The offseason is over and the Challenger Series is here. The action kicks off with the Sydney Surf Pro on March 8, and the world's best surfers are pulling the jersey on once again for what's shaping up to be a historic year for the sport.
After a three-month respite, bodies have been rebuilt, quivers retooled and focus reestablished. A handful of Qualifying Series events have already taken place around the world to date, but the Sydney Surf Pro is the first big-points QS 10,000 of the season and the first stop of the newly formed Challenger Series.
There are currently eight men's QS10,000 events on the Challenger Series schedule, as well as four for the women. What this means for surfers looking to qualify for the 2021 Championship Tour is that there are more points than ever available. They'll be forced to reconfigure their decisions about how to approach the season, including when and where to apply maximum effort.
What we do know before the Sydney Surf Pro gets underway is that everyone, from World Title holders to would-be qualifiers, is taking the first Challenger Series seriously.
World Champs Carissa Moore, Tyler Wright and Adriano de Souza will all be competing in Sydney. Moore's already announced that she won't be defending her title on the CT this year, but with the opportunity to win gold at surfing's Olympic premiere this summer, she intends to keep her tools sharp.
And after being sidelined with health issues for a year and a half, Wright will be looking for a fresh start in Sydney. She returned to competition at the end of 2019, surprising herself as she ripped her way to a runner-up finish at the lululemon Maui Pro.
On the men's side of the draw, four of the top five seeds are heavy-hitting Australians. Number one seed Owen Wright and number two seed Julian Wilson will both be chasing World Titles and Olympic gold this season, making the intense competitive environment of the Challenger Series the perfect platform to "get the feet back in the wax" and shake off the mellow offseason vibes.
Other big names from the CT that are in the men's and women's draw include Seth Moniz, Griffin Colapinto, Sally Fitzgibbons and Johanne Defay. We'll get a look at CT rookies Matthew McGillivray, Morgan Cibilic and Isabella Nichols as they look to make the next big step to the CT on the Gold Coast at the end of the month.
Of course, there's talent in abundance on the Challenger Series and pretty much anybody can beat anyone on the right day in the right conditions. That's the great thing about surfing. Guys like Matt Banting and Nat Young have already notched impressive QS wins this season. Both have previous CT experience. And both still have the talent and fortitude to go blow for blow with the world's best.
There's also an emerging generation that's just now arriving on the scene, and as these things go, they're keen to usurp their predecessors. San Clemente rising stars Kirra Pinkerton and Samantha Sibley could run the table for a breakout win. It would put them on the map and give them a heap of momentum at this early juncture in the season.
Get ready, it's going to be an incredible year.