World title up for grabs at Billabong Pro Tahiti
Halfway through the year
Halfway through the 2017 World Surf League Championship Tour, the race for the world title is wide open. Heading into the Billabong Pro Tahiti, which runs from Aug. 11-22, there is a whole crew of surfers that are well positioned to potentially make a run at it. The following are the favorites.
Currently sitting at the top of the WSL ratings, Australia's Matt Wilkinson found himself in a similar position last year. The title was his to lose, but after bowing out early in Tahiti, followed by a string of bad results, he drifted out of the world title conversation. Throughout his career, the back half of the WSL season has been notoriously cruel to Wilkinson, a trend he would love nothing more than to reverse in 2017.
Clear path to victory
The defending world champion, John John Florence, is sitting second in the world right now. He has an event win and a couple semifinal finishes anchoring his campaign this year. In 2016, Florence lost to Kelly Slater at the Billabong Pro Tahiti in an epic final duel. Perhaps the best tube rider on tour, heading into Tahiti hes carrying a ton of momentum and will be looking to make his move. If he can capitalize on the hollow surf in Tahiti, he has a clear path to another world title.
This could be the year
South Africa's Jordy Smith has long been considered a world title contender, but has yet to put all the pieces together. He's currently sitting in third on the WSL ratings thanks to a string of good results this year. Of the five events left on tour, two of them are in hollow, left-hand reef breaks, and the wave at Teahupo'o has especially been a thorn in his paw. He'll need to clear this hurdle if he ever wants to win a title, but this could be the year he does it.
Before the start of the 2017 WSL Championship Tour, 11-time world champ Kelly Slater noted that this would be the last season of his storied career, but after breaking his foot at the J-Bay Open in South Africa, he's been sidelined for the next four to six months recovering. He won the Billabong Pro Tahiti last year, but unfortunately won't be able to defend his title.
Biggest show in surf
The biggest show in surf in Tahiti, everyone comes out to watch the world's best.
Winner of the J-Bay Open, Filipe Toledo just rewrote the book on high performance surfing at the famed South African point break. The rub on Toledo is that his game lacks the depth to compete in heavy, hollow, South Pacific reefs. But the fact of the business is that Toledo continues to get better. He has the drive and the passion to overcome his weaknesses, and once he does, the WSL competitors are in a lot of trouble.
Sooner, not later
Gabriel Medina, Brazil's first world champ, started the year off with a bang but slipped into a string of bad results before bouncing back again at the J-Bay Open. There are still five events left in the season, which is plenty of time to turn things around. Medina is capable of winning anywhere in the world, but if he wants to have a shot at the 2017 title, he has to get moving sooner rather than later.
So close, yet so far
So close, yet so faraway. Julian Wilson, currently ranked eighth, always seems to be in the conversation to win an event or contend for a title, but thus far has yet to really cement himself as the man to beat. He was on a roll at the J-Bay Open and the Fiji Pro and has been surfing really well. A win at Teahupo'o will slingshot him up the rankings and make a title in 2017 more realistic.
Heading into the twilight of his career, don't count Joel Parkinson out at Teahupo'o or the world title race. He's quietly posted a number of solid results and snuck up to sixth in the world. He's a bit of a long shot to win the world title, but if he can leave Tahiti with a quarter, semifinal or finals appearance, he'll be in a good position to make a run during the back half of the season. A fan favorite, as well as one of the most beloved competitors on the world tour, a title this year would make a pretty compelling reason to ride off into the sunset.