Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch became a unique part of the World Surf League’s Championship Tour just a couple of years ago, and while it polarises opinion, watching the best in the world strut their stuff in a pool which churns out perfect wave after perfect wave can make for some intriguing viewing. On the men’s side in the preceding two years the result has been relatively predictable, but will 2021 be the year we see a shake-up?
2018 and 2019 saw the exact same men finish first and second at the Surf Ranch. After the event was cancelled last year, Gabriel Medina will this year have the chance to win his third in a row at Lemoore, and remain the only male to win here in the process. And, to be perfectly honest, he will be seriously hard to topple. Already he’s surfing as well as he ever has – a scary prospect given he is a 2x world champion – in 2021, having won two of the five events and making the final in two of the others to take a commanding lead in the world rankings. His combination of speed, power and an ability to go to the air make him perfectly suited to the manufactured conditions at the Surf Ranch, and with the absence of variability which exists in the ocean, he will be incredibly hard to stop.
One man who could potentially do just that is the only surfer remotely close to him in the world rankings, Italo Ferreira. Ferreira has also been excellent this year, winning once and making the semi-finals on three occasions out of the five events. Like Medina, he has a powerful style and is more than capable of going to the air, and as a result he will more than likely tear up this wave. He hasn’t yet made it past the Round of 16 in his two efforts here, so that’s certainly against him, but it would be a brave person who tipped against him going close this year.
Rounding out the list of favourites is, of course, the third member of the Brazilian trio, Filipe Toledo. Toledo might just be the fastest surfer in the world and his best performances are as good as anyone’s. Perhaps the biggest criticism of him is that he doesn’t do it enough, but in contrived conditions in the artificial pool it’s all set up for him to surf at his absolute best. That’s certainly been the case in the two previous incarnations of the event; he was the man Medina beat both times, and he went down despite scoring in excess of 17 each year, so it would be absolutely no surprise to see him there at the pointy end once again.
The Next Tier
With John John Florence injured, there is something of a gap back to the next group of surfers, but one man who may be a chance of causing some ripples is the one and only Kelly Slater. Kelly, of course, is 49 years of age and not exactly still competing for world titles, but he showed in the one event he’s surfed in this year that he can still more than match it with the best, finishing third at Pipeline last December. He also has the small added advantage of having literally designed the pool in which this event will take place, and has presumably surfed it a hell of a lot more than anyone else in the world. So meticulous is Kelly that he will no doubt have planned out what he will do on every inch of every wave at the event.
Another challenger to the Brazilian trio is Owen Wright, the lanky Australian who is something of a forgotten man on the Championship Tour. However, at his best Wright’s surfing is as impressive as most of his competitors, and despite the fact that he has struggled so far this season he is a legitimate hope of going deep into this event. He showed that at the 2019 incarnation of this event when he finished in third place with an impressive score of 17.33, so don’t be surprised to see him right up there once again this year.
Another man who performed well in 2019 is Griffin Colapinto, and given how he has surfed so far this season he will be expecting big things at this event as well. The 22-year-old surfed really well for the majority of the Australian leg of the 2021 tour, making it through to the semis in two of the four events, though a Round of 32 exit at Rottnest was a disappointing way to end things. Still, he finds himself in the top ten and well and truly in the hunt for a spot at Trestles at the end of the season, and is a good chance of challenging at the Surf Ranch.
It feels like he’s been the roughie on numerous occasions already this year, but Morgan Cibilic has come from the clouds in his rookie season to be a genuine title contender, and deserves more attention than what he is getting at the moment. He surfed brilliantly in Australia, racking up a 5th, a 3rd and a 2nd at the four events, and has regularly put together mammoth scores throughout the season. Those events, of course, were in the ocean, and he showed a penchant for taking on powerful conditions, so it will be interesting to see how he fares in the manufactured conditions at the Ranch.
The Surf Ranch will always have its detractors, and there’s no doubt that a large element of surfing is lost with the event taking place in a big pool. However, it’s an unequivocal benefit that we know that there will be quality waves, something which is not always the case in the ocean, and as a result there is no chance that this event will turn out to be an abject failure, as some are when conditions don’t turn on throughout the event window. The Brazilians look like the best hopes to take it out again but they’ve got plenty of challengers, and with the whole thing set to take just three days from start to finish, it will be short, sharp, and hopefully very compelling.