Surfing World's 2014 World Tour Predictions

6 Mar 2014 0 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

Coastalwatch Plus Exclusive with Surfing World Magazine

Words by Sean Doherty | Illustrations by Nanda Ormond

Climb on a chair, stomp your feet and light a match, the asp world tour is back in town with all the big names, bright lights and even a shiny new logo. as usual, speculation is already in full swing – who’s gonna spring from the gates and get that all important early lead? who’s gonna dud out like a wet firecracker? and who’s gonna loft that silverware full of cheap champagne into the air come december? usually it’s anyone’s guess. but not this year. see, we got a man on the inside, a man with the eyes of an eagle, the nose of A pelican and the dome of an anthill. his name is sean doherty and after 25 years in the game nobody is more qualified to throw down THE hard truths. There are few who watch so intensely and consistently each year with access behind the velvet rope to the top 34. these are his predictions and we’re backing him all the way.*

*unless he’s wrong, in which case we’ll sack him for making us look like idiots.

THE WORLD CHAMPION WILL BE... Kelly Slater.

Surprised? Hardly. This has been brewing for a while and there are all sorts of reasons he’ll win. First up, Kelly doesn’t do second well, and as surf fans we should be glad he lost the past two World Titles on the last day of the season, because if he’d won either of them he might very well have walked away. Secondly, this year it’s his show. The ASP are now his guys, he precipitated the change, so he’s got the stage he always wanted and he’s going to throw himself into making sure it works. And while at 42, the old bones might groan, they don’t break and physically he is ready to challenge again. As to how this World Title would happen, here’s a blueprint. Fiji and Tahiti both get swell, he outfoxes the young guys at Trestles, then wraps it up at Pipe. It’s hardly original and hardly fantasy. The biggest danger for him is a lack of swell over the whole season – guffy beachbreaks are his Kryptonite. He also needs the other contenders to cannibalise each other, share the event wins around, and prevent one guy emerging as a clear challenger as has happened in the past two seasons. As for the other guys, Mick has always had trouble backing up World Title years, Parko is in the same boat as Kelly in needing good surf, John John still needs more heats, Gabe’s season doesn’t start until the Tour leaves Australia, while that’s often where Taj’s ends. The big challenges will come from Julian and Jordy.

If the SW crystal ball is on the money, then Kelly Slater will be winning his 12th in 2014. Photo by Todd Glaser

If the SW crystal ball is on the money, then Kelly Slater will be winning his 12th in 2014. Photo by Todd Glaser

THE BIGGEST CAREER REVIVAL…will belong to Bede Durbidge.

Last season on Tour was the Chinese Year of the Geezer. We saw last year what a little self-belief, desperation, and the prospect of flipping burgers or selling real estate did for the pro surfing careers of senior citizens like CJ Hobgood, Kai Otton, and Fred Patacchia. Those guys all went Benny Button. This year our hot tip is that Bede Durbidge is going to jump in the Cocoon pool and start surfing better than he did when he finished second in the world a few years ago. Bede’s decline from regular top five surfer just a few years ago to a guy fighting to save his career was as mysterious as it was abrupt, but we saw a few glimpses last year that the universe might be correcting itself and the big Paddle Pop Lion from Straddie was getting ready to start mauling kids on Tour again, rather than handing them ice creams.

THE FIRST GUY TO QUALIFY WILL BE… Dane Reynolds.

It’s happening, and hallelujah to that. As we go to print there is one surfer who has already entered every six star qualifying event for the rest of the season, and that surfer is Dane. You know the world has been turned on its head when Dane Reynolds is not only surfing heats, but is “building house” with scores of fives and sixes. He is the one missing piece of the pro surfing puzzle and the one that can potentially make the whole thing work, as he will bring a whole legion of surf fans with him who were formerly as disinterested in pro surfing as he was. Exactly why he wants to qualify remains a mystery, even, presumably, to Dane himself.

The only person who doesn’t want to see Dane Reynolds on Tour next year is Lionel Richie. Why? We don’t know. Everyone else would be frill neckin’. Photo by Maassen

The only person who doesn’t want to see Dane Reynolds on Tour next year is Lionel Richie. Why? We don’t know. Everyone else would be frill neckin’. Photo by Maassen

THE BEST RIVALRY ON TOUR… will be between Julian and Kelly Slater.

Look, this is a real speccy; the bromantic nature of the Tour these days means you’re more likely to get a blood feud breakout between the Dalai Lama and Sting than between two loved-up Tour surfers, but let’s imagine a set of circumstances where it might happen. What if the World Title came down to Kelly Slater or Julian Wilson? Not out of the realms of possibility, right? Of all the guys on Tour Julian is the one who possesses the brashness to get in Kelly’s grill in the same manner Andy Irons once did. If Kelly tried a bit of World Title psychology on him, Julian could easily start crushing pretty pictures. Both guys are combustible, so all it’d take would be a spark, say, Kelly walking into Julian’s place the day before the Pipe Masters looking for a hypothetical golfing partner as Julian sat there eating his breakfast?

THE BIGGEST STORY… will be the story of the Tour itself.

After 30 years the joint has new owners and the furniture has been thrown out the window, some of which had people sitting on it when it was thrown. After years with the power base of the Tour being here in Australia it’s now being driven from across the pond in California, there’s a billionaire backer, Jimmy Buffett’s on the board of directors, Kelly’s pulling the strings Oz-style from behind a curtain, and pro surfing, we’re told, is about to go big time. But antipodean cynicism aside, there has been signs that the new owners have a fundamental understanding of what pro surfing should be. Bringing the big wave guys into the tent was a no-brainer and has been a winner already. The womens’ prize money has doubled and their Tour is suddenly the envy of the guys, going to Fiji, Trestles and Honolua Bay. Then they split the Qualifying Tour from the Championship Tour, ensuring that the Championship Tour in years to come will be transfused annually with the best young surfers instead of being mummified by a revolving door of journeymen. We all want pro surfing to work, because God forbid can you imagine life without it?

THE BIGGEST MOVER ON TOUR WILL BE… Owen Wright.

He’s literally and figuratively a wildcard this season. After sitting out almost the entire season last year with a disc problem in his back, we’ve got nothing to gauge his form by. He’s back in the water but has been mo’ underground, the line of thinking is that he’s keeping his jets cool until the first event at Snapper, when he’ll ignite them in the face of whoever he draws in the first round. Apparently he walked into Rip Curl late last year and was asked what his ambitions were for 2014, he matter-of-factly replied, “Oh, winning the World Title.” Not sure if we see him getting there just yet, but he might have a big say in who does.

THE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT WILL BE… sadly, surf fans, John John Florence will not be your World Champion this year.

He’s the World Champ that surfing badly needs, the World Champ everyone wants, the World Champ to rejuvenate what’s become an old man’s game, but here’s why it won’t happen this year – he loves surfing too much. He’s such a purist that he hasn’t yet developed the Machiavellian chess game needed to dismantle opponents, and sadly, the World Champ these days needs to possess that. But look at his life; he’s already winning. The highlights of his year happen between events when he slips away and corners some outrageous swell, and he’ll continue to fry our tiny minds with his surfing and we should be grateful for that. His Title will come.

The SW psychic cat has told us this is not going to be John John’s year for a Crown, but he could well win the Pipe Masters. Der. Photo by Bielmann

The SW psychic cat has told us this is not going to be John John’s year for a Crown, but he could well win the Pipe Masters. Der. Photo by Bielmann

WORLD TITLE OR NOT, KELLY SLATER WILL… surf on. And on.

There is no longer a finish line for the career of Kelly Slater, it’s now a horizon, and he’ll continually be lured toward it and the promise of what lies beyond. He won’t stop, he can’t, and why should he? That fact became clear to me on June 12 last year at about 2.35pm Fijian local time. He’d just won the contest at perfect Cloudbreak with a performance both futuristic and primal, surfing the likes of which the Tour had never seen. Inside the tube that day Kelly saw through space and time and saw a future where he’s still kicking the arses of guys young enough to be his grandkids. It was his finest moment, and as we talked on the boat he continually looked past me back out to the line-up, trailling off mid-sentence as waves coiled and hissed down the reef. He got his trophy that day and paddled straight back out and surfed all afternoon till dark. Kelly Slater can’t walk away from pro surfing, and we should just acknowledge our good fortune that we are here to witness it, because we’ll never see the likes of it again. Amen.

THE BIGGEST STORY WILL BE… the growth of the women’s Tour… and the growth of the girls themselves.

Performance wise, the level of surfing on the Tour has been on a breathtaking incline for the past three years now, driven by 17 girls who can really surf rather than just six or seven, and in many ways the storylines generated on the women’s Tour have been more compelling than those of the guys. Now someone has finally seen the light and believed in them enough to throw them some coin and build a real Tour, in real waves. If the women’s Tour can’t work now, it ain’t ever going to work, but it’s up to them now to deliver. That the girls will step up in the water I have little doubt, but they’ll also need to step up and really own this thing north of the waterline. The Roxy Pro trailergate scandal last year – where Steph Gilmore was followed from boudoir to Biarritz with her bum and not her face starring – was noticeable for the fact that the only people we didn’t hear from in the ensuing brouhaha was the girls themselves. Every peanut on both sides of the “sex sells” debate felt compelled to speak for them. Well, now they’ve got a Tour, they’ve got waves, they’ve got our attention, and it’s time for the women on Tour to step up and deliver a message beyond just “happy” and “fun”. It’s time for them to really lead and really become role models, lead on the big issues, do it on their own terms, and if they do they’ll have the undivided attention of a small army of waist-high gurfers who are amassing in beachbreaks all around the world. Meanwhile, Layne Beachley is busy filling out an application for next year’s wildcard, ready to surf the Tour she always wanted.

THE BIGGEST MOVER ON TOUR… will be Nikki Van Dijk.

As a young female surfer growing up on a place called “Bloke’s Island”, she’s already used to surfing in a competitive environment, and she is very ready to deal with her rookie year on Tour.

THE WORLD CHAMPION WILL BE… Steph Gilmore.

The five-time World Champ has been a little distant from the Tour for a while now. Steph has grown up in front of our eyes over the years, from a teenage prodigy to a girl who is worldly and refined, listening to jazz swathed in vintage clothes, not teen bikinis. Of late she’s seemed more at home in Greenwich Village than she has behind the rock at Snapper. In many ways she outgrew the Tour and became disillusioned and disinterested as a new group of teenage prodigies moved in and took her place. Well, now it’s the Tour that’s grown up, and after spending last year reconnecting with her surfing Steph is ready to dance on the big stage again. There is no surfer who will benefit more than her with the inclusion of Fiji, Trestles and Honolua, as the more room her turns have the more she shines. But more than simply leading the ratings, Steph will lead the Tour itself. She’ll be the girl the others look to, as their collective worlds suddenly get far bigger.

Feature from Surfing World Magazine Issue 348

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Tags: surfing world , sean doherty , asp , nanda ormond (create Alert from these tags)

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