- WSL / Kelly Cestari

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.

OAHU, UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 19: World Title contender Italo Ferreira of Brazil wins the 2019 Billabong Pipe Masters after winning the final at Pipeline on December 19, 2019 in Oahu, United States. (Photo by Ed Sloane/WSL via Getty Images) Italo Ferreira started 2019 with a win and ended the year with a win and the World Title. Can he defend it this season? - WSL / Ed Sloane

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.

Carissa Moore of Hawaii won the Final of the Beachwaver Maui Pro, Honolua Bay, 2018.
Headline/NameBeachwaver Maui Pro 2018
CreditPHOTO: © WSL / Sloane SOCIAL : @wsl @edsloanephoto Carissa Moore's technical barrel riding makes her a dangerous competitor out at Honolua Bay and has brought a total of three event wins at the infamous venue. - WSL / @edsloanephoto

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.

Stephanie Gilmore of Australia won Heat 2 of  Round 3 at the Beachwaver Maui Pro, Honolua Bay, 2018. Stephanie Gilmore enroute to her record-tying seventh World Title in Maui in 2018. - WSL / Ed Sloane

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.

Perfect 10: Kelly Slater at Backdoor
In his 27th appearance at the Billabong Pipe Masters in 2019, the 11x World Champion and greatest of all time earned a perfect 10-point ride.
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