After reviewing the headspace of all six World Champs competing on the men's Championship Tour in 2017, it's time to take a look at the next batch of stars would-be, could-be World Title winners.
These gentlemen are the six warriors within the Top 10 that have never won a World Title, but are surely looking like they could this season. Between now and the Quiksilver and Roxy Pro events next month, we'll review tiers of competitors on both the men's and women's Tours, assessing the mindset, motivation, and methodology of athletes as they strive to reach new heights.
It seems like every year around the start of the season, media and magazines ask the same question, "Could this be Jordy's year?" A couple years ago the late, great SURFING magazine featured the tall South African on their cover with the words, Jordy's Turn.
But in recent seasons, Jordy hasn't gained real momentum for a certified World Title-run until midway through the year. After finishing second in the world in December, perhaps this year actually is his turn.
"I felt that if I improved parts of my life and my surfing in little bits, then they would add up and it would be positive," he said. "I aimed at improving my boards by 10 percent, and then my fitness by ten percent, as well as my diet by 10 percent. All in, that would be a 30 percent total improvement, for a start."
Certainly, the deadliest and hungriest for the crown out of all the contenders, we expect Mr. Smith's World Title campaign to be in full force starting March 14.
From 25th in 2015 to 4th in the world this past year: That's the jump Kolohe Andino made in 2016. And how? With a newfound, super-solid consistency. By two Quarterfinals, three Semifinals and a runner-up finish at Snapper Rocks. This is the new Kolohe Andino, the competition machine we once saw own the QS who's put a few CT years of experience under his belt and is now grown up. Now an actual contender.
Still searching for that elusive first CT win, if he carries over that same consistency, 2017 may be the year Andino finds himself in the Jeep leader's yellow jersey.
Midway through last season, Matt Wilkinson was holding on to a very large lead in the rankings and the yellow jersey, having finaled in three of the five events, winning two of those Finals at Snapper and Bells. Unusual? Very, as for most of Wilko's career on the CT, he found himself struggling to requalify.
Was 2016 a fluke? We think not. Although for a time, Wilko was a bit of the class clown on Tour, rollerblading to heats in wetsuits covered in breasts (for cancer-awareness), Tyler Wright's key to success, Coach Glenn "Micro" Hall, helped Wilko get serious.
But what Hall unlocked in Wilko wasn't just focus, it was Matt's true potential. And as proven -- be it Wilko's indomitable backside attack in rights or his astounding tube sense in hollow lefts like Cloudbreak -- Wilko's potential is a true World Title-contending surfer. Thus, in 2017, if World No. 5-ranked Wilko can continue to surf at that level, he will remain in that elite space, vying once again for the crown.
A ninth-year CT vet, the Tahitian they call "The Spartan" has commonly sat a couple spots outside of the Top 10, or jumped into the 5th or 6th spots (as he did in 2016).
Of course the Spartan's last result on the CT was his recent Pipe Masters win, a feat that for Bourez, wasn't anything extraordinary. As in the versatile competitor who cut his teeth on thundering lefthand reef passes, certainly has what it takes to win at Pipe. In fact, Bourez is one of the few men on the planet to win all three events in the Triple Crown, something neither Kelly Slater nor John John Florence have been able to do.
While Michel is deadly in absolutely any wave on Tour, the question remains if he can keep up with the guys clicking full-rotation stalefish airs when the conditions turn to 2-foot slop. As the judges seem to enjoy battles between contrasting styles, if Michel goes blow for blow with a guy like Filipe -- but goes hard with what he knows best (his rail) -- we should see the Spartan contending within the Top 5 realm the whole season.
In person, whether in freesurf clips or video parts, Julian Wilson's surfing is simply astounding. His form, the way he maintains speed, his stance, style and ability…it's all quite perfect. He's the type of surfer every regular footer emulates and his versatility -- from technical grab airs to rail-work -- is aces.
A World Title hopeful if there ever was one, on paper, Wilson has never been able to break the Top 5 in his seven years on tour. Sure, he's consistently within the Top 10, but many have often wondered how the 2014 Pipe Master hasn't won a World Title yet. The question remains confounding as it's never been about if but simply, when.
Whether he's held back in some heats to surf more safely or to pander to the judging, 2017 could be the year Julian finally just says, "F--k it." Able to land any trick his opponents can (maybe even more stylishly), with no weakness on any of the waves on Tour, seeing the Title change hands over the last three years between three new champs should surely make Wilson (literally) rise above.
2017 won't be the first year that the 21-year-old Brazilian, often called the best small-wave surfer in the world, has been a contender. In 2015 Filipe won three CT events, battling Adriano de Souza and Mick Fanning for the top spot, before faltering in the end to settle for No. 4.
Coming off a year like that, there were great expectations for the man. But an injury on the Australian leg, followed by the birth of his daughter, surely may have added some other elements to a Title focus. Now, with a whole new blank slate ahead of him, a body all healed up and a new little girl to surf for, expect Filipe to be fired up and gunning for No. 1 and No. 1 only, starting at Snapper.
And how might that path to No. 1 look? Just like his surfing: Unpredictable, bold and always surprising. Indeed, nobody goes for it like Filipe, literally getting a crowd to their feet, showcasing some of the riskiest maneuvers the Tour has ever seen. Always a stunner on the Gold Coast -- he won it in 2015 -- Toledo's campaign for the World Title starts the moment that jersey goes on March 14.