With just two events left on the CT schedule, a clutch of surfing veterans are now running out of time to salvage their seasons and career. In the men'sKelly Slater, Adrian Buchan, Michel Bourez and Jeremy Flores all need a big result in Mexico, and a decent backup in Tahiti to keep their skin in the game. In the women's Nikki Van Dijk, Malia Manuel and Sage Erickson are also on the brink.
In a year where Julian Wilson has already taken an extended break, Jordy Smith has been injured and Adriano de Souza announced this was his final lap, the next two events will be crucial in determining the surfing landscape. A mass changing of the guard could happen rather suddenly. While the Challenger Series remains a backstop, the surfers of this caliber will be desperate to maintain their status through the CT.
For the men, the loss of such a group of surfing icons would be a seismic generational shift. Slater, Buchan, Bourez and Flores have a collective 60 years of CT experience among them. Of course, Kelly skews the data. He won his first World Title in 1992 and has been flirting with retirement for at least five years. Whether he could, and would, compete next year at the age of 50 is still only known to him.
However, the other trio started their CT careers in the decade before last, and have been an ever-present fixture in the top echelons of the sport. Flores and Bourez, the Tahitian-residing French pair, had the Olympics as an obvious focus, but are now ranked as the World No.25 and World No. 29, respectively. While you could never write them off, especially with Teahupo'o to come, you sense a drop off the CT might force them into retirement. After 15 years crisscrossing the globe, and with young children at home living in paradise in Tahiti, a return to the QS would seem unlikely.
Buchan, 35, has faced a series of injuries in 2021, and also with three young children, as well as increasing business interests. One gets the sense he is readying for the next phase. He remains desperate to compete at the elite level, yet has struggled for form all year. And while Tahiti was one of the venues of his two CT wins, the End Of The Road could be, well, the end of the road.
As for the women, the potential change in the surfing topography isn't as generational as the men, but could still be dramatic. The trio of Manuel, Van Dijk and Erickson have all set-up camp in the top 10 for a decade. Manuel started on the CT in 2012, with Sage and Nikki having their rookie seasons two years later, and barring one season, have featured in every campaign since. On the plus side, all have a history of coming back from the brink, either via the CT or through the QS. Their average ages are also less than that of the men's group, and so not making the grade this year won't necessarily lead to retirement.
However, all three are currently sitting outside the cut-off and none have progressed past the Quarterfinals this season. If their collective incredible run of CT status is to continue, they would need to better that form in Mexico or Tahiti, or preferably both. As it stands the next two events will be pivotal if half-a-dozen legends of the sport will be competing in 2022.
The Corona Open Mexico presented by Quiksilver kicks off on August 10, 2021. Don't miss a minute of the action.