For the first time, a Championship Tour event will be held at the controlled confines of the Surf Ranch this week as the festivities begin Thursday in Lemoore, Calif.
The competition is set to showcase its unique format and with the conditions of the fairly predictable variety, a pretty reliable schedule will be followed for the duration of the contest.
Unlike other contests with head-to-head competition, surfers will essentially be going against everyone. So it does remove the unlucky nature of putting up a good score and still being eliminated, but it also removes some of the intended advantages of being a top seed and facing lower seeds early on.
Bethany Hamilton will make her 2018 CT debut and she’ll certainly be one of the biggest draws for fans who head to the wave pool to take in the action first hand. Hamilton would normally be a nightmare matchup for the world title contenders, but in this format, she can be an equal opportunity spoiler for everyone in the mix.
Stephanie Gilmore and Lakey Peterson come into the event as clear front-runners for the championship at season’s end. Gilmore has a 5,200-point lead over Peterson and already has three victories this year. But Peterson has two wins of her own and she can replace a ninth-place result, so there is definitely drama brewing for these final three events.
Tatiana Weston-Webb sits in third, just under 10,000 points behind Peterson. It would require something spectacular for her to really put pressure on the top two, but she’s already had a great season with five top-three finishes.
Over on the men’s side, it seems like everything has gone Filipe Toledo’s way all year long. He has a 6,300-point lead over Gabriel Medina and the stops remaining seem to favor his style more than just about anyone else. Medina is obviously capable of stringing together huge results, so this is still unsettled with four contests remaining.
But Toledo has gotten quite a few breaks along the way. Most recently, he was able to reach the semifinals at Teahupoo as the iconic wave was much smaller and less heavy than it normally has been for that event. That was his best ever result in Tahiti and sets him up nicely for the closing stretch.
Despite those individual matchups being so intriguing, this week is every man and woman for themselves. While it’s typically a “survive and advance” mentality, this is now more like “perform and advance” because there won’t be any fluky winners. The three qualifying rounds will determine the finalists with eight men and four women advancing based on their overall scores to then crown a champion.
I have my doubts as to how this event will go, but I also acknowledge that it’s a tremendous advancement in surfing to be able to utilize this technology. To involve it for one contest each season seems fair and I’m sure it will only continue to get better over time as the flaws get ironed out. I’m less optimistic and enthused than I’d like to be, but it is a CT event and has real implications, so it’s bound to be dramatic no matter what.
Oh, and don’t burn your Nikes. Sure, symbolism is important but if you feel strongly enough, give them to someone who can use them.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.