We're halfway through the great Australian leg of the 2021 Championship Tour, and with the Rip Curl Narrabeen Classic presented by Corona done and dusted, the race for the season-ending, World Champion-crowning Rip Curl WSL Finals at Lower Trestles continues to build momentum.
As all eyes go to the top five positions on the WSL Leaderboard -- because if the season were to end today, those would be the surfers competing at Lowers -- for Gabriel Medina, who now wears the yellow jersey, his command performance in Narrabeen was further proof that he is clearly the man to beat right now.
Three Finals in three events -- with a blistering event performance earlier this week -- have him nearly 6,000 points ahead of his closest rival, fellow Brazilian Italo Ferreira.
Given the confidence he has in the water right, and his new positive vibe tribe -- consisting of his wife, Yasmin Brunet, and coach, Andy King -- on the beach, not only is Medina enjoying the best start of his career, but he appears to be having the most fun he's ever had.
"I've never had such a good time here in Australia," Medina admitted after taking out the Final in Narrabeen against friend and fellow Rip Curl team rider Conner Coffin. "We have had so much amazing support on the beach as well, it's just been so fun."
For Caroline Marks, her win over Tatiana Weston-Webb in Narrabeen catapults her into second on the WSL Leaderboard -- the same place she sat at the end of the 2019 season. She also proved that, while she's renowned for her backhand attack, the forehand that she's been quietly honing on the Lowers left during her quarantine days in San Clemente, California, is downright lethal. Living an e-bike ride away from Trestles, the higher up the leaderboard the 19-year-old flies, the more of a threat she becomes to win the 2021 World Title in her backyard this September.
That said, Carissa Moore is still a good 5,000 points ahead of Marks in the ratings. She hasn't missed a Finals Day all year and Moore's enjoyed her fair share of success at Lowers, too, listing it as her one of her favorite waves in the world and winning there in 2015 -- where she beat 13-year-old wildcard Marks in the opening round of the event. Also worth noting, that it was at this event that Marks became the youngest surfer to ever compete in a Championship Tour event.
But as the Tour now heads west, there is still a lot of surfing to be done. Be it the cold water, sharks or unruly ocean, Western Australia has been notoriously challenging for Medina. He settled for a 17th-place finish there in 2019. And in 2015 and 2017, he suffered stunning losses in the Elimination Rounds, failing to put the pieces together against wildcards Jay Davies and Jacob Willcox, respectively. One has to go back to 2014 for Medina's best result, a 5th-place finish in which he lost to Josh Kerr in the Quarters.
Marks is largely untested at Margs. She made the Quarters in 2019, and in 2018, her first season on Tour, a shark incident forced the event to eventually be finished at Uluwatu in Bali.
Beyond the winners from Narrabeen, there are no shortage of storylines percolating up on the WSL Leaderboard. After a brilliant win at Pipe last December, John John Florence had a shocker not once but twice against flaring rookie Morgan Cibilic. There's a soft spot in Florence's heart for West Oz, so we'll see if he can regain his form at Main Break or The Box.
Ferreira was flying high until he met a well-grounded Coffin in the Round of 16 in Narrabeen. In a controversial, buzzer-beater call, Coffin was able to turn the heat on the merit of his timeless, vertical backhand attack.
"I'm so stoked to make it into another Final. I got so smoked, but I had a good time," Coffin chided after settling for second against Medina.
A lot like Florence, there's was much made about Tyler Wright's aplomb barreling into Australia, but thus far she's struggled to put results on the board. Dealing with an ankle injury sustained before the Aussie leg kicked off, she's gone from first to fourth on the leaderboard and will be looking to regain her form in waters where she's won in the past.
Anything can and probably will happen as the Championship Tour propels ever forward in this unique year, but what is clear is that between Medina, Ferreira, Moore and Marks, the rest of the field is going to have to go all in if they're hoping to land a spot in the Rip Curl Finals at the end of the season. The race is most definitely on.
Men's Top 5:
- Gabriel Medina
- Italo Ferreira
- John John Florence
- Kanoa Igarashi
- Connor Coffin
Note: Igarashi and Coffin are currently tied for 4th position.
Women's Top 5:
- Carissa Moore
- Caroline Marks
- Tatiana Weston-Webb
- Tyler Wright
- Stephanie Gilmore