Eight months and nine events after the 2022 CT season got underway at Pipeline, we’re finally at The End of the Road – in more ways than one. The Outerknown Tahiti Pro at Teahupo’o, a wave ominously referred to by that aforementioned title, marks the tenth and final contest of the Championship Tour season, and will ultimately determine which five men will compete at the WSL Finals in Trestles in September. Filipe Toledo and Jack Robinson are already locked in, but the three spots thereafter are yet to be decided, so there’ll be more than just bodies on the line at one of the heaviest waves in the world. Let’s take a look at how the contest is likely to go down.
Jack Robinson is almost certain to finish the season in second place in the world rankings in what has been a year of rapid improvement for the talented Australian, but he can give himself a chance of going to Trestles as the number one seed with a win that he is more than capable of earning in Tahiti. The 24-year-old has long been recognised for his ability in heaving conditions courtesy of his performances at his home break of Margaret River, and while Teahupo’o is a completely different wave in many ways, one similarity the two share is that they can get big, heavy and intimidating. To date he’s never surfed this wave on the CT and hasn’t had a lot of opportunity at Pipeline, another barrelling left-hander, but he’s always shown plenty of ability free surfing at Pipe and surfs like someone who will be comfortable in Tahiti. After a couple of indifferent performances he returned to form at J-Bay with a finals appearance, and should be in the mix again here.
Filipe Toledo has been the best surfer all year and will almost certainly head to Trestles as the number one seed, but this is far from his ideal wave, and a win here would require him to turnaround a trend which has endured throughout his career. Typically, Toledo is renowned for excelling in small-to-medium waves rather than big, heaving barrels, and though he can surf his backhand well, a left-hander like Teahupo’o is not exactly made for him. In fact, in six efforts here, he’s recorded one third-place finish, a couple of ninths and three 25ths. At Pipe, another big left-hand barrel, he’s made it past the Round of 16 just once in eight attempts. Clearly, none of that bodes well for him, but it’s testament to just how methodical he’s been this season that he’s still among the favourites for this event. If he can salute here, it would be a tangible indication of his growth as a surfer, but he’ll need to overcome a hefty chunk of history to do it.
Someone who has a lot less to prove on waves like Teahupo’o is John John Florence, though his biggest impediment to winning might be his ability to actually compete in the contest. After putting together a solid first half of the season, Florence has missed the last three events due to an MCL injury and has dropped to eighth in the world rankings as a result. His world title hopes appear to be all but dashed, but there is still scope for a miraculous turnaround which involves him not just competing in Tahiti, but winning the event, and a couple of names above him not advancing too far. Whether Florence will actually compete remains unknown – he’s not yet an official withdrawal at the time of writing and his social media posts suggest he is physically ready to go, but whether that results in him (wet)suiting up remains to be seen. If he does, however, he might just be the favourite to win the event, even having not surfed competitively for month. Florence grew up surfing big, backhand barrels at Pipe, and though he’s never won in Tahiti he has finished second once, third twice and fifth twice in six attempts. It’s possible that all this talk ends up being for nought, but if he ends up competing, no one will want to face him.
The Next Tier
Ethan Ewing has been the most improved surfer this year alongside compatriot Jack Robinson, and at J-Bay he finally franked that form with his first ever CT victory. As a result, he catapulted from fifth to third in the world rankings, and barring an Elimination Round exit he will compete at Trestles in the WSL Finals. There’s not a lot to go on, however, in terms of his ability on waves like this. The 23-year-old has surfed here just once on the CT and didn’t advance very far, but that was back in 2017 when he was a far less accomplished competitor than he is now. Ewing has made at least the semi-finals in three of the last six events, so don’t be surprised to see him advance deep into this one too.
Sitting just below Ewing in the world rankings is Italo Ferreira, who also should make it to Trestles as long as he doesn’t lose in the Elimination Round – there is still scope for him to miss out if he loses in the Round of 16 or even the quarters, though in the latter case he would almost certainly still survive. But while he should be fine in that regard, Ferreira hasn’t exactly excelled at this break in the past, never making it past the quarterfinals in five attempts. Though goofy-footers are typically favoured here, he hasn’t always demonstrated a penchant for heaving left-hand barrels. He has, however, shown marked improvement at Pipe in recent years, even winning the event in 2019. As one of the best surfers in the world he is always a threat, but there will be plenty doubting his ability to win this event.
Rounding out the current top five is Griffin Colapinto, but certainly in comparison to the two names directly above him, his spot at Trestles is a lot less assured. With Kanoa Igarashi breathing down his neck, there is a complicated list of potential outcomes for the Californian, and the only way he can ensure he remains in the top five after this event is to win it – though if he makes the final or even the semi, he still most likely will. So is he capable of it? Colapinto hasn’t done much here in the past, finishing 25th and 9th in his other two appearances, though he was just 19 and 20 years of age at those two contests. Now 24, he is surfing comfortably as well as he ever has, and though he’ll have a few more fancied names to beat in order to do so, the fact that he has won two events this year demonstrates what he is capable of when at his best.
Given he’s 50 years old, you can forgive Kelly Slater for not having advanced past the Round of 16 in any of the past eight events. Going back one event further, however, and you may remember that he won the season opener at Pipeline at the ripe old age of 49. That was certainly a surprise, but if he was going to win anywhere again, it was at Pipe, where he’d already won seven times. And if there was one other place where he was most likely to do it, it would probably be Teahupo’o. The greatest surfer of all time has already won here on five occasions, most recently back in 2016 when he broke a three-year drought to win what, up until his win at Pipe earlier this year, looked like being the last CT win of his career. He is as good as anyone in history in barrels on his backhand, and though his form is well and truly against him, he’s pulled plenty of rabbits out of his wetsuit in the past. It might be fanciful, but maybe, just maybe, he can finish the year the way he started it.
If Florence was certain to be fully fit and firing he would be a hard man to tip against, but with so much uncertainty surrounding his fitness, it might be wise to look elsewhere for a winner. Jack Robinson may be the man with the most going for him – he is in form, making it deep into most events, and excels in waves of consequence. In a year that is proving to be a turning point in his career, he can add a third victory and potentially even jump into top spot heading to Trestles with a win.
After a couple of years off the tour due to COVID, Teahupo’o will return at a pivotal juncture in the 2022 Championship Tour season. When it’s on, this is one of the best waves in the world and one of the most entertaining contests to watch, and with a spot in the WSL Finals on the line that will be the case more than ever this year. The event window opens up on the 11th of August and runs through to the 21st, and with world title hopes on the line, this is one not to be missed.