And we're off! The 2019 Championship Tour is officially underway and Round 1 provided both questions and answers about what we may expect to see this season.
One of the biggest developments on tour is the emergence of a cadre of hungry, hyper-talented, disruptive 20-somethings.
Similar to the emergence of the Momentum Generation in the early nineties which catapulted names like Slater, Machado, Dorian and Williams into the surf spotlight; and the rise of the Coolie Kids in the early aughts that shined a light on Fanning, Parko and Morrison; there's a new generation on the rise. With their early-round performances -- the field is officially on notice.
"There's certain waves on tour that I'm clearly still dominating at, where the odds are in my favor and then there's other spots that other guys have dialed," explained Slater. "A small left going into the wind isn't in my wheelhouse. Guys like Gabriel Medina, Filipe Toledo, Yago Dora, Italo Ferreira - in my opinion those are the best air guys in the world. So, for me it's just figuring out how to win those heats." A humble moment from the King as he gazes at threats from all around.
"Honestly I couldn't fall asleep last night. I laid in bed for like two hours," smirked Moniz after winning his first heat as a CT competitor.
"That was just another heat. Even though I was up against John John Florence, it doesn't really matter. I'm just doing my thing," said Wright, who's only been back in the water for about a month after struggling with chronic back issues over the winter.
Always the wise sage, Slater was quick to remind everyone his mind is on the bigger picture -- the chance to go gold.
"The Olympics are playing a big part in my decision to continue surfing on tour or not. If there were no Olympics next year this would be my last year 100%. But at this point I'm just going to bide my time and see what happens," said Slater.
The three-man heats in Round 2 are going to be especially intriguing as Wilson, Smith, Slater and Wright could all be knocked out of the contest. As long as they can avoid a 3rd-place finish in Round 2 they'll advance on, but in the challenging beachbreak conditions at D-Bah -- anything can happen.
All three surfers came into the 2019 season with World Title aspirations, but to burn out early in the first contest of the year adds significant pressure and could make their respective Title campaigns an uphill battle as they'll already be saddled with a 33rd-place result, which presumably they would hope to drop at the end of the season.
True to form, World Champ Gabriel Medina, came out swinging for the fences. Tallying the highest single wave score of the contest thus far with an 8.17 aerial maneuver, Medina edged out Ryan Callinan by less than half a point.
"I'm coming into the season with more experience after the last few years," said Medina after the heat. "With the start of the event, I feel like I'm back home. It's a new year. Everything is starting over. I'm just going to own it."
If Medina is going to "own it" this year and defend his Title, he's gonna have to hold off the youth movement -- even though he's only 24 himself -- which is certainly easier said than done as the newer faces on tour storm the beach looking to win.