After the Championship Tour returned to G-Land for the first time in over two decades last week, the new stops keep on coming as we head to Punta Roca in El Salvador. A long, raking right-hander renowned as one of the best in the world when it’s on, if we get conditions to suit this could be one for the ages. And with just four events left until the five competitors who will head to the WSL Finals at Trestles are decided, one bad heat could spell disaster for the surfers fighting for those spots. Let’s take a look at how the men’s Surf City El Salvador Pro is shaping up.
It’s testament to just how good he is that Medina has been installed as favourite for what will be just his second event of the year. Having missed the first half of the season, he will need to go on some sort of a tear to make his way into the top five and compete in the WSL Finals at Trestles, but a semi-final appearance at his first contest of the year at G-Land last week suggests he’s more than capable. He’ll probably need to win a couple of events and make the semis at the rest to earn enough points to get there, so a run deep into this event – and every one thereafter – is a necessity. He hasn’t typically excelled at right-hand point breaks like Punta Roca in the past like he has at other breaks, though ‘excelled’ is a relative term – he still won the last time he appeared at J-Bay, and it’s certainly not beyond him to do the same here.
The man Medina beat in the Title Match at Trestles last year, Filipe Toledo, is still on the hunt for his maiden world title, and in the absence of his more successful compatriot has excelled this season. More than halfway through the season he is wearing the yellow jersey and appears as well placed as ever to become a world champion for the first time, but though he’ll no doubt be pleased his mate Medina is back on tour, he’ll also be well aware of the potential he has as a competitor. Already this is evidenced by the fact that Toledo has been knocked off the perch as favourite for this event, and he’ll be keen to prove he still deserves to be viewed as Brazil’s best chance for a world title this year. Toledo loves waves like this – long, stretched-out right-hand point breaks – having won Bells earlier this year and saluted at two of the last three events at J-Bay, so it would be a big surprise if he’s not there when the whips are cracking in El Salvador.
It’s hard to believe there are two athletes – and it would be three were Florence competing – viewed as more likely to win this event than the man who has won the last two, but such is the quality at the top of the men’s surfing world at the moment. Jack Robinson has every reason to think he is the best surfer going around right now, having won first at Margaret River and then at G-Land to jump to within a bee’s whisker of first place. Those wins followed on from a semi-final appearance at Bells, and with that kind of form behind him he will be extremely tough to stop at Punta Roca. The West Australian looks close to assured of a spot at Trestles after those last three events, and with a win here – or even a run into the final four – he’ll be extremely tough to dislodge from the top five, and even the top two.
The Next Tier
It’s been a frustrating year for Italo Ferreira, and the Round of 16 defeat the former world champ suffered at G-Land sent him sliding out of the top five. He hasn’t made a final all season and has only passed the quarters on one occasion, and while he’s doing enough to hang around the top end of the leaderboard he’ll likely need to pick things up over the remaining four events if he wants to earn himself a gig at Trestles. The pocket rocket is generally pretty good on his backhand so he certainly won’t be phased by Punta Roca, but he’ll need a big turnaround in form if he’s going to challenge given the list of quality, in-form surfers in this contest.
The man sitting one spot ahead of Ferreira in the world rankings, albeit only marginally, is Ethan Ewing, but despite having scored almost the same amount of points this season, the young Australian will likely be far happier than his Brazilian competitor with how things have panned out in 2022. Ewing, like Ferreira, also hasn’t managed to snare a win this season – or ever on the CT – but this has been a breakout year for the talented Queenslander, who has made three semi-finals in six events this year having never previously made one in his career. He might not quite be ready to win a world title just yet, but he’s going to start winning contests soon enough – could this be the event at which he picks up his first ever victory at the top level?
Jordy Smith’s winning days may well be past him; aged 34, the imposing South African hasn’t won an event since 2017 and hasn’t made it past the quarterfinals this season. Having spent plenty of his life surfing at Jeffrey’s Bay, however, he was for a long time one of the best – if not the best – surfers in the world at this break. Punta Roca hasn’t been on the tour before, but the wave it’s most likened to when it’s firing is J-Bay. Smith is sliding towards the end of his professional career, but he’s still a competitive CT surfer, and if ever he was going to do serious damage at an event again, it’s likely to be either at J-Bay, or at a wave a lot like it.
There’s plenty to be excited about heading into this event, and picking a winner out of the plethora of guys in with a chance is no easy task. All of the top four names mentioned could, on another day, be runaway favourites, and each of them has plenty going in their favour. Medina is as good as anyone in the world assuming he’s fit and firing, Robinson has won two events in a row, but in the absence of Florence it might be Toledo who can walk away with another 10,000 points. This kind of wave should suit him to a tee, particularly if there isn’t a huge amount of swell; a long, small-medium sized right-hander would be right in his wheelhouse, but even if conditions are on the bigger side he will still be tough to beat.