The men's Championship Tour has seen yet another year of high drama. The first seven events saw seven different winners in one of the most open and exciting World Title races in history. Often, though, the source of the excitement and the emotion can be traced back to a pivotal moment. It these turning points that have cause reverberations long after the moment has passed. Here we take a closer look at those clutch chunks of time that have made 2017 so memorable.
Owen Wright's Comeback Stunner
When Owen Wright caught his first wave in his Round One Heat at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast in March, it represented one of surfing's most dramatic comebacks. Less than six months previously, Wright was learning to surf again after suffering a head injury at Pipeline. At that stage just standing up on a foamie was seen as cause for major celebration. Not many could have foreseen the progress Wright made in the latter part of the year as he fought hard to get his life and career back together. His mere presence at the Quik Pro was remarkable, but when he caught his first wave it was clear that not only had Owen recovered, but that he was surfing as well as ever. He went to win that heat and each one he surfed until he claimed victory in the Final. Wright wasn't done either: he remained in Title contention all the way to Portugal.
John John Florence's Round Three Statement at Margaret River
In 35 minutes in the wilds of Western Australia, Florence blew apart the adage that getting to the top is easy, it's the starfing anying there that is difficult. His defense of his 2016 World Title had started well with a competent, rather than dizzying, display on the Gold Coast. In his Round Three heat at Margarets, however, he put on the afterburners, logging a 19-point-plus heat total with a mix of power and progression in the overhead conditions. That was the start of an incredible run where he turned in three more close-to-perfect heat totals on the way to one of the more dominant event wins in history. His defense was well and truly on track.
Jordy Smith Rings the Bell
Years of debilitating pain had taken South Africa's Jordy Smith out of the World Title race for the bulk of his career. But he ended the 2016 season on a high note, finishing No. 2 on the rankings after actually surfing the entire season for the first time in years. In 2017, he was finally confident enough with his health to truly start gunning for a Title, and when he won the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach event that had eluded him for years, Smith started looking as dangerous as ever. His momentum eventually earned him the Jeep Leaders' Jersey for a time, and heading into Pipe this week he's one of four contenders left standing.
Filipe Toledo Runs Interference in Rio
In line with the Butterfly Theory, where a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can cause a hurricane in Texas, it was a single, two-second exchange in Rio that radically altered Filipe Toledo's year and with it, the World Title race configuration. At the three-minute mark the Oi Rio Pro favorite engaged in a paddle tangle with Kanoa Igarashi and was dealt an interference call. The early exit could have been easily salvageable, but his heated reaction to the judges earned him a one-contest ban, and winning a World Title is nearly impossible under such a handicap. He sure made an effort of it though, rebounding sharply with incredible wins at J-Bay and Trestles. But unfortunately, Filipe is still wondering what might have been in 2017.
Matt Wilkinson Finds Redemption in Fiji
Matt Wilkinson's unforgettable start to the 2016 season featured back-to-back Championship Tour wins. It was a remarkable feat, considering that the Australian who'd been on Tour for eight years had never won an event. But Wilkinson's 2017 progress, which garnered far less fanfare, was arguably even more impressive. Wilko got himself back in the Jeep Leaders' jersey midway through this season after his second-straight Finals appearance in Fiji. In order to take the top spot on the Jeep Leaderboard he needed a win, which he delivered this time around.
Julian Wilson's Five Minutes of Magic in Tahiti
With 11 minutes to go in the Final of the Billabong Pro Tahiti, Julian Wilson was in a combination situation, needing 17.87 points to get ahead of Gabriel Medina. By the five-minute mark, he'd broken combo, but still needed two excellent-range scores. A 9.23 had him back in the game, before a late takeoff into a deep tube and spit landed him a 9.73 to take the Final. Those two waves were his two highest-scoring rides of the entire event and in those five minutes Wilson had wrangled his season around. It was a turning point in the Australian's year and the five minutes that have kept him as a World Title contender all the way to Pipe.
Medina's Flip Over Florence in France
Gabriel Medina had been enduring an up-and-down year and coming into the Europe leg, he'd been written off as a World Title hope. As the other contenders fell early, however, Medina saw his chance. It was a single maneuver in his Semifinal with John John Florence that was probably the key moment in the Brazilian's resurgence. That so-called Gorkin Flip was a magical piece of invention that stopped his rival and inspired his Quik Pro France and MEO Rip Curl Pro wins. In the space of three weeks Medina was back in the mix and ready to take it to the wire at Pipe.