After an uncertain several months, the WSL Countdown Series brought pro surfing back to the water. We saw new formats tested, World Champs dominate, rookies rise and battle-worn heroes return to form. Overall, the series provided a look at where WSL surfing is at right now, and what we can expect when the Championship Tour hopefully starts back up in the not too distant future.
The Wright Family Returns With A Vengeance
Individually each Wright sibling added their own sprinkle of magic over the course of the Australian events. Collectively, the trio dominated the events at Tweed Heads and Stradbroke. In the water Tyler Wright won the Tweed Coast Pro, and on the beach she made a powerful statement with her Black Lives Matter support.
The youngest, Mikey, made his competitive return after almost 18 months due to injury, and dominated the heaving peaks to win at Straddie. The eldest sibling, Owen, may not have claimed a win, but he put in some outstanding heats and looked as on-point as at any time in his career. With the three back after all sustaining long-term, potentially career-ending injuries, the series showed that these three can still dominate the sport.
Italo's Incredible Run
Having won back-to-back CT events, and a World Title, at the back end of 2019, no one seemed more ready for elite level competition than Italo Ferreira. He won both the Onda do Bem Super Airs and Pro Men's division In Brazil, then never looked like losing the French Rendez-Vous of Surfing.
By the time he was finally defeated in the Final of the MEO Portugal Cup of Surfing, he'd surfed more than 20 heats without a loss. And that was with nothing but pride on the line, so you can imagine the improvement when there are points to play for. As it should be the World Champion is the man to be beat right now, but it sure won't be easy.
Next Gen Women Make Their Mark
You may not have heard much about the like of Sophie McCulloch, Vahine Fierro, Nadia Erostarbe and Chloe Calmon, but that soon will change. Each of these young women were given the chance to compete against elite CT level surfers throughout the Countdown series.
All gained a runner-up finish, usually pushing some of the world's best surfers to their limit. The experience was invaluable and we can expect to see them facing these elite surfers more regularly when they too eventually make the transition from surfers of promise to ripping on the CT.
New Ideas and Formats
The Countdown Series provided surfing with a rare chance to see the world's best surfer compete under new ideas and new formats. The mixed doubles format at Rumble at the Ranch brought a team's element to an essentially individual sport, and the seeing the dynamic develop between winners Filipe Toledo and Coco Ho was a delight.
Elsewhere the night surfing element in the Onda Do Bem proved a stunning LED dynamic to Super Air series. Portugal's mobile feature, South's Straddie's barrels and the 12-surfer, strike-mission-friendly field too all had benefits. Not everything worked, and everything won't stick, but even the Covid-19 restrictions in place, the Countdown Series showed that there is always ways to improve the competitive side of the sport.
Jack Robinson Wins Rookie Award
The rookie class of 2020 probably were the most disappointed all the professional surfers when the CT was canceled. A thwarted life long dream is a bitter pill, but the Countdown Series at least provided an outlet to vent their frustration. Matthew McGillivray was the first out of the traps when he was a surprise finalist in the Tweed Coast Pro. Isabella Nichols went one step further with her victory at South Stradbroke.
However, it was arguably Jack Robinson who made the biggest statement. Semifinals in both events on the Australian leg, stunning performances in a variety of conditions and defeats of Owen Wright and Julian Wilson showed that Robinson is more than ready to tackle the world's best. And with the first CT event scheduled for Pipe in December we can expect fireworks when he finally makes his debut.