It was a frantic season across the board for the WSL. The start of the year featured some of the newest members of the Championship Tour acclimating themselves very quickly, but it finished with a few of the biggest names reclaiming their spots atop the leaderboards for both men’s and women’s supremacy. Here’s a look back at some of the key moments as 2018 winds down.
A combination of two decisions paired to win this category. Back in April, some abnormal shark activity fairly close to the Margaret River Pro halted the proceedings. With the appropriate course of action still up in the air, the WSL decided to cancel the remainder of the event. At the time, there was no set plan in place to determine when, if at all, the contest would be completed.
But on the heels of the Bali Pro, they decided to add Uluwatu on to the schedule and resume the Margaret River event at a different venue. It was an unorthodox decision, given the difference in the wave and the time that had lapsed. Picking up where they left off in Australia wouldn’t give a true representation of one complete event, but it was definitely making the best of a bad situation. There wouldn’t be an incomplete contest and the surfers would get to compete at an additional Indonesian gem. It worked out perfectly and Willian Cardoso reaped the benefits with his first career CT victory, while Johanne Defay took the women’s event, stealing it from Tatiana Weston-Webb in the final minute.
This was a close vote and required a recount, but in the end, it’s going to the Surf Ranch Pro becoming an annual contest on both the men’s and women’s CT schedules.
Look, I fully understand the draw of the Ranch. It took some really cool scientific progression to perfect the technology. Kelly Slater has poured much of himself into its development. The waves look awesome. Getting the invite to go surf clean barrels and open faces over and over with nobody else in the lineup is something that I know most of the best in the world drool over.
It just doesn’t make for a very interesting contest. It’s kind of monotonous, each wave takes a while to reset and there aren’t any variables thrown into the equation. Yes, some variables are what can make contest surfing difficult and frustrating when not everyone gets to show what they can do on the same wave. I just don’t think this format is entertaining, which is really the point of any sporting event.
Honorable mention to the short-lived decision to only stream events via Facebook. Let’s not do that.
We have a tie! This one goes to both Caroline Marks and Jesse Mendes. In her rookie season, Marks showed no signs of inferiority, despite only surfing one CT event last year. She began this season by getting to at least round three in the first eight contests, something only also done by Stephanie Gilmore, Lakey Peterson and Carissa Moore. Marks reached as high as third in the rankings and seemed to be poised for a top-five finish, before slowing down at the final two stops and finishing seventh.
Mendes proved that he’s a force in Hawaii, etching his name on the elite list of Triple Crown of Surfing champions by holding off Joel Parkinson and Jordy Smith. There was little doubt that he was ready to break out from the middle of the pack on the highest level, but it all came together in a stellar winter stretch for the young Brazilian.
For me, it’s that Frederico Morais won’t be a full-timer on the world tour next season. I was pretty shocked that he fell out of the top 22, but the fields are so deep and talented now that it can happen to some of the best.
Morais, however, was a guy I thought would be making a big move up the leaderboard after his 2017 rookie campaign, in which he finished 14th. Instead, he exited in the second round at three of the final four stops and missed the cut by one. I have no doubt he’ll be back, but his style and the way he charges have been fun to watch. It’s too bad we won’t see him next year.
Honorable mention to John John Florence’s injury keeping him sidelined for the last six events, including Pipeline.
I think it’s clear by now that I’m a stat guy. But just to finish on a high note, only three surfers on the men’s Championship Tour made the quarterfinals in at least four of the final six events of the year — world champ Gabriel Medina, runner-up Julian Wilson and Sebastian Zietz.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.