The Billabong Pro at Pipeline got the 2022 Championship Tour season off to a start which had to be seen to be believed, with 49-year-old Kelly Slater winning the men’s event and a little known local by the name of Moana Jones Wong winning the women’s in her first ever CT event. But there’s little time to soak it all in and take a breath, with the second event of the season set to begin on Friday. For the first time in years, the CT will head to Sunset, which might not have the reputation of Pipe but is still more than capable of providing a serious challenge for the best surfers in the world. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the women’s side of the event is shaping up.
It’s now been two years and nine months since Carissa Moore last entered a CT tournament and didn’t make it to at least the semi-finals. Obviously that incredible streak has been aided to an extent by the forced cancellation of the 2020 season, but nonetheless it encapsulates 17 tournaments and has her standing alone as the dominant female in world surfing. She couldn’t quite get the job done against the incredibly impressive Moana Jones Wong in the final at Pipeline last week – and admittedly she was disappointing in that final – but she surfed better than anyone throughout the rest of the event and looks primed to compete for a sixth world title this year. You can just about pencil her in for a top four finish at one of her home events, and a win is well and truly on the cards.
A pair of Aussies sit behind her as the next best hopes to take out the Hurley Pro, beginning with Tyler Wright. The two-time world champ appears ready to return to something nearing her best after a tumultuous few years – at least if her performance at Pipe is anything to go by. She was another victim felled by Jones Wong – for her it was in the semis – but her surfing prior to that heat – and on one wave during it for which she was scored an 8.83 – was reminiscent of the 2016/2017 competitor who won back-to-back world titles. She’s looking ominous heading into the season and is a major hope heading into this event.
Steph Gilmore was a late withdrawal from Pipeline after contracting COVID just prior to the event, but she’s expected to be fit and firing for the Hurley Pro. The seven-time world champ turned 34 a little over a week ago and isn’t the dominant force that she once was, but she is still good enough to have made it through to the WSL Finals last year after finishing in a tie for fourth place. She’s also had success at this break, albeit a long time ago, having won the Roxy Pro here way back in 2008. Count the superstar out at your own peril.
The Next Tier
In 2018 and 2019, Lakey Peterson established herself as one of the best surfers in the businesses, finishing second and third at the conclusion of those two respective years. Since then, she’s hardly competed at the top level; in 2020 because it was cancelled, and last year because of injury. She returned with a vengeance at Pipeline last week, making it straight through to the semi-finals, and she appears poised to add another world title threat to the mix in what is already a congested upper echelon of the world rankings. Rarely does she surf badly when she’s at full fitness, so another appearance in the latter stages of this event would be no surprise.
Moana Jones Wong certainly wouldn’t have been a name listed in this tier a week or so ago, but after her incredible performance at her first ever Championship Tour event it’s impossible to leave her out. The 22-year-old from the North Shore rode Pipeline like someone who grew up doing just that – funny that – and with Sunset Beach literally just around the corner she will be expecting to repeat the dose at the Hurley Pro. There’s every chance she’ll suffer from the second event blues and be unable to match her performance at Pipe, but equally, if she tears the competition to shreds no one will be overly surprised.
Tatiana Weston-Webb is the third member of this piece to date to have been defeated by Jones Wong at Pipeline, but she wasn’t quite as impressive as Wright and Moore in doing so. The Brazilian-born, Hawaiian-raised surfer just scraped through the Opening Round with a very low score, then managed only 9.44 when being knocked out in the Round of 16. While undoubtedly a disappointing performance given her familiarity with the wave and good past performances there, the powerful goofy-footer confirmed her ascension into surfing’s elite with a near title-winning season in 2021, and with a bit more wave to work with at Sunset she should be able to bounce back.
Can Caroline Marks be called a roughie? Maybe she’s a little bit too good, but the Floridian, set to turn 20 during the event window of the Hurley Pro, has fallen down the estimations of many as a result of an inability to find any semblance of consistency, as well as the depth atop the leaderboard. The talented teenager is good enough to win a world title now – she just doesn’t show it every event. Heading into this year, her ability to compete for the title was always going to be dictated by whether or not she could prevent the poor showings that plagued her 2021 season, and being the first surfer eliminated at Pipeline wasn’t the ideal way to start 2022. But despite her young age, Marks already has three Championship Tour wins to her name, and if she can find her best form she’s good enough to win this.
This is a tough one. All seven surfers mentioned are legitimate chances to win this event, and with names like Sally Fitzgibbons, Johanne Defay and Courtney Conlogue omitted, there is no shortage of potential winners. Weston-Webb is one who stands out as a potential improver from last week. Last year, she was competitive in the bulk of the events she entered, she grew up in Hawaii where this event will take place, and she should benefit from the medium-sized, walling waves which she should get at Sunset. It’s not a tip we make with a great deal of confidence, but in an event with a plethora of chances she is one worth following.