After a nearly two-month hiatus which saw the world’s best head to Tokyo to compete for surfing’s first ever gold medal, the Championship Tour is set to restart next week, and the last leg of the season kicks off with one of the most anticipated events of the year. Barra de la Cruz has been one of the most revered waves in the world since it entered public consciousness around 15 years ago, but despite that the World Surf League has held top-level events at the Mexican point break on only a couple of occasions. In 2021, however, it’s back, and this is how the men’s contest is shaping up.
Gabriel Medina was a surprise omission from the dais in Tokyo, but there’s no need to worry about him just yet. The world’s best has made the final in all but one CT event this year, winning at Narrabeen and Rottnest Island and finishing runner-up at the Surf Ranch, Newcastle and Pipeline. Perhaps the only slight on the powerful goofy-footer heading to Mexico is that he will be surfing his backhand in Mexico – that shouldn’t bother him too much and he’s more than capable of brilliant surfing going right, but he has had a little less success at Jeffrey’s Bay and Bells Beach – the two other right-hand points on the tour – than at other locations. Still, he’ll head into this event as the likely favourite, and will almost certainly be among the final few standing.
Medina’s biggest threat is probably his fellow Brazilian Italo Ferreira – also arguably his biggest threat for the world title – who will be riding high following his gold medal at Tsurigasaki Beach. Italo hasn’t been as dominant as Medina so far this year on the CT, but he nonetheless finds himself in second place in the world rankings and comes to Barra de la Cruz in form. He’ll also be surfing his backhand, but his surfing on right-hand point breaks has improved drastically in recent years and he’s enjoyed some good results at Bells and J-Bay in the past couple of years. Expect the pocket rocket to be finding tubes and hitting those lips with aplomb in Mexico.
Dare we put another Brazilian in the top three? Yes, we do. Filipe Toledo will be itching to get out there after he was unequivocally the best surfer in the world to be excluded from Tokyo, particularly given how good his form was prior to the hiatus. After a somewhat sluggish start to the season, he has taken out two of the last three events to jump into third spot in the world rankings and give Brazil the trifecta – at least for the time being. Toledo is probably the best surfer in the world at J-Bay, having won two of the last three events there and finished third in the other, so his penchant for fast, barrelling right-handers is plain to see, and he should relish the conditions we’ll get next week.
The Next Tier
Kanoa Igarashi has been one of the more consistent surfers on the Championship Tour this season, but he’s still yet to capture that elusive second victory at the top-level. The closest he’s got in 2020/21 was at the most recent event, the Surf Ranch Pro, at which he finished third, but he also claimed the silver medal in Tokyo so he heads to Mexico in some fine form. There are few who doubt Igarashi’s long-term potential; now 23 years of age, he has improved virtually every year he’s been on the tour and is nearing the point where he can truly claim to be a world title contender. Sitting one spot out of the coveted top five spots on the rankings – which make up the surfers who will get a gig at the season-ending Trestles event – a win at Barra de la Cruz would go a long way towards earning him a shot at the title.
Griffin Colapinto is another young gun who has taken a significant step forward this year, and also another who enters this contest in some fine form – or at least, he was prior to the hiatus. He made it to the semi-finals in three of the last four events before the break to secure a spot in the top five with just a couple of events left to go, and if he can maintain that level of surfing over the next month or so then he’ll be a surprise addition to the line-up at Trestles. Colapinto will be up against it to beat the aforementioned Brazilian trio – in fact, he’s still never won an event on the Championship Tour – but at some point he’s going to break through – could this be the week he does it?
Morgan Cibilic has been the surprise packet of this year, and with Julian Wilson recently announcing that he’s stepping away from the tour and Owen Wright having an indifferent year prior to his bronze medal in Tokyo, he is leading the pack of the fresh-faced new generation of Aussie surfers. He’s shown a propensity to put together huge scores all year and could easily be even more comfortably entrenched in the fourth spot in which he currently sits in the rankings had he not had a couple of unfortunate losses, but nonetheless he’s well placed to finish the season in the top five. The powerful natural-footer has shown he’s capable of matching it with the best in any conditions, but having grown up surfing in Newcastle he’s particularly accustomed to right-hand point breaks, which will make him dangerous at Barra.
Michel Bourez is a roughie in every sense of the word, and is probably the longest shot to win an event that we’ve bothered to include in these preview pieces – but hear me out. He’s currently ranked 29th in the world, and has only once managed to make it past the Round of 16. He’s also 35 years of age and hasn’t won an event since 2016. It’s extremely unlikely that will change here, but Bourez grows another leg in barrelling conditions, and the forecast suggests that we may well get just that in the early parts of this event window. Having grown up in Tahiti, his home break is Teahupo’o so left-handers are more his wheelhouse, but nonetheless he’s a brilliant tube rider in either direction and a big swell could certainly help him put together his best performance of the year in Mexico.
It’s becoming an increasingly repetitive question in the lead-up to each male event on the Championship Tour – can anybody who isn’t Brazilian win the event? The CT’s return to Barra de la Cruz is no different, with Medina, Ferreira and Toledo the three runaway favourites to take it out. There are plenty of talented guys more than capable of taking it away from them, but with John John Florence now out for the year, the brilliant Brazilian trio deserve their spot at the top of the pecking order and will be mighty hard to stop next week.