Kelly Slater, the greatest competitive surfer ever, will return to the Championship Tour at the upcoming Jeep Surf Ranch Pro presented by Adobe. After sitting out the entirety of the four-stop Australian leg with a nagging injury, Slater will be back in a jersey and back in action on the iconic wave in Lemoore, California.
Slater, the creator of the aquatic-mechanical marvel that is the Surf Ranch, has an unmatched understanding of how the human-made wave works, its unique fluid dynamics and what it takes to get a big score.
He's also been using his time away from the Tour to develop equipment tailor-made for the freshwater environment.
"We're working with Kelly Slater on a design for the Surf Ranch. Nailing the design, fin placement, and construction is key when trying to find the right load and spring which equates to the lively flex for that extra pop to translate into a feeling," shaper Akila Aipa explained in an Instagram post.
And Slater isn't the only new addition to the event as the men's and women's heat draws will be well shuffled due to a number of withdrawals, their replacements, and event wildcards.
"Heading home to gear up for the Tokyo Olympics," explained Wilson on Instagram after his run at the ISA World Surfing Games in El Salvador concluded. "Feels amazing to be officially qualified and able to focus solely on the Games. I'm excited to put in the work for the next six weeks so I can show up and represent my country with my best."
Gudauskas was last on Tour full-time in 2018, finishing an equal 13th at the 2018 Surf Ranch Pro. His best result that season was an impressive third-place showing at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach. Since then the San Clemente journeyman has been enjoying the best of dad life with his young son, Canyon, and tearing the bag out of Lowers on the regular.
Jordy Smith and Michel Bourez are also out for the event with injury issues. They will be replaced by defending World Junior Champ from Brazil Lucas Vicente and the number one surfer on the Hawaii Qualifying Series high-flying Eli Hanneman.
And with John John Florence and Kolohe Andino continuing to be sidelined with their respective injuries, Mikey Wright will once again get one of the injury replacement spots, while Liam O'Brien will get the other spot due to his recent Semifinal appearance at the Rip Curl Rottnest Search presented by Corona. Wright and O'Brien both enjoyed season-best finishes at Rottnest's Strickland Bay.
Surfing in their absence will be history-making Japanese surfer Amuro Tsuzuki, CT vet and Rumble at the Ranch winner Coco Ho and California next-gen prodigies Alyssa Spencer and Caitlin Simmers. Fifteen-year-old Simmers is the current top ranked female North American junior surfer.
Beyond Gudauskas's appearance, SoCal surf hotbed San Clemente -- the home of the 2021 Rip Curl WSL Finals -- has even more to cheer about as Kirra Pinkerton, the top female surfer on the North American Qualifying Series and 2018 world junior champion, gets the event wildcard. The 18-year-old regular-footer has dipped her toes in the waters of the Surf Ranch in the past, competing in the 2020 Rumble at the Ranch, where she was teamed up with fellow Californian Conner Coffin. Pinkerton got her first CT start as a wildcard in the 2018 Vans US Open of Surfing.
As the number one and two rated surfers on the North American Qualifying Series, wildcards are being granted to Santa Cruz goofy-footer Nat Young, and Virginia Beach journeyman Michael Dunphy. Both surfers have experience at Lemoore, understand the wave dynamics and have the talent to drop huge scores.
Young was on a tear on the QS before covid hit, he has plenty of experience competing at the highest levels, and has one of the most wicked backhand hooks in the business -- which will serve him well on the right. And then there's Dunphy, who's got the hunger, drive and passion of a true East Coaster. He'd love nothing more than to disrupt the status quo and show he belongs on Tour.
Collectively, this group has the potential to really shake things up on the Championship Tour. With the unique leaderboard format in play, heat strategy won't factor in nearly as much as pure performances. There have been no shortage of south swells hitting Lowers lately, giving Gudauskas and Pinkerton plenty of surf to dial in their approaches.
Men's Withdrawals And Replacements
- Kolohe Andino (injury) replaced by Mikey Wright (WSL Replacement)
- John John Florence (injury) replaced by Liam O'Brien (Rip Curl Rottnest Search presented by Corona Semifinalist)
- Julian Wilson replaced by Patrick Gudauskas (No. 4 on North American QS, former CT surfer)
- Jordy Smith (injury) replaced by Lucas Vicente (reigning World Junior Champion)
- Michel Bourez (injury) replaced by Eli Hanneman (top ranked surfer on the Hawaii QS)
Women's Withdrawals And Replacements
- Lakey Peterson (injury) replaced by Amuro Tsuzuki (WSL Replacement)
- Bronte Macaulay replaced by Alyssa Spencer (No. 4 on North American QS)
- Macy Callaghan replaced by Coco Ho (Rumble At The Ranch winner, former CT surfer)
- Tyler Wright replaced by Caitlin Simmers (No. 1 North American Junior)
- Nat Young (No. 1 North American QS)
- Michael Dunphy (No. 2 North American QS)
- Kirra Pinkerton (2018 World Junior Champion and No. 1 on North American QS)