Mahina Maeda to complete the field of 18 competitors.

It would be Hamilton’s third CT event of the year, if she manages to make it through. She made a huge impression at the Fiji Women’s Pro, knocking off Wright in round two and getting all the way to the semifinals. It wound up really being Wright’s only blemish in an otherwise stellar season. Hamilton would again be a force on Maui if she were to make it through.

Maui always feels like a perfect capper to the season and though there isn’t much rankings volatility to speak of this time around, that may produce some more relaxed and progressive performances.

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

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