The Chase is On
It's very early days on the 2017 Championship Tour, and there's still a ton of time left for the pack to shake out, but after Stop No. 3 at Bells Beach, the Australian endurance test is over, which means it's a great time to dive into the Jeep Leaderboard to decipher who's hot and who's not.
At the top of the heap, John John Florence is still clearly the man to catch. Jordy Smith was able to gain a little ground on the Jeep Leader with his big win at Bells, where he pulled even with Owen Wright in the No. 2 spot. Smith managed to shuffle the Top Five deck, too, as Kolohe Andino dropped two slots to No. 5. Adriano de Souza crept past Andino too with another solid 5th place finish.
Florence, Smith and Adriano de Souza have all won the Rio event in the past six years. They'll be the heavy favorites in the run-up to the Oi Rio Pro, May 9-20. The event's new location, Saquarema, should be an upgrade in wave quality (and safety) over the old location at Rio's Barra Beach. The left point (and reform right) at Saquarema is downright bucolic compared to Barra's more urban feel.
What's With the Champs?
On the flipside is the Gabriel Medina/Kelly Slater/Mick Fanning group -- with 15 World Titles shared among the proud trio. Shockingly, all three sit outside the Top 10 after the Australian leg. Slater's been the most consistent of the three Title hopefuls, but 13ths are not keepers when you're gunning for a World Title.
Medina, who finished third in Rio last year and loves being home in comfortable surroundings, might have the most to gain with a good result in Brazil. The love and adulation of an unwavering fan base will no doubt bolster his confidence and comfort level.
Medina likes to start on the inside, but I like to start on the inside, too. -- Frederico Morais, following his strategic win over Gabriel Medina in Round Three at Bells
Fanning's season is perhaps the most perplexing. Sure, he ran into a buzzsaw in the form of JJF at Bells and still walked away with a 5th. But his 13th at the Quik Pro on his home turf was a head-scratcher. Fanning's Titles have all come on the backs of a quick start at Snapper, the opening event of the year. He's not out of it by a long shot, but sitting No. 19 after the Australian leg can't be how he imagined his return to the CT and hunt for a fourth championship crown.
Leading into the ‘17 Aussie leg, Julian Wilson and Smith were two popular picks for new additions the Title race. Smith picked up right where he left off last year. Wilson, however, is currently mired in a "surfed-good-enough-to-win-but-didn't" funk. His post-heat loss interview at Bells seemed positive in the face of potential negativity, but he'll need to keep his head up and not fall prey to a pity-party trap.
This group's current rankings speak volumes about the challenge they all face:
Medina, No. 11
Slater, No. 13
Wilson, No. 16
Fanning, No. 19
Things are much more fluid outside of the Top Five. Caio Ibelli, by virtue of his runner-up finish at Bells, jumped up twelve spots to No. 7. With a pair of 13ths and a Final appearance under his belt after the Aussie leg, the young Brazilian is looking good to follow up strongly on his Rookie of the Year award in 2016. No sophomore slump here.
A rookie and a vet -- Zeke Lau and Wiggolly Dantas -- had the next biggest leap up the rankings, both surfers gaining 11 spots. Lau, following his Semifinal showing at Bells, sits just outside the Top 10 at No. 11 alongside Gabriel Medina. Dantas, who surfed brilliantly at Bells, went from No. 34 to No. 23, tucked neatly in front of a five-pack of surfers sharing No. 24.
Looking for a Rebound
Where there are winners, there are going to be some losers. Conner Coffin and Jack Freestone both dropped eight spots after disappointing 25th-place results at Bells. Coffin is still inside the Top 20 at No. 15, behind two solid showings at Snapper and Margie's. Freestone, too, is inside the Top 20, mainly on the back of a third place at Margaret River.
Jack's now holding two 25ths after only three events, he'll need to be more consistent if he doesn't want a repeat of his down-to-the-wire re-qualification dramatics on the North Shore in 2016. Last year, Conner limped out of Brazil with a Round Two elimination at the hands of Michel Bourez. This time around, he'll be looking to improve on that result