The 4x world champion breaks it down.
4x world champion and world tour aficionado, Mark Richards gives Tracks an insight into the 2015 world title race.
Tracks: What do you make of this year’s world title race?
Richards: It’s been a very interesting year. At the start of the year it looked like Adriano was going to run away with it and then his campaign derailed mid way through with a couple of bad results.
Then Mick came on really strong and I thought there was a really good chance especially the way he came back after the shark attack incident and the way he surfed at Trestles. I honestly thought that he would wrap the title up by the European leg of the tour.
But it’s been one of those years where you never know what’s going to happen. You see it all evolving then a wildcard or someone who has been having a bad year so far has a blinder in an event and throws a complete spanner in the works. So it’s going to be a really exciting finish.
Tracks: Do you think conditions will play a huge factor into who wins the title?
Richards: I think the surf will play big factor. Whether it’s pumping Pipeline lefts or if it’s a straighter swell and Backdoor is part of the equation as well. Also a lot of the events this year where they’ve been expecting crazy surf like Fiji and Tahiti haven’t really happened.
I think with the El Niño weather pattern everyone was expecting that first event at Haleiwa [Hawaiian Pro] for it to be pumping and it didn’t happen. It’s quite conceivable the way the year has gone that it could be 3-4 foot lefts and rights and the air game could become part of it. Until we see the surf it’s an unknown thing.
Tracks: What about the wildcards? They’re a potential danger for the top seeds.
Richards: The wildcard situation for one because you’ll have two Pipeline specialists come through [the trials] and they will draw the top guys and anyone of them is capable of causing an upset.
Plus the overlapping heats will be a factor again. Last year we saw Mick in an overlapping heat where he basically got starved for waves. He had second priority for most of the heat and it pumped for most of the first half without priority then it went flat.
Tracks: What other factors will come into play?
Richards: Then there’s the nerve factor – probably not so much for Mick or Gabriel because they’ve been through it before and have nerves of steel. But for some of the other guys who haven’t won a world title and are in contention to win it it’s a massive thing. A lot of things go through your head leading up to a world title event.
Tracks: Who is feeling the most pressure? A young guy like Filipe or Adriano who has been fixated on a world title throughout his whole career?
Richards: Possibly Adriano. I would say the guys who are feeling the pressure the most is anyone who hasn’t won a world title. Mick and Gabriel actually know what they’re in for. I don’t think Mick would be feeling nervous at all given that he has been in this situation numerous times. I think he knows that he’s capable of doing it, he just needs to get the waves.
Tracks: From your experience, what is going through their minds right now?
Richards: I think everyone would have something different going on depending upon how they’re feeling and how happy they are with their boards and what sort of personal head-space their in.
I think when it gets down to the very last contest everyone can surf well, there’s no question from a surfing point of view they’re all capable of winning the world title but I think it’s what’s going on in their heads that will make the difference. I think a lot of the time competitive surfing is probably about twenty per cent physical and eighty per cent mental [laughs].
Tracks: Do you start wondering what’s on the line?
Richards: Your whole year comes down to that last event and every heat in that last event. I think one or two of them may be thinking, one or two more heat wins at some other places during the year and they would have had the title wrapped up and Pipe would just be a fun event and not serious. A lot of stuff starts to play on your mind. Your whole year comes down to a twenty-five minute block with someone in the water trying to rain on your parade and ruin your dream [laughs].
Tracks: There are three Brazilians in the top five in the world right now. What’s your take on the rise of Brazilian surfing particularly in the past couple of years?
Richards: I think it’s been really good. I love how passionate the Brazilians are. They’re obviously surfing unbelievably and I think it’s been a really good thing for surfing. I think it’s made the tour exciting because you have some guys who are so passionate to win.
So many people on the Internet give them a hard time because they hassle in heats and can be a little bit strategic in their positioning but it’s competitive surfing [laughs]. That’s what it’s about –winning and losing. You don’t travel halfway around the world to enter an event and lose. I think there are too many people who have this glorified vision of it from watching from behind their computer that it should be all “buddy buddy” and everyone takes it in turn and everyone loves each other. It’s not.
The thing I love about the Brazilians is that they’ve really brought some passion back into it and those guys…they don’t leave anything in the tank. They’re not scared by anyone’s reputation. They come up against someone like Kelly, someone they should be completely intimidated by and they’re not. I think it’s great. I’d obviously like to see Aussies winning but the Brazilian storm has been a really good thing for professional surfing. You can sit behind a computer and hate all you like but you can’t deny how well those Brazilian kids are surfing.
Tracks: Finally MR, who is going to be crowned champion in 2015?
Richards: I’m an Aussie, I’m cheering for Mick! [Laughs].
In case you need reminding here's the official world title scenarios:
If Mick Fanning finishes 25th/13th at Pipe - Owen Wright & Julian Wilson will need a 1st - Gabriel Medina will need a 3rd or better - Adriano de Souza will need a 9th or better - Filipe Toledo will need a 13th or better to clinch the World Title
If Mick Fanning finishes 9th - Gabriel Medina will need a 1st - Adriano de Souza will need a 5th - Filipe Toledo will need a 9th
If Mick Fanning finishes 5th - Gabriel Medina will need a 1st - Adriano de Souza will need a 3rd - Filipe Toledo will need a 5th
If Mick Fanning finishes 3rd - Adriano will need a 2nd - Filipe will need a 3rd
If Mick finishes 2nd - Adriano will need a 1st - Filipe will need a 1st
And if Mick Fanning wins the event he will clinch the World Title