Among the surfers on the women's 2017 Championship Tour (CT), there are distinct tiers, from seasoned Champions to emerging stars ready to surf into the spotlight.
Between now and the Quiksilver and Roxy Pro events this month, we'll review each group on both the men's and women's side, assessing the mindset, motivation and methodology of athletes as they strive to reach new thresholds.
Continuing the 2017 preview series, we present the first tier of surfers on the women's Championship Tour: The World Champs.
"I finally realized the difference between someone that doesn't care and someone that cares. And I care," said Tyler Wright in France after clinching the 2016 World Title. While many knew it was bound to happen (Wright bagging a World Title), nobody could've predicted her domination throughout the year.
Although Wright has won a respectable 11 CT events since her rookie year in 2011, five of those were won this past year on her way to the crown. Beyond really "caring" now, it's Wright's headspace that truly looks different and absolutely focused on a repeat. Last year, despite a death in the family and coping with her brother Owen's head injury, Wright maintained focus and drive.
This year, with less weight on her shoulders and under the continuing guidance of CT wunder-coach Glenn "Micro" Hall (who is partly responsible for men's CT No. 5 ranked Matt "Wilko" Wilkinson's parallel success in 2016), Wright now knows what it takes to win -- and should be able to do so again.
While three-time World Champion Carissa Moore won just a single event last year (the Roxy Pro France), she's created a rankings pattern for herself. Which means things are looking good for 2017. What am I talking about? Well, in 2010 after her rookie year she finished in third place. The following year, first. She's alternated these exact rankings for the past seven years. In 2016, she again finished third, so... could 2017 be the year she wins her fourth Title?
If you think this pattern talk is superstition, then fair enough; let's look at her stats. Moore's got the highest heat win percentage (HWP) of any woman on Tour at 71 percent, and in her seven years on Tour she's racked up an impressive 18 CT wins.
"I'm feeling much stronger in my surfing now," said Gilmore, shortly after winning the Pipeline Invitational in December. "This year my biggest letdown was that I wasn't choosing the right equipment all year, and I feel like I'm already on top of that."
And that's good to hear from the six-time World Champion. Gilmore has dominated the Tour since her rookie year in 2007. By 2011, she was passing the Title trophy back and forth annually with Carissa Moore. But after a non-stop, near-decade of leading the pack, Gilmore had some setbacks recently (relatively speaking, that is). In 2015, she missed six events due to injury and slipped down to a career low of No. 12 on the rankings. Last season, however, she began to bounce back: She finished the year ranked No. 6, then won the Pipeline Invitational to round it out. What's looking solid about Steph's 2017 is that she's clearly on the upswing.
Almost a year ago at the Roxy Pro Gold Coast, Gilmore surfed against Coco Ho in that jaw-dropping heat heard round the world where she scored an astounding 19.77 points (out of 20). If Steph can channel that mindset again on the Gold Coast -- and be in tune with her equipment -- we'll could see another identical rankings-jump, from No. 6 to No. 1.