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Defenders, Contenders, Disruptors

Gabriel Medina, John John Florence and Kelly Slater are the World Champions to watch in 2019. All three have multiple titles on their resume, and with the 2015 winner Adriano De Souza sitting out the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast due to a knee injury, they'll start the year as the only World Champs on tour.

Collectively, they're the Defenders, the ones who have reached the top of the mountain.

Medina's Perfect Day At Pipe
2:29
Follow Medina through four rounds of commanding scores as he wins his second World Title and his first Pipe Masters.

But nobody gets a free pass. The Contenders are coming.

With a chip on their shoulder and something to prove, surfers like Julian Wilson, Filipe Toledo and Italo Ferreira could very easily be the next to have their name inscribed on the trophy.

With Fanning and Parko retired -- both previous World Champs -- living free and easy this year, there's young blood on Tour with their own ambitions and agendas.

The next generation, the Disruptors, will be looking to make some noise and stake their claim. Kanoa Igarashi, Ryan Callinan, Seth Moniz and a handful of others, they're dangerous and not to be taken lightly.

The Defenders:

Everybody will be looking for a piece of Medina in 2019. He's unequivocally the man to beat. Carrying a world of confidence and momentum, it's going to take something special to knock him off.

Slater has spoken about his intentions on competing for the whole season and is also starting to think about the 2020 Olympics. The 47-year-old, 11x World Champ has been fine-tuning at the Surf Ranch before entering his 27th season on Tour. He appears to have his boards pretty dialed in, or at least they're not as experimental as they have been in the past.

John John Florence during Round Three. Florence was robbed of his season last year due to an injury. Healthy and ready, he will be looking to defend his World Title. WSL / Poullenot/Aquashot

As Slater won heat after heat at the Pipe Masters last December, he began to get that look back in his eyes. The swagger. The showmanship. The old GOAT was back.

Like Slater, 2x World Champ Florence is back this year, in form and in good health. In recently released videos he's been surfing without a knee brace and looking sharp. Reports from within his camp indicate he's energized and excited to get back in the ring. He is really happy with the equipment he's been riding and his body's feeling good. All eyes will be on Florence when he pulls the jersey on for the first time.

The Contenders:

After leading the ratings for a portion of 2018, and being in contention to claim his first World Title, can Toledo keep pace? Atop his abilities in smaller conditions, he made huge strides last year with his dedicated performance at the Tahiti Pro Teahupo'o.

But staying hungry is hard.

It takes an inordinate amount of focus, energy and fortitude. He appears to be healthy and ready to go. If he's surfing with poise and power in those first couple of heats at Snapper, watch out, it could mean this is finally Toledo's year.

World Number Four Ferreira has been looking especially spicy this off season. His air game has seemingly gone next level, which is nuts considering what he was doing last year. He finished 2018 with a remarkable three contest victories, but was also plagued by six 13th-place finishes.

That killed his campaign. If he can clean up those mistakes and start consistently landing in the quarters or better, he'll be right up in Medina's business.

Epic Final: Mick's Emotional Swan Song at Bells
36:51
Mick Fanning and Italo Ferreira face off at the 2018 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach and the Australian surf legend bows out with grace.

But the two biggest obstacles for Brazil's global domination are Wilson and Jordy Smith. Both should have some fire in their bellies after last year. Wilson was a whisker away from capturing the title he has long desired, and Smith was right there all season long.

Surfing most of 2018 with a bum shoulder, this year Wilson is healthy and in a much better space physically. He also welcomed the birth of his baby daughter right before the start of last year's Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast (which he remarkably won) and as any new parent can attest, that throws your life into a sleepless chaos.

Considering the circumstances, it's incredible what Wilson was able to accomplish. With a mended shoulder and a few more hours of sleep, this year's looking good for the Sunny Coast kid.

All In: E7 It All Comes Down To This
26:22
The Championship Tour has made it to Hawaii for the final two events of the 2018 season. This is part one of the All In season finale.

Smith has rededicated himself to training for the tour. He split time this off season in wave-rich Hawaii. The most obvious change he's made to his routine is the addition of ginastica training with Kid Peligro, a 5th degree jiu-jitsu black belt and Brazilian jiu-jitsu Masters World Champion.

Peligro's got Smith looking lean and nimble. Distraction and consistency has been the big South African's Achilles heel throughout his career, but this may be the most focused and prepared he's ever looked. Finishing 5th in the world in 2018, there's no reason he won't contend for a title this season.

The Disruptors:

A massive generational shift comes in the rise of the young 20-somethings: Griffin Colapinto, Kanoa Igarashi and Seth Moniz. Coming up together, they've competed against one another for years and are all ridiculously talented. They're not going to stop until they get to the top and they're already pushing each other to get there.

"We are kids compared to everyone else," explained Igarashi last year after his second consecutive U.S. Open title. "I'm 20. Griffin's 20. Seth's 20. We all grew up watching Kelly Slater win World Titles.

Kelly had won three World Titles by the time we were born. I feel proud to be in this movement of amazing surfing like what Griff and Seth are doing. It definitely pushes me to be the best I can. I get more motivated watching those guys surf than I do older surfers because it's something I can relate to."

Colapinto's Insane 10-Point Barrel Ride At Kirra
1:47
The California rookie scored a triple-barrel in his Quarterfinal at the 2018 Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast.

Rookie Mikey Wright is another that could flair up this year.

Earning himself a spot at the big dance via a number of Wildcard results in CT comps last year, Wright's brash, unpredictable approach means he can pretty much beat anyone anywhere, but he's also prone to flaming out early when things don't go his way.

He may have to cool down the pace to stay within the confines of the competitive structure. The third sibling from the Wright family to join the tour, he'll be able to lean on brother Owen for support and guidance.

Mikey Wright (AUS) has won his heat on Round Three Mikey Wright's brash style in the water makes him a potential disruptor in the 2019 title race. WSL / Laurent Masurel

Callinan is another one that's been on a heater. He made life miserable for Medina at the end of last season, coming up with a big win against him in France, when he went on to secure a runner-up finish against event champion Wilson. Back on tour this year after falling off at the end of 2016, he had a great run in Hawaii to end 2018. His boards are dialed, he's in a great head space and overall he's been running on all cylinders lately.

Of course, we're talking about the Top 32 surfers in the world here and there are names that haven't been mentioned that could easily get on a roll and shoot to the top of the rankings. That's what makes all of this so much fun.

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