As expected, the latest edition of the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro was the subject of plenty of criticism, a little bit of praise and a whole lot of incredible surfing. Opinions surrounding the event’s longevity on the tour were rife, with many questioning whether watching the world’s best surf the same wave on repeat is more or less interesting than watching them surf in the ocean. Regardless of public opinion, however, the event was worth as many points as the rest on the Championship Tour, so let’s take a look at who snared the full 10,000 on offer for the winner.
One of the major criticisms of the Surf Ranch event is that it’s the same names who will always perform well, and advocates for that argument got plenty of ammo at this event. There’s no doubting that the Brazilians – most notably Gabriel Medina and Filipe Toledo – have more weapons in their arsenal and are always going to be tough to beat at this event, as evidenced by the fact that those two have been in the final in both the previous editions of this event. Early on in the 2021 edition, the signs were that things would be much the same.
Toledo and Medina were brilliant on their first two waves, both scoring in excess of 8 on their forehands and 7.47 on their backhands. If they had stopped surfing then, they both would have still finished in first and second at the conclusion of the qualifying round – in which surfers each get six waves – so the battle to advance to the semi-finals was really a fight for spots three through to eight.
Kanoa Igarashi basically booked his spot with his first two waves as well, putting together two scores of 7.5 or more, while Yago Dora’s 8.5 on the left was another highlight. He would go on to better that with a 9.5 on his third left, which would end up as the third highest score of the event. Adriano de Souza also surfed well throughout the qualifying round and booked a spot in the semis, as did the talented young duo of Ethan Ewing and Griffin Colapinto.
The eighth and final spot in the next round went down to the wire. In the end, it was the one and only Kelly Slater who, with a 7.07 on his final wave, crept past Conner Coffin by the skin of his teeth to advance by just 0.03 points. Owen Wright surfed very well but fell just short, while the biggest shock was the failure of Italo Ferreira to advance.
The semis followed a similar trend to the qualifying round – Medina and Toledo came out of the blocks firing with huge scores, while the new third member of the Brazilian trio in Yago Dora also made his presence felt with another blistering score of 9.73. Unfortunately, he couldn’t back that up with a good score on a right, and as a result couldn’t close the gap between his fellow Brazilians and missed out on a spot in the final. Ewing and Slater both struggled, de Souza was a rung below what was required, while Igarashi and Colapinto were excellent but also unable to match it with Toledo and Medina.
Which meant, for the third year in a row, it was those two in the final against one another. In the past two editions, Medina got the chocolates, but despite an 8.67 on his opening wave, the result was reversed this year. Toledo ended the tournament with a 9.67 on his final right and an 8.27 on his final left, giving him a score of 17.94 and an easy win over Medina.
That was his second win in the past three events, and after a slow start to the year saw him jump into third place in the world rankings and only just behind Ferreira – both of them, of course, trail Medina. Morgan Cibilic’s failure to advance to the semis saw Colapinto and Igarashi close the gap on him for fourth, and they are followed by a host of guys looking to secure the last couple of invites to Trestles behind the leading trio of Brazilians.
The qualifying round started off a little slowly on the women’s side of the draw, with only a handful of scores in excess of 7 on each of the competitors first couple of waves. Those scores, however, went to the usual suspects – Carissa Moore and Johanne Defay both managed it twice, while Caroline Marks, Sally Fitzgibbons, Steph Gilmore and Courtney Conlogue all managed it once. It was Tatiana Weston-Webb who stole the show, with her score of 8.00 the highest of the first heats, and a back-up of 6.83 enough to have her sitting in second place behind on Johanne Defay.
Speaking of whom – it was the Frenchwoman who stole the show in the second heats, putting together a huge 8.5 on her right before backing it up with an 8.13 on the left. That extended her lead at the top of the standings, particularly with Weston-Webb failing on both her waves, though the dangerous Carissa Moore put together a 7.87 and a 7.3 to improve her score and move into second. Elsewhere, winner of the recent event at Rottnest Sally Fitzgibbons accumulated an 8.13 on her left to move into the top four, while Caroline Marks and Steph Gilmore also improved on their first heat scores.
The third and final heats saw Carissa Moore stamp her authority on the competition. Having improved on both her left and right scores from the first heat in the second heat, she got even better this time around, with two incredible rides seeing her score an 8.83 for the right and an 8.7 for the left. Fitzgibbons also managed an 8.6 on her left – a score which would see her jump into the top four and advance to the semi-finals – while a 7.13 for Weston-Webb on her backhand saw her consolidate the 8.00 on her forehand she managed in the first round.
After each surfer has had three rights and three lefts, their top score on each side is taken and the top four advance through to the semis. This system left Moore sitting on top, Defay in second courtesy of her brilliant second heats, Fitzgibbons in third and Weston-Webb in fourth. Caroline Marks, Courtney Conlogue and Steph Gilmore all just missed out, finishing 5th, 6th and 7th respectively.
In the semis, Defay immediately showed everyone she wasn’t just making up the numbers, managing a 7.57 and an 8.5 to take an early lead after the first waves. Fitzgibbons sat in second, Moore in third and Weston-Webb in fourth, though Moore was well-placed having scored 8.07 on her left. In the end, she didn’t even need that score as she managed 8.5 on her left in the second round, which was enough to get past Fitzgibbons, stave off Weston-Webb, and head to a final with Defay.
She entered that as favourite, and boy was it close. After her four waves, Defay’s best scores were an 8.7 on the left and a 7.93 on the right for a total of 16.63. Moore had managed an 8.33 on her first right, meaning on her final wave – a left – she needed an 8.31 to win. She managed a 7.9.
The win was enough to see Defay explode up the rankings into second place, with only Moore – who is way out in first – ahead of her. Fitzgibbons and Weston-Webb sit third and fourth, meaning the top four in the world rankings is the same as it was at this event, before Gilmore, Marks and Tyler Wright are tightly bunched in the next three spots, battling it out for the last spot in the top five and an invitation to Trestles.
It was yet another intriguing addition of the Surf Ranch Pro, and not only because of the surfing. The continual questioning of the event’s legitimacy almost overshadowed the event itself, and yet another Medina vs Toledo final in the men’s probably didn’t help. Regardless, the points handed out had a significant impact on the rankings, and with just a couple of events to go before the top five are invited to the finals event at Trestles, things are seriously heating up. The next major surfing event on the calendar, however, is completely independent of the Championship Tour. Tokyo will play host to the inaugural Olympics surfing event in July before the Tour restarts in Mexico in August, and in both those events there will be plenty at stake, so expect plenty of pressure and a lot of high-quality surfing.