The 2010’s Of The Championship Tour
The decade the guard changed hands, the Brazilian Storm reigned, and Kelly Slater relinquished his competitive death grip.
The 2010’s are over; The decade where the ASP died and the WSL was born; The decade in which the Championship Tour’s greatest rivalry switched from Kelly Slater vs Andy Irons to John Florence vs Gabriel Medina; The introduction of man-made waves to the tour; And most notably, the decade in which Australia and America’s competitive surfing stronghold collapsed beneath the undeniable heft of the Brazilian Storm and Kelly Slater finally relinquished his death grip over the world number one spot.
The following is a re-cap encompassing all the noteworthy points from these 10 years of competitive surfing.
The year before Kelly became Ke11y. At the turn of the decade, Slater maintained his competitive prowess at the spritely age of 38. He won four events in the year—Bells, Trestles, Peniche, and Isabela (Puerto Rico)—and finished a cool 17,000 points ahead of second placed Jordy Smith to take home his 10th World Title.
It was also the year Dane Reynolds received his highest ever finish. The surfer we’ve often deemed ‘the best in the world’ never seemed cut out for rigid competition, but in 2010 he pieced together a handful of impressive results—albeit nothing in the top two—and earned himself a respectable tied 4th place with Taj Burrow. It was also the first year in which the CT transitioned from its previous point scoring system to one which roughly matches what the WSL uses today.
The most notable part of 2010 however was the tragic passing of three-time World Champion, Andy Irons. Originally en route to Puerto Rico for the tour’s penultimate comp, Andy turned for home citing illness. Unfortunately, Andy never made it home. The surfing world was both shocked and traumatised when the news of Andy’s death spread. That November the world said goodbye to one of the best competitors and surfers we’re ever likely to see and ten years later there’s still a void that only Andy’s ‘larger than life’ personality could fill.
With the passing of Andy Irons the season prior, the 2011 tour started as a sombre affair. One of the tour’s biggest personalities was gone and it was clear that void wasn’t going to be filled anytime soon, if ever. It wasn’t long though until things started to drift back to their old ways, at least in the results sense, with Kelly setting up for another dominant year.
Winning the first event of the year at Snapper Rocks, the idea of Kelly nabbing an 11th Title the year after setting the record at 10 seemed possible if not likely. Going on to win an additional two events—Teahupo’o and Trestles—with another two second places allowed the GOAT to wrap the title at the Rip Curl search event in San Francisco, not once, but twice (due to an ASP arithmetic error, which Kelly himself corrected). It was the last title Kelly would (probably) ever win, but was far from his competitive swan song.
This was also the year that Dane’s bright competitive spark turned out to be a flicker. He may have being fierce in 2010, but in 2011, after spending the first three events sidelined with a knee injury, Dane slumped back to 38th and we never saw him competing full-time on the tour again. With the loss of one competitive light though was the berth of others; although Kelly won the title in 2011, it was hard to deny that Owen Wright shone the brightest. The boy from Culburra beat Kelly Slater in New York, took home $300k (the largest ever prize in surfing) and backed up his rookie of the year performance in 2010 with a 3rd place finish at the year’s end.
It was also the year which Gabriel Medina and John Florence qualified—albeit halfway through the year. Gabriel, at 17 years old, won his first event as an official CT surfer in France and then went on to win again in San Francisco two events later. Gabriel and John had been seen as prodigies for years, but it was Gabriel who excelled in their Championship Tour debuts.
In 2009 Joel Parkinson was unlucky to not win his maiden World Title. Losing to fellow Coolangatta Kid, Mick Fanning, by a few hundred points (this was under the old scoring system). It was the fourth time that Joel had landed in second place. Finally, in 2012, Parko won that maiden World Title, edging out an eager Kelly Slater at Pipe and going on to win the event. It was one of the most consistent tour years we’ve witnessed in recent memory—carrying nothing under a 9th place (only one of them we might add)—and gave Parko the title which had been expected of him since he and Mick burst on the tour in the early 2000’s.
It was also the year in which John John Florence proved he was a serious threat on the CT. Winning his first ever CT event in Rio that year, John went on to finish in third place before he could legally drink in his home nation. It wouldn’t be too long until John was consistently being labelled the world’s best surfer by fans and surf magazines like us.
Lastly, 2012 was the year which the Volcom Fiji Pro was temporarily called off. Not due to a lack of swell, but due to some of the biggest, most perfect conditions we’ve witnessed there. Damian Hobgood, Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, Kelly Slater, John Florence and Josh Kerr were all CT surfers who attempted to tackle the 20-foot walls. But as far as the live webcast was concerned the best waves went to those slightly better equipped—see Ramon Navarro’s wave below.
The year Mick Fanning matched AI with three World Titles.
Losing to Kelly at Kirra (who went on to win the contest) and then once again at pumping Cloudbreak weren’t great starts to the year for Mick, but he never slipped far behind the 11-time Champ. It wasn’t until France however that Mick took his first event of the year, an event which he had won three times previously. But come Pipeline, Mick’s consistency placed him ahead of Kelly in the race for the World Title.
When it came down to Pipe, Mick needed to make the semis to win, and if he didn’t make this cut-off then Kelly still needed to win the Pipe Masters to claim his 12th crown in 22 years. Against Yadin Nicol in the dying moments of the quarter final Mick nabbed a roll-in, took a deep bottom turn and was spat out of what was a ‘classic Pipe’ wave. While the score of that wave and subsequently the heat’s result was debated at the time, this wave gave Mick Fanning his third World Title.
Kelly Slater went on to win the Pipe Masters anyway and has at times been vocal how a later change to the scoring system (implemented by the WSL in 2015) would have resulted in Kelly winning that year. That fact however won’t take away from the year in which Mick performed his best ever competitive surfing.
“Not taking anything away from Mick’s others titles, but for me this was his best year,” says Jake Paterson. “In my eyes, Mick is the ultimate pro surfer. He trains hard and surfs every wave hard. He doesn’t leave one stone unturned in his preparation and is the most focused guy I know in a heat.”
There had been murmurs of the Brazilian Storm rumbling for a while and 2014 was the year that storm struck the tour. And in the eye of that storm was Gabriel Medina.
From the outset at Snapper Rocks, it was clear that Gabriel’s surfing had reached another level. He took out the event beating local Joel Parkinson by .06 in the final and never really looked like faltering throughout the year. Gabs went on to win his first ever Fiji Pro at Cloudbreak and earned his third win for the year at Teahupo’o a few months later in what was the best surfing competition ever held—the WSL reported 12 million people tuned in throughout the event.
While the title race was still decided at Pipe, Gabriel finished the year over 7,000 points ahead of second place surfer, Mick Fanning, and with that become Brazil’s first ever surfing World Champion. At this point it was clear: Brazil’s surfers were no longer underdog challengers, they were leading the field in terms of competitive performance surfing.
“[Gabriel] set the standard of straight up shredding and competitive savvy, and in doing so switched his position from challenger to leader.” Kelly Slater said. “With the weight of a country on his shoulders, he made all the right choices to keep his head on straight and achieve his dream.”
It was also the last year that the Championship Tour would be run by the Association of Surfing Professionals, AKA the ASP. For in 2015, the ASP would transition to the World Surf League (WSL), where a new era of professional surfing was born; not necessarily in terms of surfing, but certainly in the way the sport was portrayed and presented to fans and the public at large.
And the trend continued. For the nationalistic surf fans of America and Australia the naivë may have been able to blow off 2014 as an ‘outlier’ or ‘fluke’. Yeah Gabriel Medina was good, but it wasn’t as if Brazil as a whole was going to grip competitive surfing by the clavicle, was it?
Despite Gabriel’s win, in 2014, the Top 10 was still dominated by Aus and the US, but come 2015 the top had turned green; four of the top-10 surfers hailed from Brazil and three of those—Filipe Toledo, Gabriel, and Adriano de Souza—were in the top five. At Pipeline at the season’s end Adriano de Souza went on to take the title from Mick’s hands and with that marked Brazil’s second title in consecutive years.
Twenty-fifteen was also a year marked with tragedy and shock for the three time champ, Mick Fanning. In a year which his marriage broke down, things became worse when he was attacked by a shark at Jeffreys Bay mid-way through the year in the final with Julian Wilson.
Early in the heat a great white shark got caught in Mick’s legrope. The WSL’s live stream showed Mick falling off his board as a great white’s tail thrashed before a wave obscured both from view. As the wave passed, Mick was cut loose from his board—courtesy the white’s teeth—and swam to the safety of a rescue boat. It was the most dramatic moment ever live-streamed in surfing, if not all sport, as viewers the world over wondered whether they were witnessing the death of a three time World Champ. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
The final was abandoned at the votes of the surfers and both Julian and Mick were handed second place.
Come Pipeline, Mick was in the yellow leader’s jersey and had made it past the two early rounds. The morning of round three, however, Mick was delivered tragic news that his older brother Pete had passed away during the night. Pete was 43-years old. An emotional Mick fought through to the semi finals, melancholic post heats interviews, but eventually lost to Gabriel Medina with a contentious air on Pipe’s end section. This lost paved the way for Adriano to make the final and claim his maiden title.
On top of all the year’s contention, Owen Wright was hospitalised with a head injury after a wipeout at Pipeline before the contest. It turned out that the head injury was in fact an internal bleed on Owen’s brain and as is well known today, he spent the next year of out the water, bed-ridden for a large proportion of it.
All in all, 2015 was a busy year for the World Surf League’s maiden attempt at running a World Tour. One littered with Brazilian competitive dominance, marred by tragedy, and overrun with negative, mostly online commentary, on Samsung and the WSL’s partnership.
Twenty-sixteen started off in a peculiar way. After years of surfing the Qualifying Series while lingering towards the CT’s cut-off point, Matt Wilkinson went back-to-back at Snapper and Bells.
Whether coincidence or not, 2016 also happened to be the year which Wilko adopted a coach, former CT surfer Glen ‘Micro’ Hall. Wilko held the lead up until the back half of the year with a second place finish at the Fiji Pro to accompany his wins, but he ultimately slipped to fifth place by the time Pipe had wrapped. While Wilko’s surprise ascension psyched up any Australian surfer, in hindsight, 2016 was always going to be John John’s year.
At the start of 2016, John took out the Eddie Aikau Invitational at Waimea Bay in only the ninth term the contest has run. His first few events on the CT meandered between average and throwaways, but when he won in Rio, it was clear John’s competitive ability had surpassed those we’d previously seen. Following up with two second places and a third at J-Bay— Cloudbreak and Hossegor respectively—by the time he won the event in Portugal, John was crowned the World Champ. The-kid-so-good-they-named-him-twice won his maiden World Title before returning to Pipe for the final event but his year wasn’t over yet.
At home, the Hawaiian audience treated the ‘prince that was promised’ to an enormous celebration, which only escalated when he surfed Haleiwa, Sunset, and came fifth in the Pipe Masters to also win the Triple Crown. That’s right, John Florence won the Eddie, the Triple Crown, and the World Title in 2016… just think about that.
Although it was obvious the guard was changing with Mr. Florence and Mr. Medina winning titles in the past three years, we saved goodbye to a tour icon. At Cloudbreak midway through the year, the CT said goodbye to the best surfer to never win a World Title, Taj Burrow. Unfortunately the only information publishable about the festivities that ensued is the mohawks cut into the gents who attended Taj’s going away gig on Namotu.
Could John John Florence, now officially the best surfer in the world, defend his maiden World Title?
Yes, yes he could. But let’s start things off with a nice comeback story.
After his near-fatal head injury at Pipe in 2015, Owen Wright spent the entirety of 2016 out of competition. Re-learning to walk, talk, and eventually get to his feet on a board, it was never certain whether Owen would return to his previous status as a top-five competitive surfer and one of the world’s best tube riders. That first question however was answered quickly at Snapper Rocks.
Owen Wright in his first CT event back since injury won the event at Snapper, beating last year’s winner and friend, Matt Wilkinson. If you published a fictional tale like this it would’ve flopped as cliched and unbelievable, but at Snapper Owen Wright showed the world that he had returned and was back surfing at a World Class Level.
For the remainder of the year though it was predominantly the John Florence and Gabe Medina show. The former led the tour through the first half, before being threatened by back-to-back wins from Gabriel in France and Portugal which took the decider to John’s home in Hawaii. A rivalry between the two, one-time Champs was already brewing—exacerbated by the simple fact that these two were the current best surfers in the World—but it truly came to life come Pipe.
John only needed to tie Gabriel to win the Title and Gabriel needed to beat John by at least two heats to claim his second. Both surfers made it to the quarters, but when Gabriel made a few uncharacteristic mistakes in his heat against Jeremy Flores and John surpassed a languishing Julian Wilson, the title tally between Florence and Medina was advantage John. He didn’t quite top it off with a Pipe Masters—a trophy which still eludes Mr. Florence—but winning the World Title on home turf wasn’t a consolation prize, it’s what mattered most.
At Pipe, we also said goodbye to another two CT vets in Josh Kerr and Bede Durbidge, both wearing shirts saying, “10 years onya Kerrzy! Now time for beers”. Another reminder that the guard had truly changed hands.
Soon enough the CT roster would be near unrecognisable to anyone only attentive in the late 00’s. Well, excluding the ageless Kelly Slater.
After two years of unparalleled competitive prowess, John Florence faltered in 2018. Starting the year without a single result above a 9th placing John looked in ‘all sorts’. Mid-way through the year, sitting in a position which would’ve seen him relegated to the QS, John Florence tore his ACL attempting a corked air post-comp at Keramas. He didn’t surf a CT event for the rest of the year and there was one man who wouldn’t let this opportunity slip.
That man was obviously Gabriel Medina. Although he started the year slow—Julian Wilson and Italo Ferreira were the two at the top for the season’s first half—once we’d passed the halfway point the fierce Medina we’re used to seeing was revived. From Tahiti onwards, Gabs didn’t post less than a 3rd place—including two firsts—and springboarded himself into the yellow leader’s jersey.
By the time Pipe was reached, there was little standing between Gabriel Medina and second placed Julian Wilson. To win the title, Julian needed to beat Gabriel by more than a heat, and although Julian is a previous Pipe Master, beating Gabe in hollow barrels when he’s on a World Title run is all but impossible (well, until Italo Ferreira did it this year).
It came down to a final between Gabriel and Julian, but despite how dreamy a surf-off for the World Title is, Gabriel clinched it by beating Jordy Smith in the semis. Gabriel then went on to win the final, claiming his second World Title—equalling rival John Florence’s tally—and his first Pipe Masters.
In 2018, we also waved goodbye to the competitive lives of Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson. At Bells, Mick bid the Tour adieu in near-scripted fashion coming second to Italo Ferreira—but he was chaired up the stairs anyway. Then when J-Bay came, Parko announced that he would be retiring come Pipeline. With over three decades on the tour between them and four World Titles, retirement was thoroughly deserved.
We also waved goodbye to tour hallmarks, Trestles and Cloudbreak, but welcomed the introduction of a wavepool to the World Tour at Kelly Slater’s wave ranch. The response was divisive, but there’s little stopping the inexorable force that are wavepools in the world of surfing.
Last year started off with a bang. Firstly, there were three surfers all vying for the two injury wildcard positions available: John Florence, Kelly Slater, and Caio Ibelli. In the end, the two World Champions were handed the wildcards; a decision which infuriated Caio, who implied Kelly had been picking and choosing the events he surfed, rather than being truly injured. Luckily for the Brazilian, he received an injury replacement for all 11 events anyway.
In addition, 2019 was also the first year in which the WSL gave equal pay to both men and women; a landmark decision for the sport and WSL, being the first international sporting body to give equal pay to the two sexes. It was also a year which would determine which surfers would compete in the Olympics for their country in surfing’s Olympic debut in 2020. And one where the 33rd (better known as the dirty turd) returned along with a rearrangement of event formatting.
After four events, John John Florence’s return was in full swing; he’d won two events, come third in another and 17th in one. At the fifth event in Brazil however, John reinjured his knee on a flyaway kick-out during the Round of 16. He paddled in, still winning the heat, but withdrew from the remainder of the contest and eventually the rest of the year (barring Pipeline, where he surfed to the quarters on a bum knee to protect his Olympics slot). From that point on it was a race between Gabs, Filipe, Italo, Jordy, and Kolohe.
Those five, realistically, quickly whittled down to Gabriel and Italo who swapped the yellow jersey throughout the back half of the year until the title was set to be determined at Pipe.
Come Pipe, whoever did better out of the two would win the World Title. And while Kolohe, Filipe, and Jordy all stood a mathematical chance, their real odds were slim. Since it happened like a week ago, there’s little need to recap the events of Pipeline, but for the first time since Andy Irons and Kelly Slater in the early 2000’s, the title would be decided in the final heat of the year at Pipe. Italo won that final and as a result is the 2019 Pipe Master and World Champion.
And while Kelly had previously said 2019 would be his final CT run (although he also said that about 2018), after winning the Triple Crown at 48 years old and finishing 8th on the rankings, it looks like he may give it one more ‘final’ spin.
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