With the announcement that the Championship Tour will commence next month at Pipeline and Honolua Bay, the dynamics of how leaderboard surfers will set up their season's strategy will dramatically shift.
There will be no sleepwalking into the 2021 CT. There will be no surfing oneself back into shape over the course of the first contest. There will be no easing into a jersey after months off. With the new season starting in Hawaii, every surfer on Tour will need to bring their best on day one or find themselves playing catch up for the rest of the season.
Look no further than the greatest competitive surfer of all time. Kelly Slater stumbled into the 2019 CT season after overcoming several years of nagging foot injuries, and while the 11-time World Champ's return to competition was much heralded in the media, the facts on the beach weren't as glamorous.
He bombed out in Round 2, never scoring more than a 5.70, in one of the most uncharacteristic performances of his illustrious career.
At the next contest at Bells, Slater eked out a Round 2 win against Julian Wilson thanks to a snappy 6-point ride that appeared to indicate the old GOAT had awoken. Slater marched into the Quarters in Torquay, then the Semis at the next stop in Bali and was off to the races after that.
The 33rd-place Finish that Slater deservedly earned on the Gold Coast was his worst result in a season that saw him eventually finish in the Top 10 and contend for a spot on the inaugural U.S. Olympic team. Imagine how 2019 would have turned out for him with a start at Pipe.
Slater holds one of the winningest records in history in Hawaii. He is the owner of seven Pipe Masters titles, and since 2015, in the relative twilight of his career, he's only finished outside of the Quarterfinals once. Had the season started at Pipe in 2019, Slater easily could have used the momentum from a good result to slingshot himself into contention for his 12th Title and potentially swoop up one of the two available spots on the U.S. Olympic team.
But stats are one thing ... The unknowable is how all of these surfers will respond to the raw Hawaiian power after basically taking the year off.
For most of these competitors, they've spent more time at home in 2020 than at any other time in their adult lives. The combination of the potentially daunting conditions and pulling on the jersey for the first time in a year is going to be a test of talent, preparation and mental fortitude.
For the women, because of Honolua Bay's fickle nature, getting consistent reps at the idyllic right-hand pointbreak isn't always easy.
Part of defending Champ Carissa Moore's past success there -- she's won three of the last six years there -- is due to the fact that her team keeps a sharp eye on forecast models and she's able to make quick strike missions from her home in Honolulu over to Maui.
She's the only World Champion with that kind of proximity to the break and it has served her very well over the years.
In addition, because of the demands of the Hawaiian waters, surfers will have to be more fit and focused than in years past. Competitive wrangling and heat strategy will factor in less, as the focus will be on positioning and performance in the critical conditions.
All of our recent World Champs have been able to put up wins in Hawaii, but that's with the momentum of an entire season behind them.
Now, the opportunity to come out of the gates and capture a statement-making win this year may be just the kind of momentum they're looking for to add another chapter to the history books.