Most of the focus on the Jeep Leaderboard has been to do with the battle for the top five and the make-up of WSL Finals. However for those surfers sitting in the nether regions on the rankings, shit, as the saying goes, has suddenly got real.
With just two CT events remaining for those athletes sitting outside the top 20 men and top 9 Women, the road is starting to run out. And while the Challenger Series events will offer a chance to qualify through the QS, they all know that the CT remains the most direct pathway to surfing's top table. Here we have grouped those in the relegation zone and look at their chances of making it out.
French veterans Michel Bourez and Jeremy Flores sit deep down on the Jeep Leaderboard after more than a decade of sitting at the pointy end. Injuries have played their part, as has a focus on the Olympics. On the plus side, Teahupo'o provides a last chance saloon for the two Tahitian residents who are recognized as the best natural footers at the famous slab.
Ace Buchan, a former Teahupoo champion, also sits in that camp and after 16 consecutive years on the CT won't go down without a fight. For the women, Malia Manuel, a decade-long mainstay on the CT is sitting as the World No. 11. Unlike previous years, though, she has no final Hawaiian event to fall back on. You'd back her talent and experience, but the next event could be crucial for the 27-year-old.
Unfortunately for a historical surfing superpower, the Australians are over represented in the relegation zone. For the men, 2018 Rookie of the Year Wade Carmichael has failed to log a solid result and is in trouble after two excellent years on the CT. Connor O'Leary's return to the top flight too has been disappointing, given his talent and experience. Jack Freestone is another who hasn't been able to show the form that has had him in the CT since 2016 and saw him finish as the World No 14 in 2019.
On the women's side, Nikki Van Dijk has just won three heats all year (though one was a memorable victory over Steph Gilmore), which is one more than Macy Callaghan. Both are incredibly gifted surfers, and while at different stages of their careers, will back themselves at either Mexico or Teahupo'o to snag the one big result that could turn their year around.
Brisa Hennessy, Jack Robinson, and Mikey Wright are three surfers whose mix of flair, power, and progression had many earmarking them as surfers who could shake surfing's top tree in 2021. Hennessy was the 2019 breakout star, finishing as the World 10 which secured her Olympic qualification. However, the Fijian residing Costa Rican has only won two heats this year and now faces a huge battle to regain her place.
Jack Robinson came into the year as one of the most hyped rookies in recent times. Strangely the talented Aussie has been consistent, rather than explosive, registering a string of 9th and 17th results. However, he is sitting right on the bubble as World No. 25, and with Teahupo'o, one of his favorite waves, to come the rookie still has a great chance of making the cut.
Mikey Wright however has had a tougher time. Being an injury replacement himself probably hasn't helped his planning, but three Round 2 losses is a poor return for a surfer known as one of the most naturally talented and aggressive surfers on the planet. A single 9th at Rottnest is his best result. He's capable of beating any of the world's best on his day, but he's running out of opportunities.