This event started in eight-foot, North Point waves in Western Australia on April 13 and finished seven weeks later in the lefthanders of Uluwatu, Bali. It was appropriate that an entirely unusual WSL Championship Tour event provided a series of atypical results. Rookies won, World Champs fell by the wayside, and the already-tight races for the men's and women's World Titles became tighter. Here we take a look at just a few of the implications from what was an entertaining and historic return to Indonesia.
Let the Rookie Win
Tomas Hermes and Griffin Colapinto set the tone early for epic rookie performances at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast when both made the Semifinals. Wade Carmichael improved on that with his giant-killing run to the Final at the Oi Rio Pro. However, it was Willian Cardoso who trumped them all, winning the Uluwatu CT in one of the biggest upsets in modern surfing history. He was the first rookie to do so since Keanu Asing in 2016 and, at age 32, by far the oldest. He showed mental strength to recover from the disappointment of a narrow and somewhat controversial loss in the Quarterfinals at the Corona Bali Protected and surfed with unrelenting power and impeccable decision making to defeat Adriano de Souza, Filipe Toledo, Mikey Wright and Julian Wilson. His two weeks in Bali netted him 14,475 rating points. Even more importantly, it secured his spot on the CT for 2019.
Johanne Defay grew up surfing over shallow coral reefs in the Indian Ocean, so it is no surprise that the Reunion Island surfer triumphed at Uluwatu. Before Bali, her last victory came at Cloudbreak in 2016. The astute surf fan might start to see a pattern here. In lefthanders where powerful waves spin down over brightly colored rock and technique and poise are paramount, the naturalfooter is always a massive threat. The win lifted everyone's collective spirits (well, except for those of her opponents) and her ranking up to World No. 5. The challenge now is to back that result up in the cold, sand-bottomed, rights of Jeffreys Bay.
The Power Vacuum
In politics, a power vacuum refers to the situation when an individual has lost control and no one else has the authority to take over. Not only are previous recent Champs -- John John Florence, Adriano de Souza and Gabriel Medina -- not dominating (although Medina is picking up momentum), Florence withdrew from Ulu with an injury and is most likely out of Title contention for 2018. That lack of any single, clear frontrunner has created such a vacuum at the top of the men's Jeep Leaderboard, and the race to fill the void is fascinating. Julian Wilson regained the Jeep Leader Jersey after his runner-up finish in Uluwatu, and gained a slender ratings lead over his Brasilian rivals, Filipe Toledo and Italo Ferreira. Yet the lead is not big enough to pack any authority and no other individual surfer has been able to make a run through the unexpected John-John-sized hole at the top. This tightly bunched field refuses to be separated.
A lot is made of the difficulties faced by rookies during their first year on the CT, but history has proven that the second year can be even more difficult. Like the Difficult Second Album syndrome in music, or college football's Sophomore Slump, the Class of 2017 is having a rough time on their second loop on the circuit. Joan Duru, who excelled through the middle part of 2017, has had just two heat wins all year (one in West Oz and one in Ulus). The 9th place finish at Uluwatu for Connor O'Leary, the most recent Rookie of the Year, was his best result so far this season, but he's still languishing at World No. 29 on the rankings. Ian Gouveia, who made it to the Semis at Pipeline last year, is struggling with the backmarkers. As the new batch of rookies take center stage, last year's successful crop are now fighting to keep their places for 2019.
Weston Webb on Winning Regularly
"Heats like those, where you beat World Champs two heats in a row, really boost your confidence," said Tatiana Weston-Webb -- right after she defeated Carissa Moore and Tyler Wright on the way to the Final at Uluwatu. "I feel like I'm in the World Title conversation and that feels great." With quiet confidence and incredible consistency, Weston-Webb has hauled in the rankings frontrunners, Stephanie Gilmore and Lakey Peterson, and is now right in the mix. Since an early-round loss on the Gold Coast, she's made the Semifinals in every event since and progressed to the Finals at Bells and Uluwatu. She still needs to start winning events to truly have a chance at a World Title, but if she keeps up this current form that will be a case of when, and not if.