Based purely on the number of events held Down Under, the Australian leg was inevitably going to set the tone for the World Title race this season. The Tour has moved on and many athletes have their focus on the upcoming Olympic Games, but the affect of the four-event Aussie leg is still being felt. Here's just a few examples:
The Return Of The Search
The last time there was a Search event on the Championship Tour prior to the Rip Curl Rottnest Search presented by Corona was in 2010. The decade-plus gap meant a whole generation of CT surfers who hadn't experienced competing at the highest level on wave they hadn't grown up watching their heroes of peers tear apart.
Given the tumultuous nature of dealing with covid, it was a fitting time for this tried and loved concept to make a return, and the waves at Strickland Bay on Rottnest Island threw a spanner in the works for many of the best surfers in the world -- this was a new challenge and required a different approach, but in the end it brought out some amazing surfing and some of the better waves of the Australian leg.
How Would The Rankings Look If JJF Wasn't Inured?
When John John Florence surfed at the Boost Mobile Margaret River Pro presented by Corona, more than a few fans let out of a collective sigh of relief. He'd been eliminated twice by a rookie in the previous two events and everyone knew they hadn't really seen him operating at his full potential.
He unleashed on Main Break, again raising the bar for how to surf that wave or waves like it -- big, raw, open-ocean breaks on which many other amazing surfers just hope to make it through a few nursed turns. This was a return to form for Florence, who'd sat out much of 2018 and 2019 with an injured right knee.
But after a brief glimpse of his awesome potential, it was all over: Florence was out again, back to the United States for surgery, this time on his left knee. Just as we'd seen the fire spark in the two-time World Champion he was removed from the Tour, once again.
How would the WSL FInal 5 rankings look now if Florence had surfed through Margaret River and continued on to Rottnest Island? That's a question we've been asking in some form or another for a few years now, given his string of injuries, but it's worth pondering. He's one of the few surfers on Tour who can take it to Gabriel Medina or Italo Ferreira when it comes to airs, and can match or better them in carves or barrels.
Either way, this development thrown up by the Australian leg has had a lasting impact. Happily, all signs are pointing to him being fighting fit in time for the Olympics.
Medina and Moore Stand Apart
Once the four-event leg was done, Gabriel Medina and Carissa Moore had established such a lead that by the time they surfed the next event, the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro presented by Adobe, they had clinched spots in the Rip Curl WSL Finals.
That means no matter how they surf at Mexico and Tahiti -- the next stops on the Tour -- they'll be surfing for a World Title at Lower Trestles at the end of the season.
We're used to Moore dominating out of the gate, but for Medina, this was new. He usually starts slow, but he appeared in every Finals day of the Australian leg. Many put this down to a combination of his new marriage and traveling with his wife, as well as the services of Australian coach Andy King.
Whatever it was, the Australian leg ushered in a new phase of the Medina story: The Gabby who comes out swinging with a smile on his face, instead of waiting for the season to be half over before he takes the gloves off.
A New Guard Fights For A Title
The Australian leg also set up what has becoming something of a fairytale run for Rookie Morgan Cibilic, who eliminated Florence twice and made the Finals at Rottnest Island.
But more than that, it also saw newer names such as Griffin Colapinto set their year up so that he's now, as it currently stands, in serious contention to be fighting for a World Title by the end of the year.
It's true, the top stops are dominated by names such as Medina, Ferreira and Moore but after the Australian leg -- and with the help of the new Rip Curl WSL Finals format -- we're seeing some new talent making a serious push to claim surfing's biggest prize.