With seven of the 11 Championship Tour events completed, and the notoriously difficult pacific leg finished, the rookie class of 2017 can now be cleaved into the haves and the have-nots. Connor O'Leary, Frederico Morais and Joan Duru are the three surfers firmly in the former category. They have all had multiple breakout results, which puts them close to re-qualification and pushing for the Rookie of the Year Award.
O'Leary has easily been the standout. Despite winning the Qualifying Series (QS) last year, the 23-year-old still started the year as a relative unknown. His unassuming manner and low-key approach had kept a lid on the hype and unless you were from Cronulla or had watched him closely on the QS, his talent had been a relatively well-kept secret.
That secret was blown wide open at Snapper where his lethal backhand earned a Quarterfinal finish and a host of new fans. Since that breakthrough result, the goofyfooter has never failed to make it to Round Three, showing composure throughout. The, in Fiji, with a Final at Cloudbreak, he answered any doubts that most of his strengths revolve around his vertical backhand. With Luke Egan in his corner and an easy going confidence, O'Leary looks every inch the top 10 surfer that his ranking reflects.
Morais, too, came into the CT ranks as a relative unknown, outside his native Portugal, that is. Last year he'd come from nowhere to make the QS cut with a consecutive Finals in Hawaii and, like O'Leary, he wasn't one for huge amounts of self-promotion.
However, self-promotion and self-belief are two different things and a Bells Quarterfinal finish proved that he wasn't short on the latter. It was at flawless J-Bay where Morais announced himself as more than just a rookie with potential and instead as a surfer capable of beating the very best.
While Morais' list of scalps was impressive -- he defeated Mick Fanning, Gabriel Medina and John John Florence (twice) on the way to the Final -- it was manner in which he did it that carried more heft. It was power-surfing done at the highest level and often under intense pressure. A Round Two loss in Tahiti last weekend may have brought him back to Earth, but with the Europe leg coming his way, re-qualification seems inevitable.
Joan Duru's current World No 16 spot is made more impressive given his poor start to the year. Confidence is the key to any rookie year and the Frenchman's must have been severely dented when he registered a solitary heat win in the first four events. But Quarterfinal finishes at both Cloudbreak and Tahiti, traditionally a rookie's Achilles heel, showcased just how good a barrel rider he is. They sandwiched a solid performances at J-Bay and the combination has seen Duru climb from the dead zone, past the drop zone to being one result away from the dream zone.
The other rookies, Leonardo Fioravanti, Ian Gouveia, Ezekiel Lau and Ethan Ewing, have all shown flashes of their potential, but have yet to string together performances across multiple events. There is still time, of course, and all can look to O'Leary, Morais and Duru as examples that illustrate that experience isn't a requirement for success if confidence, sound advice and talent combine.