- WSL / Sean Rowland

The Jeep Surf Ranch Pro presented by Adobe kicks off a week from today and there's plenty of reasons to be fired up. For starters, the greatest competitive surfer of all time, Kelly Slater, is back in a jersey for the first time since last December. Plus, there will be a record number of up-and-coming talent taking advantage of wildcard and replacement slots.

Several Championship Tour surfers have withdrawn from the event citing a need to concentrate on the upcoming Olympic Games or due to injury, which has opened the door for young phenomenon Eli Hanneman, World Junior Champion Lucas Vicente, SoCal legend Patrick Gudauskas and Hawaiian icon and former CT surfer Coco Ho.

For a full list of who is in and out of the event, check out this explainer.

The Return Of The GOAT

As noted, 11-time World Champion Slater will be back in a jersey at the ranch after missing all four stops of the Australian Tour leg due to injury. 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.

Andino, Florence Injury Updates

And speaking of injuries, two-time World Champion John John Florence and Kolohe Andino are both working hard to come back from injury before the Olympics.

It looks like they're both making steady progress. Andino, who appears to have stepped up his mullet game, recently shared a big milestone for him as he just got back in the water.

"Stoked to finally break a sweat and get back in the water," said Andino on Instagram.

In Florence's case, he noted on Insta that he's "thankful to be feeling stronger every day."

With Andino and Florence the two male surfers set to represent the United States in surfing's Olympic debut, there's a lot riding on them to get better. USA Medical Director Kevyn Dean calls them both, "healing mutants," and is optimistic about their ability to be ready for Japan in less than six weeks.

Fitzgibbons On Top Of The World

Australia's Sally Fitzgibbons and France's Joan Duru have won ISA gold medals in El Salvador, and 40 athletes have now officially qualified for surfing's first ever appearance at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. This is another victory for Fitzgibbons, who has been on a roll after winning the Rip Curl Rottnest Search presented by Corona.

Fitzgibbons will be fired up heading to Tokyo -- she's a proven competitor and is a passionate sports fan with a deep respect for the institution of the Games. She's doing the surfing of her career and at No. 2 on the Rankings, is in a great spot to push for a maiden World Title and a Gold Medal in the same year.

Italo On The Prowel

In the lead up to the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro, defending World Champ Italo Ferreira has been lurking around Orange County and working with master craftsman Timmy Patterson on a few new toys for the pool. It will be interesting to see what they come up with.

In her upcoming "Final 5" prediction piece, Rosy Hodge was especially bullish on Ferreira brings. Given that Gabriel Medina has won there twice and Filipe Toledo is coming off a Rumble at the Ranch victory during the pandemic, is it Ferreira's time to hoist that tractor trophy? Stay tuned for Rosy's picks dropping next week.

Freesurfing Inspo From Pumping Nicaragua

Finally, for your viewing pleasure, some surfing bliss courtesy firing Playa Colorado in Nicaragua. What's not to like about these windswept, hollow beachbreaks? This is the stuff we dream about.

World Surf League
Download it for free on the App store. Download it for free on Google Play.