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 women will compete at the WSL Finals in Trestles in September. This is one of the heaviest waves in the world and one at which the women’s CT hasn’t stopped since 2006, and with world title hopes on the line, it looms as the most compelling event of the season to date. Let’s take a look at the chances of some of the world’s best of taking it out.
Unsurprisingly, Carissa Moore sits relatively comfortably atop the world rankings heading into the final event of the year, is the nominal favourite to win what would be her fifth world title, and is also the favourite for this event. Following her semi-final appearance at J-Bay, Moore has now made the semis at six of nine contests this year, and made it through to the final on four of those occasions. One of those finals appearances came at Pipeline in the first event of the season; another barrelling left-hander, and the only wave on tour that can rival Teahupo’o for heaviness. Though Teahupo’o will present a different set of challenges, she showed in that event that she’s more than comfortable surfing her backhand in hollow waves of consequence, and with her form as strong as anyone in the world at the moment, she seems like a near-certainty to be in the mix at the tail-end of the event.
One of the three other athletes in the semi-finals at Pipeline with Moore all those months ago was Tyler Wright, and with a big result needed for her to qualify for Trestles, expect the two-time world champ to come out all guns blazing in Tahiti. Wright is sitting back in seventh in the world rankings, but that’s largely a product of her having missed a string of contests in succession, and on a points per event basis she’s been right up there with Moore and Johanne Defay this season. At the very least, Wright needs a finals appearance to finish in the top five, but a win will put her in a far better position than a runner-up finish. It’s a big ask, but she’s more than capable of delivering. After missing a run of events in a row, she showed that she hasn’t missed a beat at J-Bay, finishing runner-up in what was her first event back after weeks on the sidelines. And, like Moore, she has showed at Pipeline that backhand barrels are no issue – not only did she finish third there this year, but she won there the year prior. The former world champ is no stranger to pressure situations, and in the knowledge that she needs a big performance to surf in the WSL Finals, expect her to step up to the plate in Tahiti.
The aforementioned Johanne Defay has been in some of the best form of her career over recent months, accumulating three semi-final appearances in four events, one of which culminated in a win in Indonesia. Having been defeated in the quarterfinals in the first five contests of the year, normal programming resumed for her at the Corona Open J-Bay when she was knocked out by Wright, but nonetheless she is sitting comfortably in second in the world rankings and has already locked up her spot at Trestles. Barring a very unlikely sequence of events she won’t finish any lower than third, but the way the Finals are formatted, it’s significantly better for her world title chances if she stays in second – or even moves into first, though that would require an early exit from Moore. She might not have as much on the line as many of the other surfers in the contest, but that won’t likely matter. She’s been a feature in the final eight of every event this season and, as mentioned, the final four in three of the last four, so expect her to be there when the whips are cracking once again.
The Next Tier
Though the regular-footers are more than capable of surfing this wave well, it has historically been an advantage for those surfing their forehand, as evidenced by the fact that five of the eight women’s CT events here have been won by goofy-footers – disproportionate to the number of them typically in a field. In the field which will take to the water this year, that appears to give a distinct advantage to one surfer in particular – Tatiana Weston-Webb. The Brazilian is the only goofy-footer in with a chance of winning the world title, currently sitting in third and with a huge amount on the line in this event. She could theoretically finish as high as second or miss the WSL Finals depending on what happens at Tahiti, so she has plenty of reason to put her best foot forward. And she is primed to do that, having won her second event of the season at J-Bay just a couple of weeks ago. Weston-Webb is in form, potentially advantaged by the wave and has plenty to surf for, and as the only woman to win multiple events this season she is a live chance to take this one out too.
Sitting just behind Weston-Webb in the world rankings is Steph Gilmore, who has recovered from a slow start to the season to put herself in a great position to qualify for the WSL Finals, and potentially finish in the top three or even top two if results swing her way. She can, however, still miss out even if she makes the quarterfinals, though that is very unlikely – more realistically, if she makes it past the Elimination Round, she should be safe. Incidentally, she did fall in the Elimination Round just a couple of events ago, so it’s not entirely off the cards, but she’s surrounded that with a win in El Salvador and a semi-final appearance at J-Bay just a couple of weeks ago, and it’s far more likely that she’ll be in the mix to win this than packing her bags after one round. The seven-time world champion has time and time again proven her ability to find another gear when it matters most, so the pressure which will play such a significant role for virtually every competitor in this field will be something she is more accustomed to dealing with than most. Don’t be surprised if the 34-year-old gives this a shake.
One of the surfers Gilmore will be jostling with for position inside the top five is Lakey Peterson, who currently sits in sixth but is well-placed to leap into world title contention with a good performance here. An Elimination Round exit will mean she can’t make the top five and quarterfinals also may not be enough, but if she makes the semis, a spot at Trestles is very much on the cards – and she’s more than capable of doing just that. The American is coming off a poor performance at J-Bay, where she was knocked out in the Elimination Round, but she’s made two finals in nine events this season as well as another semi-final. Unfortunately, those results have been surrounded by four Elimination Round exits, but she’s proven multiple times that once she gets through the early stages she can match it with the best. She’s a little way behind the best chances in this event, but is certainly not without a hope.
Potentially the only goofy footer in the field aside from Weston-Webb will be Caroline Marks, who is another capable of being a major threat at the contest – assuming that she competes. Going against the talented young American is the fact that she is out of the running to make it to Trestles, so she has a lot less to surf for than most of her competitors. Her ability to win the contest, however, remains undeniable. Marks hasn’t had much of a chance to show her wares on waves of consequence on her forehand such as this one, and was knocked out early at Pipeline earlier in the season. She is perhaps better suited on waves with wide open faces given her ability to hit the lip with a power unmatched by many, if any, of her competitors, but nonetheless she will share the advantage of surfing her forehand with perhaps only Weston-Webb, and is more than capable of taking this out.
There are plenty of chances in this one, but Tyler Wright’s name stands out as perhaps the best among them. When she’s actually been able to surf, she has been as good as anyone this season, and her much-deserved spot at Trestles is on the line. Anything less than a finals appearance and more likely a win will be insufficient for her to qualify, so with it all on the line it would be no surprise to see the two-time world champ reach deep into her bag of tricks and secure a second win of the season.
It’s been 16 years since the women’s Championship Tour last surfed at Teahupo’o, and it could hardly return at a more pivotal time. As the final event of the season and with plenty of surfers still capable of finishing in the top five, this is the most important contest of the year to date, and will ultimately determine who will get a chance to compete for the 2022 world title. The event window will open on the 11th of August, and if this wave delivers what it’s capable of, we’ll be in for some of the most entertaining days of the season.