Partway through the Corona Open Mexico, the ensuing stop on the Championship Tour in Tahiti – set to be the final event before the WSL Finals at Trestles – was cancelled in yet another curveball thrown by the pandemic. That meant that the event at Barra de la Cruz suddenly became the last chance for competitors to lock up their spots in the final five and earn an invite to Trestles. On the men’s side of the draw, the Tahiti cancellation had a dramatic impact on the fortunes of a couple of talented Americans, and while on the women’s side there was no change in who finished in the top five, there was plenty of reshuffling of the order. This is how the event unfolded.
The World Surf League’s return to Barra de la Cruz began in rollicking fashion, with a three-man heat consisting of Kolohe Andino, Kanoa Igarashi and a guy called Kelly Slater kicking things off. Igarashi was the unlucky loser of that heat and was sent to the elimination rounds as a result, but there weren’t many other big names who joined him there – the most notable exception being Adriano de Souza who, as a result of the Tahiti cancellation, was surfing at his final ever CT event to conclude what has been an illustrious career.
Those two would both stave off elimination and advance through to the Round of 32, each of them finishing second in their respective elimination round heats. Two of the three Italians at the event, Diego Cadena and Jhony Corzo, were the first to be sent packing, before Brazil’s Alex Ribeiro joined them after losing an all-Brazilian heat, and Connor O’Leary went down at the hands of Matthew McGillivray and Seth Moniz.
The Round of 32 started as it was expected to, with Gabriel Medina putting together a big score to oust the gallant Tahitian Michel Bourez, but thereafter the surprise results piled up thick and fast. The first came in the third heat of the round, when Kanoa Igarashi, after scraping through the first elimination round, was knocked out by Kolohe Andino. Adriano de Souza’s career came to an end in the next heat at the hands of fellow Brazilian Deivid Silva, Tokyo 2020 bronze medallist Owen Wright was also knocked out an hour later, but the biggest surprise of them all came in Heat 9 when Filipe Toledo came up against little known Indonesian Rio Waida. Despite managing an 8.00 on a single wave, Toledo couldn’t scrounge together more than a 2.23 on any other and was promptly sent on his way. Fortunately for him he had a solid hold on a spot in the top three in the world rankings, and the loss didn’t impact his season’s fortunes too much – unlike Griffin Colapinto. Colapinto was just hanging onto a spot in the top five, and his loss in a high-scoring heat to impressive Brazilian Mateus Herdy would ultimately prove fatal to his world title hopes.
That loss meant that fellow American Conner Coffin only needed to win in the Round of 16 to replace him in the top five, and he promptly went on to do so comfortably against Jeremy Flores, another CT stalwart whose career came to an end at Barra de la Cruz. Aussie Jack Robinson was perhaps the most impressive in this round, scoring a 15.8, while Frederico Morais also impressed with a 15.43. Medina and Ferreira saluted as expected, the latter knocking out Kelly Slater in an entertaining heat.
Deivid Silva continued his impressive event in the quarters, this time against the best surfer in the world in Medina, who he knocked out 15.34-13.14. Fiorivanti then knocked out Coffin in another high-scoring quarterfinal, before Robinson did the same to Morais immediately after. The final spot in the semis was up for grabs for either Ferreira or the impressive Herdy, and in another surprise result, Herdy beat the former world champ 16.54-15.43.
Which left us with a final four that no one could have predicted; Deivid Silva, Jack Robinson, Leonardo Fiorivanti and Mateus Herdy. The latter two faltered a little on the big stage, neither of them managing even a 6 on a single wave, while Silva and in particular Robinson handled the pressure with aplomb to advance through to the finals.
Neither of those two had ever won a CT event, but you wouldn’t have known it from watching the final. They both put on a show, Robinson starting off with a 6.83 and finishing with a huge 8.33 while Silva managed a 7.27 and a 7.87. They were virtually inseparable, but Robinson’s 15.16 was enough by the barest of margins against Silva’s 15.14, giving the talented 23-year-old from WA the first of what may be many CT event wins.
It was a huge win for Robinson, but likely the most significant thing to come out of the event was the reshuffling of the final five. The Brazilian trio of Medina, Ferreira and Toledo kept their spots in the top three and Cibilic also held on to his spot in the top five, but Colapinto’s surprise loss in the Round of 32 meant that his year came to an end at the hands of Coffin.
There were no great surprises in the early stages of the women’s Corona Open Mexico. The big guns strutted their stuff in the seeding round, with all of Carissa Moore, Caroline Marks, Steph Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbons among the top scorers. No one with genuine title aspirations was sent to the first elimination round, where, in similar fashion to in the men’s contest, the only two Italians in the field were sent packing in what was a thoroughly unsuccessful contest for the Mediterranean nation – Leo Fiorivanti aside.
Enter the Round of 16, where the host of surfers sitting just outside the top five had a chance to make their move. Unfortunately, none of them did. Caroline Marks was booted from both the contest and the season in the second heat after going down to Malia Manuel, ending what has been an up-and-down season for one of the most prodigiously talented young surfers on the planet. Tyler Wright put in a better effort in her heat, but she too fell short, ending her chances of making the WSL finals in what has been a disappointing season since she took out its first event in Pipeline back in December. All of the top five heading into the event – Moore, Gilmore, Fitzgibbons, Tatiana Weston-Webb and Johanne Defay – won their respective heats, confirming their spots in Trestles and setting up a quarterfinals full of tantalising matchups.
The biggest of those was Steph Gilmore vs Tatiana Weston-Webb, the final heat of the round, and Gilmore reminded everyone why she’s still a title threat at the ripe old age of 33 by demolishing the Brazilian 15.5-7.33. It was Moore, however, who was the standout of the round – she started her heat with a huge 9.8 and consolidated it with a 7.67 to end with an event-high 17.47 heat total, and win her way through to the semis. Joining her and Gilmore there were Fitzgibbons, who comfortably accounted for Courtney Conlogue in the quarters, and Malia Manuel, who beat out Defay.
The semis started with a high-quality matchup between Manuel and Fitzgibbons. Each of them managed two waves which scored 7 or more, but it was the Hawaiian Manuel who prevailed in a tight heat, 15.2-14.87. Her quest for an inaugural CT title was going to be against either Gilmore or Moore – neither a particularly enticing prospect to compete against. But while Moore had been the most impressive surfer in the quarters, it was the Aussie who got the upper hand in the semis, winning 14.4-12.57 to set up a chance at her first tour win for the season.
And in the final, she didn’t miss a beat. Manuel, too, was fantastic, scoring in excess of 6.33 on four occasions and improving her score with each of her first four waves to end the final with a score of 15.27. Unfortunately for her, Gilmore was even better, with waves of 7.33 and 8.5 enough to see her become the first ever female champion at Barra de la Cruz.
The win shuffled Gilmore one spot up the rankings into fourth, overtaking Defay, who dropped two spots despite making it to the quarterfinals at this event. Weston-Webb jumped from fourth place into second, but most importantly, there were no changes to the five surfers who will etch their names into the history books as the first ever competitors in the WSLs season-ending event at Trestles.
And so, at the end of a season which at various points in time seemed unlikely to be completed, we have our ten finalists: Medina, Ferreira, Toledo, Coffin and Cibilic on the men’s side, and Moore, Weston-Webb, Fitzgibbons, Gilmore and Defay on the women’s. The window for the finals event at Trestles runs from the 9th-17th of September, and regardless of whether you love or hate the new format, it’s going to be an entertaining few days of surfing.