Earlier this month WSL commentator Ronnie Blakey took us through his highlights from 2016, which was a remarkable year in the sport. Part crystal ball, part pure surf-fan excitement, here are Ronnie's predictions and pointers to what is already shaping up to be another fantastic 12 months of performance surfing:
We're going to see a really cool cast of rookies joining the show once again. Seven new names in total, with a mix of raw youth and seasoned QS experience. I think it's a really competent group capable of causing upsets early in the season which can have a big effect on the title race. I don't think any of these rookies will get into the World Title mix, but I think more rookies will get a Top 22 finish than last year. The generational shift will continue.
The Wide Open Title Race
2017 is shaping up to be one of the greatest title races ever. John (Florence) and Gabriel (Medina) are at the top of the heap, but there's so many worthy challengers below them. Jordy (Smith) is looking deadly after finishing runner-up. Adriano (de Souza) seemed to be finding the same form and focus that saw him stitch up the title in 2015. Filipe (Toledo), Kolohe (Andino) and Julian (Wilson) now look like they're ready to step into the fire. Then you have the old blokes -- Joel Parkinson and Kelly Slater -- maybe chasing a title for the last time. The only thing that can add to that heady mix is a well-rested Mick Fanning amping to get involved!
Kelly Slater Getting His Sh@t Together
"I'm going to get my sh@t (and my body) together for real and see if I can make a last run at the Title." That was one line from a post on Kelly's Instagram just after John stitched up the Title in Portugal. That little social media announcement is what has me most excited about the 2017 season. He's gone and put all the pressure on himself with this declaration. He's done all his Title rivals, including the World Champ, a massive favor. The media focus all year will be Kelly and his final run at a 12th. The funny thing about Kelly is that he relishes the spotlight, and the brighter it shines, the better he performs. So maybe he's actually given himself the edge after all.
The World's Best Waves And The World's Best Surfers
Again, back to Kelly, but his chances might depend more on seeing the Championship Tour's locations firing. The Tour has some of the world's most iconic waves in the world, but the ocean still calls the shots. Kelly has won every event on the schedule except Margaret River. Can he still take out each stop? I don't think so, but he can definitely win Fiji, Tahiti, Jeffreys Bay and Pipe. And he can certainly make the Quarters and Semis at every other location. John only won two events, Brazil and Portugal, on his way to becoming World Champ, but it was avoiding early round losses and consistently cracking Quarters and Semis that saw him stay on top. If we could get a guarantee that Cloudbreak, Teahupo'o and Pipe were going to be firing, Kelly would be my pick for World Champ. Without that guarantee, I'd have to go with Medina.