You’d be foolish to bet on anyone beating Kelly Slater– except Kelly Slater. Fortunately for his competition, the lesson Slater learned from winning 11 was that he can afford to play hooky. After skipping out on J-Bay to chase swell in Fiji, he still managed to bag the title. But expect that habit to catch up with him in 2012.
Now that Slater knows his absences don’t impact his World Title contention, his attendance record will likely get sloppier. It happened to me in high school when I realized that I wasn’t getting penalized for my truancy. I started skipping more, and eventually it caught up with me. And if Slater was willing to skip out on a world-class wave like J-Bay when the forecast went mediocre, you can expect that any hint of a good swell will keep him half a world from lackluster locations such as Brazil or Bells this year.
So with Slater taking out Slater who’s the favorite? Mick Fanning is the obvious choice. He’s done it before. But Mick seems as bored by the idea of winning a third title as you do. Check out his results since 2009. He’s been resting on his laurels, satisfied with two titles. It’s hard to blame him. Lightning never strikes thrice.
What about Taj or Parko? While consistent, they’re built for second like Slater’s built for first. And winning a world title requires winning contests– not just finishing in the semis or finals. Look at their track records: when the title race is close, they don’t win.
Unfortunately, Fiji’s return to the schedule barely helps the goofy-foots with their perennial disadvantage. Most regular-foots can perform just as well on their backhand at the left tubes featured on the 2012 schedule. That’s bad news for Gabriel Medina and Owen Wright, who both demonstrated their ability to win contests last year.
So it appears the most promising World Title candidates this year come from two unlikely places: Brazil and South Africa. Sure, Adriano DeSouza’s emphatic claims are difficult to watch. But they signify the hunger to win and the ability to post scores when it counts. After winning in Brazil and Portugal last year, his next challenge is producing the same results at the heavy-water spots. The impulse to set an example for the new crop of Brazilians on tour and not be overshadowed by them should provide ample motivation.
The only surfer with a better shot at the title in 2012 is a healthy Jordy Smith. He’s shown the ability to win contests and finish in the semis with astonishing consistency, even during an injury-stricken year. With a well-balanced game and an outspoken desire for the title, the crucial placement of the Cold Water Classic– which he won in 2007– could be the extra push that makes this Jordy’s year.