The Qualifying Series draws to a close, but it’s the Championship Tour surfers that form an integral part of the drama.
The headlines scream about the excitement and the angst of qualification, of surfers eliminated at crucial points in their 2017 qualification bids, and of rookies and surfers making comebacks. The Qualifying Series surfers are in the limelight, as the last event of their series draws to a close and careers are made and broken.
Jack Freestone, Ezekiel Lau and Jesse Mendes are all surfers who have their own games to play. A possible qualification, a hopeful return to the Championship Tour after a hiatus or simply to score enough points to get a decent 2017 QS seeding, and launch a career thereof. All of the above are great characters in the excitement of The Grind, and the subsequent roll out of players for the 2017 season.
The backstory of the final event of the Qualifying Series however, is actually three of the stalwarts of the Championship Tour.
John John is simply cruising, in the best possible place to be in the whole world. With the World Champion trophy, the Eddie win, and ‘best surfer in the world’ tag, he doesn't have too much to prove. In fact he is relaxed and happy, surfing his heats like they’re free-surfs, and having the time of his life back at home amongst his friends and family. “You really have to be in sync with the ocean for these events, said John John about the conditions at the Vans World Cup. “I’m fortunate enough to have grown up here and surf the point growing up and so it’s a lot of fun surfing with no one out.”
The chances are that John John could easily finish off the year with yet another victory to his long list for the year, but after bowing out in round 4, he will have to wait until Pipeline to do it.
Kelly Slater is another surfer who has a story to tell as the year draws to a close. He has decided that 2017 is his final year at this lark, and he no doubt wants to finish off the year with a great finish and some of that applause that has been eluding him the last few years. Talking about things that elude the champ, he has never won at Sunset, so a victory here could take that monkey off his back. Despite being the most winningest surfer of all time, he also hasn’t nailed down a Triple Crown win since 1998. Yep, that’s 18 fucking years ago! Writing about Kelly always spits out some amazing fact like that. Robert Slater could smash this event. He is about to surf the semis, so far so good.
Then we have the inimitable Jordy Smith. Free and loose and without injury, Jordy is relishing in the Hawaiian juice and loving being able to throw his big frame around some decent waves. His man-hacks and spray-throwing antics have been lighting up social media, and this year will see him end up with his best result since 2010. His approach to Pipe is going to be the acid test for the years to come.
He has stated that he is going to apply a similar approach that he has applied to Supers, to Trestles or to the waves of Rio. He plans to dial the waves in absolutely, to get to understand the reef, the wave configurations, the swell directions, the tides, and every other variable in between. If he figures it out, and starts applying the logic that Kelly used to so many world titles, then he will finally become that world champion that he strives for every year between injuries. He absolute knowledge of one of the locations of a championship tour venue is massively advantageous to a tour surfer, but having four such venues dialed is going to make for a legit World Title run. The world title run starts the year before, so Jordy is in the midst of his run right now.