The countdown has begun for the first-ever, one-day battle for the 2021 World Title. For the men, Brazilians Gabriel Medina, Italo Ferreira and Filipe Toledomake up the Top 3, with Californian Conner Coffin, and Aussie CT Rookie Morgan Cibilic picking off the final two spots after the Corona Open Mexico presented by Quiksilver.
One of the greatest surfers of all-time, South African 1977 World Champ Shaun Tomson, believes it will be one of the most exciting showdowns in history.
The '77 Champ says the Brazilian trio's ascent is comparable to the Bustin' Down The Door era in the early '70s when he, Wayne 'Rabbit' Bartholomew, Ian Cairns, Mark Richards, Michael Tomson and Peter Townend changed the face of professional surfing as they took the world by storm.
The contrasting approach of this generation of Brazilian superstars compared with the previous generation of trailblazers is defining their dominance according to Tomson.
"When I look at the way Mick, Joel, and Kelly's approach it's more of an analytical thoughtful, considered approach. Whereas with those three guys it's absolutely [pause] outrageous fieriness. They are super emotional surfers whereas when you look at the crew that came before them.
"I would say Andy was similar in that emotional approach that Italo has. I still think that Gabriel and Filipe are more calculated. They have that absolute no holds bar, I'll push it to the absolute max and to hell with the consequences. So, it's really interesting to see that energy, that dynamism play out, I love that."
On the underdogs in the field -- Coffin and Cibilic -- Tomson is impressed with how they have performed this season and loves their whole act.
"Conner reminds me of an Aussie battler. But he comes from Montecito -- one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the whole world," laughs Tomson, who also resides in the posh California enclave. "He's got that Aussie battler type of sentiment though and the way he surfs -- it's full power all the time."
"Morgan as well," adds Tomson. "Morgan reminds me of a group of surfers in the 80s -- goofyfooters -- there was Rodd Kerr, Mark Scott, and Rob Bain. He has that same kind of blue-collar element there that reminds me of them in the way he presents himself and in the way he surfs. He seems to have no ego and no pretense, he's very down to earth."
"But it's going to be difficult for those two to make a dent in Filipe, Gabriel, and Italo's arsenals -- they have bigger arsenals. Morgan and Conner, they have the power -- Conner's got the big mid-face power hack which is his big maneuver. "Morgan might have a bit more varied approach and the judges haven't really seen him around that much so he does have that advantage of newness. So, it's going to be interesting how it plays out but it's going to be difficult for those guys not to be in the top three -- Italo, Gabriel, and Filipe."
While the underdogs might have a full-throttle power game Tomson believes the Top Five guys will need to attack the lip and fly above it.
"I think that it will be very difficult to win at Trestle without an air game. In 1989 Christian Fletcher won at Trestles with a big air game and really captured the imagination of the world. Then you go further with Kelly Slater in 90' or 91' -- he didn't do the big air punt but his surfing was on the edge of very innovative."
Despite an average performance by his standards in Mexico Tomson believes Medina is still the clear favorite. He has total faith the Brazilian will bounce back with confidence but is quick to point out where the two-time World Champ is vulnerable.
"It's quite intriguing when you watch Gabriel surf and Italo they're like hunters. They catch so many waves and when they get out of hunt mode -- especially Gabriel when he puts down that anchor it's fatal for him. So as long as he keeps that predatory tactic going I think he's going to be very difficult to beat.
"He also has that advantage of being the number one guy. Which sort of a two-edged sword because the other guys would have been surfing and they will work out the lineup and their board selection will be tight -- but that's why I think it will be interesting and very exciting."