With three Challenger Series events in the books and one left coming up in Hawaii later month, for the men, only the Ultimate Surfer Ezekiel Lau has locked in a 2022 Championship Tour spot. That means there are plenty of surfers knocking on the door of qualification has all of the attention shifts to the North Shore of Oahu.
A solid result can see surfers rocket up the rankings -- Connor O'Leary shot from 94th to sixth with a win at the recent Quiksilver Pro France -- so there are dozens of possible scenarios. But here are just a few of the contenders looking like they're in with a very solid shot of either graduating, or returning to the Championship Tour:
But before we go too deep, as mentioned, Lau has clinched a spot on the 2022 Championship Tour. This will mean a hard-fought return for the surfer from Hawaii, who was a full-time CT surfer between 2017 and 2019, and was considered one of its most infamously competitive athletes -- the best example of this was his hassling of John John Florence at Bells Beach in 2018. Lau really did everything possible to get back onto the CT. He even won The Ultimate Surfer, locking in three CT wildcards in the process. Guess he won't be needing them now. More on that come at another time.
Another compelling narrative shaping up in the CS rankings is the success of a new generation of Australian talent coming onto the scene after luminaries such as Julian Wilson and Jack Freestone have stepped back from the Tour.
For the men, the top 12 surfers on the CS rankings graduate to the CT. Going into the Haleiwa Challenger, Liam O'Brien -- Semifinalist as a replacement at Rottnest Island -- and Callum Robson are above the cut line, and Jackson Baker, Jordan Lawler and Dylan Moffat are all within striking distance.
These are all surfers who have been considered further CT fixtures. If they can make the cut it would represent a generational refreshment of talent for Australia. But on that note, with his win in France, O'Leary is looking like he's in a good position to make his way back to the CT, too. O'Leary is one of the most naturally talented surfers in Australia but failed to requalify after some tough heat draws.
Meanwhile, there are some young surfers from the United States in a similar situation. San Diego's Jake Marshall is third on the CS rankings and one of the hottest young talents coming out of the USA, while San Clemente's Cole Houshmand -- despite dropping from Number 9 to 21 after Portugal -- is well within striking distance of CT qualification.
Fellow American Nat Young could be back on the CT, too. He's spent five years on tour previously, but hasn't competed full time on the CT since 2017. Famous for his powerful backhand, he'd be a strong contender at places such as Bells, or J-Bay. At Number 5, he's not far off making the dream a reality once again. Like Lau, he's worked incredibly hard to get back into contention and is both focused and determined rejoin the Tour.
The amazing thing about the Challenger Series is that it's giving a pathway to the CT to a whole new world of talent. Also in the current Top 12 are athletes such as Olympian Lucca Mesinas from Peru and Carlos Munoz from Costa Rica. They would bring a healthy dose of international flavor to the Tour and definitely shake up the traditional global surfing powerhouses of Australia, the U.S. and Brazil.
And speaking of Brazil, it wouldn't really be a professional surfing ranking without a group of hyper talented Brazilians pushing the performance envelope. Well within the qualification conversation are guys like Joao Chianca at Number 6, Samuel Pupo at 15 and Mateus Herdy -- standout from Mexico -- at 17. For them, and many others currently on the CS, it really feels like a question of when, not if we see them on the CT.
The Haleiwa Challenger runs from November 26 through December 7. The final stop of the 2021 Challenger Series season, don't miss a minute of the action as the men and women land on Oahu's famed North Shore.