Surfing pro tour opens in Australia

With today being Selection Sunday, college hoops is going to own the discussion over the next few weeks. But without a bracket in place, we’ll have to put off that debate for another day.

However, in the spirit of making selections and predictions, let’s eye the goings on Down Under as the Championship Tour surf season is finally getting under way in Queensland, Australia, at both the Quiksilver and Roxy Pro Gold Coast.

The year’s opening contest typically lays some of the groundwork for what to expect throughout the season, but it’s not always a prime indication of where we’ll end up. Last year, Matt Wilkinson pulled off a stunning win that was followed up by a second straight victory at Bells Beach. But Wilko faded somewhat down the stretch and couldn’t capitalize on that world title dream.

Conversely, Tyler Wright picked up the women’s win on the Gold Coast, which propelled her to five 2016 victories and her first world title.

Since there are fantasy leagues for every sport on the planet and the WSL Fantasy Surf leagues are definitely growing in popularity, let’s examine my selections for this 2017 opener.

On the men’s side, my Tier A picks went to John John Florence and Julian Wilson. Now, it doesn’t take a skilled mind to pick John John at any stop on tour. He may be the most widely selected surfer in a fantasy format, but with good reason. Though Florence is known better for his barrel abilities, his rail game can match just about anyone’s when he’s motivated. Entering the season as defending world champ should provide that motivation.

Wilson is having a great winter, coming in hot through the early Qualifying Series season. He bowed out early last year but made the Gold Coast final in 2015. I think that’s the real Julian we’ll be seeing again.

For Tier B, I’m going with Filipe Toledo, Sebastian Zietz, Owen Wright and Adriano de Souza. In a vacuum, Toledo may be world’s best on these types of waves. He won here in 2015 and made the semifinals last year, so quick starts have been his forte.

Seabass and de Souza are always huge threats at Queensland and need only a little momentum to become contenders in a hurry.

Wright is the wild card here. Not in a literal sense, but it will be interesting to see how he performs in his CT return on home soil. There aren’t many surfers with better flow and Wright can make a lot of difficult waves look quite easy. If he gets rolling, he’s certainly a gamble worth taking.

Down in Tier C, I’m taking a varied approach by going with rookie Leonardo Fioravanti and veteran Jadson Andre. Fioravanti is something of a savant and just seems to know how to get the score he requires. He was a QS beast in 2016 and he may be one of the better rookies to come along in some time. Andre is a pro’s pro and always seeking validation. From Tier C, I’m looking for guys who can at least reach round three and each of these fit the bill.

On the women’s side, having half as many competitors makes selections even more difficult. But I avoided last year’s two top-ranked finishers and went with Carissa Moore in Tier A. It’s an odd year, which means betting against Moore is not advisable. She won here in 2015 and has made the semifinals four straight years, so hopefully she kicks off 2017 with a clear message to the rest of the field.

For Tier B, I went with Tatiana Weston-Webb and Johanne Defay. Since crashing the top four last season, Tati is becoming a true world title threat. She made the Gold Coast semifinals as a rookie two years ago, so she knows how to get off to a quick start.

Defay is on a tear at the moment, making back-to-back QS 6,000 finals in Australia. She edged Paige Hareb for one title and lost to Malia Manuel for the second, but she seems to be putting all the pieces together at the right time. A world title run wouldn’t be out of the question in 2017.

Finally, Tier C belongs to Lakey Peterson. I thought about giving Keely Andrew the nod but when healthy, Peterson is clearly the best of the bunch. Peterson made the quarterfinals in each of the first eight contests in 2015 before injuries have derailed her progression since. If she gets some confidence early, she’s a ferocious competitor who can hang with anyone on tour.

Sweet 16 Cinderellas will soon be emerging, but the CT season has the jump on March Madness. Let’s see what develops as the Gold Coast action kicks off 2017.

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

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