NewsJoan Duru

Is the Sophomore Slump Real?

The sophomore slump, where a second effort fails to live up to the standards of the first, is a well- known phenomenon, from the halls of academia to the fields of athletic performance. In music, it is often labeled the Difficult Second Album Syndrome, where musical acts release a dud after setting the world on fire with their debut. Iconic bands like The Strokes, The Clash and The Stones Roses have all suffered from this pernicious disease.

Connor O'Leary (AUS) placed 1st in Heat 2 of Round Three at Billabong Pro Tahiti 2017 Rookie of the Year Connor O'Leary will be hoping to avoid the sophomore slump. WSL / WSL/POULLENOT

The question is, though, does it apply to surfing? Traditionally, each year the Championship Tour rookie class is saturated with a forensic and frenzied analysis. Fresh blood is always exciting and the Rookie of the Year race also manages to sustain interest all the way to Pipeline. Once the year is over, however, and the rookies are either relegated back to the Qualifying Series or live to fight another year on the CT, the interest wanes. New rookies, like shiny new toys at Christmas, are unwrapped and the sophomores no longer operate under the bright spotlight.

Part of the challenge is that the second year on Tour is as hard, and often even harder, than the first. Keanu Asing knows that all too well. The Hawaiian fell off the CT at the end of his second season in 2016, despite winning the Quiksilver Pro in France in the same year. "I went through mixed emotions and a lot of ups and downs," he said. "It was a tough time in my life. It was hard for me to see the light."

Keanu Asing of Hawaii prepares for round one heat 5 of the Billabong Pipe Invitational at Pipe, Oahu, Hawaii, USA Keanu Asing rebounded strongly in 2017, the year after falling off the Championship Tour during in his second season. WSL / Tony Heff

Stu Kennedy is another surfer who would vouch for that. The Australian burst onto the scene in 2015 as an injury replacement, catching fire at Snapper and keeping the flame alight to end the year as World No. 19. With a year of experience, many thought he could cement his CT place in 2016.

However, Kennedy endured a horrid start, never recovered, and a sophomore slump saw him finish at World No. 35. Another Aussie, Jack Freestone, endured the same fate. While he had qualified in his rookie year on the QS, it was thought that his natural talent combined with added experience at CT venues would make all the difference in 2017. It didn't, and he too is back on the QS.

Stu Kennedy of Australia placed equal 25th at the Corona Open J-Bay with his elimination from the event in Round Two, Heat 11 by Caio Ibelli of Brasil at Supertubes, Jeffreys Bay, South Africa. Stu Kennedy showed flashes of brilliance, but couldn't back up his great rookie year in 2016. WSL / Pierre Tostee

Elsewhere, other recent sophomore surfers who managed to keep their CT spots still slipped down the rankings in their second seasons. Even a bonafide star like Filipe Toledo went from 15th in his rookie season to 17th the next. Sebastian "Seabass" Zietz slid from World No. 16 in 2013 to World No. 20 in 2014. Italo Ferreira, who was Rookie Of The Year in 2014, dropped 8 rankings spots to finish as the World No.15 the following year.

Of course, there have been a few exceptions where the second album wasn't so bad after all. Last year both Conner Coffin and Kanoa Igarashi improved on their difficult rookie years and laid the foundations for long stays on the CT. Now their efforts weren't exactly Eminem, who followed upThe Slim Shady with The Marshall Mathers, but still, it seems that consolidation, rather than fireworks, should be the expectation for year two on the CT.

Filipe Toledo (BRA) placed 2nd in Heat 7 of Round Two at Billabong Pipe Masters 2017 in Pipe  Oahu, Hawaii , USA Filipe Toledo is a superstar of the sport, but his worst performances came in his sophomore year. WSL / Damien Poullenot

Tough times are some of the best learning experiences, too. Asing kept plugging away in 2017, and thanks to a heroic effort that featured three QS victories, he's back on the CT in 2018. "For me, I think what changed was my whole outlook on surfing," he said. "I have a whole different appreciation for what I have today and just to wake up and know that I do what I love for a living is pretty amazing. I'm pretty lucky to be living my dream."

In 2018 it will only be Connor O'Leary, Frederico Morais and Joan Duru starting their sophomore years and attempting to avoid the phenomenon. All had spectacular starts to their CT careers in 2017 and will have goals to improve on their stellar years. However, if they think the rookie years were difficult, history shows that life is about to get even tougher.

Joan Duru of France finished equal 13th in the 2017 Hurley Pro Trestles after placing second to Bede Durbidge of Australia in Heat 11 of Round Three at Trestles, CA, USA. Joan Duru will be doing his best to avoid the second year syndrome in 2018. WSL / Sean Rowland
World Surf League
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