The World surf league is back! The updated 'covid' tour brings surfing’s elite to the shores of New South Wales, and although the contest won't be held in the world's best surf, the CT’s return comes as a relief to eager surf fans around the globe who had to endure a mainly contest free 2020. Yeah, sure, it’s partly due to these 'uncertain' times, but this Australian Leg could be a rare chance to see the modern dream tour completed in relatable (albeit potentially subpar) conditions. Gone are the grinding tubes and endless walls of the Superbank; instead, we have Merewether, a curious mix of big wave outer reefs, a rock-hewn corner with a punchy bowl, and shifty peaks to the North. Merewether is not one wave it is many possibilities – often in the same contest.

 Merewether turning on. Photo: Tom Bennets

The Bells bowl and sweeping lines associated with Winki have been wiped. What could possibly replace Bells, you ask? Another beachy, this time at Sydney's beloved Narrabeen. Narrabeen’s contest history dates back to the 70s when it was a regular venue for the 2SM Coke Surfabout. Through the 80s and 90s Narrabeen’s slinking lines also featured on tour. Like Merewether it's a beach break with many moods. Long, coiling lefts in a big North swell (like Wednesday) cute rights into the alley and just maybe the throaty roar of the fabled Car Park pits. Whatever the swell direction Narrabeen always seems to have a hint more push than any of the other Sydney beachbreaks, on any given day. Rest assured Narrabeen will be rippable, and keep in mind that aerial surfing has evolved to a new realm since a CT contest was last held at ‘Northy’.  

Kye Fitzgerald enjoying Gold Star conditions at Narrabeen many moons ago. Photo: Tony Nolan

         

Now, what do all these changes mean for the surfers? I am just a mere fan, but my prediction is the new era of fast-twitch muscle, skatepark-esque surfers will dominate, leaving the traditional good wave surfers in their wake. A quick finger slide down the Instagram vortex is all it takes to see the crazy airs being stuck by the likes of Brazilian superstars Italo Ferreira and Felipe Toledo, not forgetting the well-documented flight facilities of their US rivals Kolohe Andino and Griff’ Colapinto. When Mick Fanning spoke to Ross Williams recently they agreed that Italo and Gabe are the two to watch in this updated leg. Performance surfing is through the roof, and it is clear the top surfers have not been slouching in their time off. One thing 2020 has shown us, at least via a digital medium, is that surfing has reached another level. Grinding out heats all the time makes it hard to actually refine your act. A year without contests has allowed surfers to work harder on the progressive aspects of their surfing. We may well expect things to get dizzy.  

Okay, let's touch on the elephant in the room. What's that, you ask? Much like the Australian Open of tennis, Australian athletes have an enormous advantage. While the international surfers have endured two weeks of surf-less quarantine, the Australian competitors are out surfing the kinds of waves that the contests will be held in.

Owen Wright's been groveling one-foot Bondi with the rest of Sydney. Julian's been launching in punchy, onshore beachies, and Connor O'Leary has been displaying some of the most damaging backside surfing ever on northern NSW points.

Will the fast-twitch Brazilian dynamos dominate? Or will the Australians use the home ground advantage and extra two weeks of surfing to secure the win? The dream tour; it's back! And no matter who wins, it's oh so welcome.