As the halfway mark of the year rolls around, the clean slate with which every surfer began her year is marked up and the room for error shrinks ever smaller -- each heat matters that much more; each incremental gain or loss of points carries a heavier emotional weight. Before the women's Championship Tour (CT) hits at the sixth stop of the year, the Vans US Open of Surfing, here's a rundown of how the top five-ranked surfers are faring, compared to their runs last year. The frontrunner should be familiar -- she won the 2016 World Title -- but the rest of the pack has been shuffled since last season. Here's the overview:
No. 1 Tyler Wright
2016 points: 36,950 2017 points: 36,200 Differential: -750 Wright may be down a few hundred points from this time last year, but that shouldn't give the rest of the Top 5 any comfort. When she clicked into a new gear last year and fought her way to her first World Title -- amid a family trauma as her brother, Owen, recovered from a brain injury -- it seemed that Wright was realizing her potential. Suddenly, under the tutelage of coach Glenn "Micro" Hall, Wright had a new game face, new training regime, and a streak of wins (and see-saw battle with Courtney Conlogue) in which, during the Roxy Pro France last October, she achieved a points lead that no one could surpass. This year, Wright has taken her learnings from 2016 and applied them all over again, fine-tuning as she goes. So far she's won one event, compared to three by this time last year -- but with a 5,800 points lead on the next-highest ranked surfer, Sally Fitzgibbons, the four women trailing her still have a lot of work to do if they don't want her to win the Title again.
No. 2 Sally Fitzgibbons
2016 points: 28,150 2017 points: 34,700 Differential: +6,550 By now, Fitzgibbons' status as one of the fittest, most focused surfers on the CT is practically axiomatic. Fitzgibbons might as well have been born with a game face -- a competitor at heart with a record of success across multiple sports, she's the kind of athlete that likely could have achieved in any number of disciplines. But so far, in surfing, this is the closest she's come to a Title since 2012. Last year she suffered a career low, finishing the season at World No. 8, but got engaged, created a workout series, and entrepreneured her way around the world. But this year, her focus is clearly back on surfing and at this point in the season, she's back where she started her career: as a contender. (Her first three years on Tour, from 2011 to 2012, she finished runner-up.) If she can get another win (or five) under her belt this year, she has a fighting chance to finally achieve her biggest dream.
No. 3 Stephanie Gilmore
2016 points: 24,100 2017 points: 33,000 Differential: +8,900 Gilmore, the six-time World Champion, has been a wildcard this season in terms of results. The Australian has always made her surfing seem effortless -- and, based on numerous post-heat interviews, it seems that in fact, it was. But that was then. In the past three years, clichés aside, the other women on Tour are battling harder, they're hungrier than ever and giving former entrenched top dogs a run for their waveriding money. In the face of that, Gilmore appeared to spend much of last season reacting her way through the year. Over the past five months, though, her closer attention to heat strategy and reignited competitive fire are paying off. At this point last year, she was looking at a string of fifth-place finishes and a ninth. This time around she's back on track with a win, a third-place finish and a second place and even a shared Jeep Leader's jersey at one point. If she can keep that momentum, she still has a fighting chance to capture a seventh Title.
No. 4 Courtney Conlogue
2016 points: 37,700 2017 points: 31,800 Differential: -5,900 In terms of numbers alone, the biggest difference between Courtney Conlogue this year and Courtney Conlogue last year is consistency. The 2016 season was dominated by the Conlogue and Wright see-saw Title battle, with the two passing the Jeep Leader's yellow jersey back and forth until the bitter end in France. But this year, Conlogue has taken the brave step of shaking things up. She started working with a new coach, former CT surfer Luke Egan; trying new boards; and even experimenting with revealing a side of herself that departs from her heart-of-a-warrior reputation. So far in 2017 she's won two events -- Bells and Fiji -- and is poised to win more. But she's also had two ninths and a fifth -- neither of which screams Title winner. Still, her transition year could pay off yet. Next up, at the Vans US Open of Surfing, she'll be on home turf. Comfortable, upbeat and well-versed in Huntington Beach's fickle ways. Which is all to say: Poised for greatness -- or at the very least, more experimentation, that could pay dividends in the back half of the year.
No. 5 Johanne Defay
2016 points: 28,650 2017 points: 28,200 Differential: -450 Now in her fourth year on Tour, Defay is starting to solidify her place in the upper echelon of the Tour. Last year, she finished at World No 5, thanks largely to a win at the Fiji Pro. This year, she has yet to win a contest, but a third place on the Gold Coast and a runner-up finish in Rio have kept her in the Top 5. And, impressively, even without a 10,000-point contest win, she's nearly keeping pace with her points total at this point last year. While the French powerhouse has yet to transcend herself -- last year there was her famous club sandwich, for example -- but it's just a matter of time. In 2015, she won the Vans US Open of Surfing so, if she's looking for a boost up the Jeep Leaderboard, Huntington could be just what the doctor ordered.
Catch the top 5 and the rest of the Top 17 live daily at the Vans US Open of Surfing July 31- August 6.