That was some Hawaiian leg. After the excitement of Pipeline, which saw two incredible wins from surfers at the polar opposite stages of their careers in Kelly Slater and Moana Jones Wong, Sunset Beach didn’t disappoint, with enormous, unruly conditions and a couple more surprise winners. Barron Mamiya and Brisa Hennessy both snagged their first ever tour wins and will both be donning the yellow jerseys at the MEO Pro in Portugal – something which anyone who claims to have predicted is lying. This is how the men’s side of the event is shaping up.
It was a disappointing home leg for John John, who failed to make it past the quarterfinals at Pipeline – where he is widely considered to be the best surfer in the world, if not of all-time – and was knocked out in the Round of 32 at the Hurley Pro at Sunset Beach. Those results have him sitting back in tenth place in the world rankings, but with Medina out he remains the nominal favourite for this year’s world title. Things will turn around at some point for Florence, and there’s every chance that will be at Supertubos. He hasn’t surfed a CT event here since 2017, but in that year and the prior three he accumulated an event win as well as a semi-final and quarter-final appearance, making him a major threat at this year’s event.
It’s also been a tough start to the season for 2019 world champion Italo Ferreira, but an event at Supertubos might be just what the doctor ordered for the Brazilian goofy footer. Following eliminations in the Round of 32 and Round of 16 in Hawaii he is sitting back in 16th place in the world rankings, but he has a serious affinity with Peniche. He enters this year’s event having won the last two MEO Pros in Portugal, while he also has a second place back in 2015, meaning he’s made the final three of the five times he’s surfed this event. An ascent up the leaderboard is inevitable at some point during the season, and this seems a likely place for it to start.
There have long been plenty of expectations on the shoulders of young Western Australian Jack Robinson, and after an inaugural CT win to finish the 2021 season, he was picked to be a major improver this season. One of the best in the barrel in the world, Robinson disappointed at Pipeline with a Round of 32 exit, but a quarter-final appearance at Sunset Beach was a major improvement, and now heading to a wave which should suit him to a tee, he is sure to be a threat at the MEO Pro. He’s never surfed a Championship Tour level event here, but his incredible nose for a barrel will hold him in good stead at a wave whose name literally translates to Super Tubes (obviously), and he is deservedly one of the favourites as a result.
The Next Tier
Having finished 20th, 17th, 10th and 6th over the first four years of his CT career, there was every suggestion that Kanoa Igarashi would be right amongst the title contenders this year, and his start to the season has done nothing to quell those expectations. A quarter-final finish at Pipeline was followed by a runner-up at the Hurley Pro, and having performed well in Portugal in the past this event could well end up being his second ever CT win. The last three times this event has been held he’s finished third, fifth and third, and as an unequivocally more accomplished surfer now than he was on each of those occasions, he is a serious chance of winning this event.
Yet another title fancy who has endured an indifferent start to the 2022 season, Filipe Toledo will be looking to make it past the Round of 16 for the first time this year in Peniche. The heaving conditions which prevailed in Hawaii aren’t exactly his cup of tea; Toledo is much better on mid-sized waves with stretched out walls, and though he won’t exactly get those long walls at Peniche he will likely get a more moderate size. He’s had mixed success here in the past; a win in 2015 is a standout, but aside from that he’s only finished better than 13th on two out of six occasions and hasn’t made another semi. There are a few ahead of him in the pecking order here, but such is his talent, he can’t be written off.
Speaking of young surfers taking the next step in 2022, Seth Moniz’s start to the year suggests that the 24-year-old Hawaiian is a whole new surfer this year. He memorably made it through to the final of Pipeline, where he was, of course, a popular runner-up to Kelly Slater, and he followed that up with a quarter-final showing at Sunset Beach to round out his home leg. Those two impressive performances have him sitting in a tie for second place in the world rankings with Igarashi, and a top five finish and subsequent invitation to the WSL Finals certainly appears within reach at this early stage of the season. He’s only surfed this event once and finished a forgettable 33rd on that occasion, but he has plenty of ability in the barrel and is in some serious form.
After the high of winning Pipeline to open the season, Kelly Slater endured a tough loss at Sunset Beach – a wave he has admitted is a long way from his favourite on tour. He just narrowly avoided being knocked out in the Elimination Round, before an interference call midway through his Round of 32 heat saw his chances slashed in the blink of an eye. In reality he didn’t actually surf all that badly and had his opponents put up some high scores, and he has won at Supertubos in the past – albeit 12 years ago. Still, his performance at Pipeline reminded everyone that he’s still got plenty of ability riding backhand tubes, something he’ll get in droves in Peniche, so dismiss his chances at your own peril.
It’s been a funny old start to the season, and the winner at Peniche could come from just about anywhere. Will the trophy end up in the hands of one of the title favourites who have endured indifferent beginnings to the season, or is it more likely to go to one of the surprise packets from the first couple of events like Moniz? Or perhaps somewhere in the middle, to a name like Jack Robinson. Robinson has a lot going for him: he’s demonstrated so far this year (and harking back to Mexico last season) that he’s taken big strides in closing the gap between he and the top surfers; he surfed well at the last event at Sunset Beach; and perhaps most importantly, he’s as comfortable in the green room as just about anyone in the world. I’m siding with the Aussie in what would mark a second win in just four events, and see him skyrocket up the rankings into the top five and within reach of the yellow jersey.