With six out of eleven events completed, the WCT is hitting its midseason grind. This is the time of year when careers are made-and destroyed. Fail here and it’s back to the grind of the WQS with its crappy beachbreaks and frothing up-and-comers. Crunch time, if you will. Some of the big names, like Andy and Kelly, are right where everybody expected them to be, while others like Cory, Kalani, and Bruce are unexpectedly scratching to re-qualify.
1. Andy Irons
AI has been a model of consistency all year, and he stands in front of the pack by over one-thousand points. Two seconds, two thirds, a fifth place, and a win at Jeffrey’s Bay have placed Andy way out in front of the pack. If he has anywhere close to this type of lead going into Hawai’i, it’s over for any other contenders-AI will have his third consecutive World Title, and the masses will mention Andy in the same breath as Kelly. The big question is this: when will he give his brother the secret formula for winning contests?
2. C.J. Hobgood
Clifton James is on a roll. After winning the Japan event, his second win of the year-he’s the only surfer on the ‘CT to do so this year so far-he passed Slater to vault to second place in the standings. C.J., the 2001 World Champ, came from behind in Japan to defeat Joel Parkinson with 40 seconds left and can handle any conditions the ocean throws at him. If anyone (besides Kelly) is going to give Andy a run for the title this year, this is the man.
3. Kelly Slater
Don’t ever count Slater out. The six-time World Champ, now sitting at third in the ratings, can go on a tear at any moment. An amazing fact: Kelly has not won an event all year. While this may be par for most ‘CT surfers, Kelly must be frustrated by his lack of higher placings. Expect a strong push from Slater as the tour heads into the homestretch at Lowers, Europe, Brazil, and Hawai’i-where the lack of a Sunset contest may help him, as he hasn’t had great competitive luck at the shifting peak.
5. Nathan Hedge
“The Hog” has had an up-and-down year. After a mediocre start in the first two events, Hedge stormed to a second-place finish at Teahupo’o, but was injured in the final and couldn’t surf the next event at Tavarua. Hedge regained his form to place second at Jeffrey’s Bay, but faltered in Japan. Optimistically looking forward, Nathan and his never-say-die, bulldog approach to heat surfing could do well at Mundaka and Pipeline and earn him a personal-best-ever finish.
20. Kalani Robb
Plagued by seventeenths and thirty-thirds all year, Kalani got his act together in Japan, where he placed third, pulling himself out of thirty-third place and the possibility of not requalifying (only the top 27 qualify for the next season) and into the twentieth spot. Still not out of the woods, Kalani needs a strong performance in California, Europe, and Brazil-where he placed first in 2000-to put the grind of the WQS out of his mind. A strong placing at Pipeline is a given for Kalani.
32. Cory Lopez
What’s going on with Cory? After three thirty-thirds in a row to start the year, Cory was already behind the eight ball as far as requalifying. Lopez is too good to be on the WQS, but will be unless he gets his surfing in order. While it’s too early to push the panic button, Lopez has to do well in the beachbreaks of Brazil and France, and Mundaka’s long lefts fit his style perfectly. A WCT without Cory Lopez would be a shocker-and a major bummer for American surf fans.
40. Bruce Irons
What happened to Bruce? A whole lot of thirty-thirds and seventeenths is what. While Bruce remains one of the best freesurfers ever, his contest record is more of a testament to the difficulty of the WCT than any falterings of the younger Irons brother. However, he’s got Lowers, Mundaka, and Pipeline-venues he could totally kick ass at-to prove he belongs with the best contest surfers in the world. Let’s go, Bruce!
Did You Know? (Sidebar)
Thhroughout his career, Kelly Slater has made over a million dollars in contest winnings alone.
As of press time, an unprecedented four out of the top five surfers are American.
Sunny Garcia has been on the tour an incredible eighteen years. Some of his fellow competitors were in diapers while he was famously “kicking top sixteen ass.”
Shea Lopez hasn’t surfed an event all year, but is still ranked ahead of Armando Daltro and Shane Powell.