Who Will Win the 2024 Hurley Pro Sunset Beach?

The 2024 Championship Tour season is now officially under way, with the Pipe Pro having gone off without a hitch – well, maybe there were a couple of small ones. The decision not to run in heaving conditions drew the ire of many fans around the world, though realistically those fans did not have the same intel that the powers that be did regarding how many rideable waves there were that day.

Once the event did get underway we got to see some solid surfing – it certainly wasn’t Pipeline at its absolute best, but there were some very good waves and plenty of excellent rides. One of those saw Barron Mamiya clinch the men’s title with a 10.00 in the final, while on the women’s side Molly Picklum was dominant all event only to go down to Caitlin Simmers in an enthralling final.

One notable absentee from virtually the entire event was reigning world champion Filipe Toledo, who is now the subject of the WSL’s latest headache. He withdrew from his Elimination Round heat in solid surf and copped plenty of stick for it, perhaps unsurprisingly given that he is not exactly renowned for his prowess in heavier waves, but following the event he withdrew from the rest of the season, so we can likely strike a line through the idea that he simply got a little scared of the big stuff. 

With his withdrawal, the 2024 season will now take place without any of Carissa Moore, Steph Gilmore or Filipe Toledo, three of the biggest names in world surfing. Each of those are a major loss to the World Surf League, but fortunately there are plenty of others to keep us entertained. Next up they’ll attempt to do that at the Hurley Pro Sunset Beach just around the corner from Pipe, and with the waiting period for that event kicking off nearly straightaway, let’s dive right into our event preview. 

Women’s Hurley Pro Sunset Beach

“Pipe is for the f****** girls,” was the cry of Pipe Pro champion Caitlin Simmers, after she knocked out Molly Picklum in the final of what was undoubtedly the best women’s event we’ve seen at the break to date. There were plenty of high quality rides throughout the course of that event, with those two particularly good and Bettylou Sakura Johnson also providing a number of highlights. The improvement of women’s surfing in waves of consequence was plain to see – who would have thought that opportunity would yield improvement – and it will be on full show at what looks likely to be a heaving Sunset Beach over the next week or so.

The Favourites

There are a lot of reasons to like the chances of Molly Picklum at this year’s Sunset Beach Hurley Pro. At Pipe, she was the best surfer in the water for much of the contest, and though she didn’t win she demonstrated that she is well and truly ready to take the next step and compete for an inaugural world title this season. What’s more, she enters this contest as the reigning champion, having won her first – and to this date, though likely not for long, only – Championship Tour event at the wave last year. Admittedly she won a lot of close heats in that contest – three of her four final heats were decided by a point or less – but nonetheless she surfed really solidly throughout, and based on her performance at Pipe she looks like a better surfer this season. Picklum is establishing herself as a leading contender for the women’s world title this season and is particularly capable in waves of consequence, and with a solid forecast for the back end of the event window she should be in her element at Sunset.

Picklum is right up there among the most promising of the young brigade in world surfing, but it would be remiss not to include the woman who will wear the yellow jersey at Sunset Beach in that category too, and as one of the favourites to take out this event. Caitlin Simmers is still just 18 years of age, but the diminutive Californian has already shown in just a year and a bit on tour that she is a future world champion in the making. After finishing fourth in her first full year on tour at the age of just 17 last season, she could not have started off 2024 in better fashion with a hugely impressive win at Pipeline. She’ll no doubt be expecting to be in the mix to make it two for two, on a wave that she surfed pretty well last year, even if she was knocked out in the quarterfinals. She went down in a tight heat to Caroline Marks that she could easily have won, and with another year of experience under her belt she should go further than that this time around. Simmers is already, at just 18, in the mix for a world title, and she can put herself in what would already be a commanding spot in the world rankings after just two events with a second win in Hawaii for the year.

The woman who beat Simmers at Sunset Beach last year, Caroline Marks ultimately went on to finish second to Picklum at that event, with her failure to back up comfortably the best wave of the heat with another decent score ultimately proving costly. In the grand scheme of things, it all worked out in the end for Marks, who of course went on to win her maiden world title at Trestles later that year. Still somehow just 21 years of age, she will be hoping that is the first of many for her career, and will be eager to kickstart her season with a win at Sunset Beach. Marks wasn’t at her best at Pipeline, a wave that she has still seemingly yet to really figure out, but those struggles have fortunately not transferred around the corner to Sunset in the past. She has shown a penchant for this wave, and should be able to put together a lot more good scores at this contest than she did last week at Pipe.

The Next Tier

Outside of the above three, the clear best chance of winning this contest is Tyler Wright. If we’re speaking about surfers capable in waves of consequence she is right up there, having proven time and time again her wares in heavy conditions. The two-time world champ was a surprise Round of 16 exit from the Pipe Pro, having finished 1st, 3rd and 2nd in the previous three contests there, but expect her to bounce back at Sunset Beach. She finished third here last year, going down to Molly Picklum in the semi finals, and will be looking to go one or better this time around. Wright is renowned for charging in big conditions, and the forecast for this event is for some solid waves in the back end of the waiting period where the bulk of the event will most likely be run. Wright should relish those conditions, and rapidly jump up the leaderboard following a disappointing first event of the season with a big performance in the second.

Bettylou Sakura Johnson is yet another member of the new brigade of women’s surfers which now seems to make up the bulk of world title contenders, and having grown up just around the corner from Sunset Beach knows how to deal with this difficult wave – or waves, as is more apt – than most. She was eliminated here early last season by Caroline Marks, but the year prior to that she finished third at the ripe old age of just 16. She was super impressive in that event, beating Carissa Moore and Moana Jones Wong in her first heat with a 14.84 total, and with two more years of experience under her belt she is even better positioned to mount a charge this time around. She started the season well with a third place finish last week at Pipe, and is very capable of continuing that momentum into her second home event.

The Roughie

Brisa Hennessey has long been a feature of the Championship Tour without necessarily competing for a title, and having now been on the tour for six years it’s possible that she may remain in that position throughout her career. But it’s worth remembering that the Costa Rican is still just 24 years of age, and after a strong start to the season could be in line for the best performance of her career to date this season. She surfed Pipe really well en route to a third place finish, and now moves to a location where she has had heaps of success in the past. Two years ago, she won the first and only CT event of her career at Sunset Beach, averaging a huge 13.63 throughout a contest in which she was clearly the best surfer. She couldn’t quite back that up last year, but she still made it through to the quarterfinals and only lost by 0.27 points to Picklum in that heat. She’s a fair way down the list of favourites, but Hennessey has started the year well and has looked good at this location in the past, so she looms as a serious candidate to spring a surprise.

The Verdict

Each of the above names and a few more are capable of winning this event, but it’s Molly Picklum who has the most going for her. She looked so good at Pipeline throughout the course of the event, and will enter this contest with confidence stemming both from that performance and the fact that she won here last year. Picklum has a bright future and potentially world titles in front of her, and there is no reason that she can’t challenge for one this season. A win at Sunset Beach to follow a second place at Pipeline would be a great way to stamp her authority on the 2024 Championship Tour.

Men’s Hurley Pro Sunset Beach

It wasn’t Pipeline as good as we have ever seen it, but the world’s most famous wave certainly showed what it was capable at points throughout the Pipe Pro. The result was plenty of incredible rides from a range of different surfers, though none better than Barron Mamiya’s unanimous 10 in the final which saw him outlast John John Florence 16.00-15.33. Of course, the tour was subsequently rocked by the withdrawal of two-time reigning champion Filipe Toledo from the rest of the season, but while his absence will be sorely felt, it will also open up another spot in the Final Five which he likely would have ended up inside. Already after Pipe, those who excel in waves of consequence have been handed ideal conditions in their quest to make it to Trestles, and that looks set to continue at Sunset Beach with a huge swell set to come in a few days into the waiting period. Unfortunately that will be accompanied by strong winds, but in the latter stages of the waiting period it’s expected that the winds will turn for the better and some solid swell will still be hanging around. These are the best chances to make the most of those conditions and take out the contest.

The Favourites

Having grown up on the North Shore, John John Florence is always expected to be there or thereabouts in waves in his backyard. This generation’s best surfer at Pipeline proved as much last week with an excellent display at his favourite wave, and though he fell just short in the final it was nonetheless a promising start to the season. With big conditions which he will deal with a lot better than plenty of others forecast at Sunset, he should be able to continue his strong start to 2024. His results at this wave over the past couple of years are surprisingly disappointing – he has finished 17th and 9th – but those results don’t tell the full story. In 2022 he won his Opening Round heat only to go down 13.93-13.27 in the Round of 32, while last year he put up big scores in each of his two heats – including a 15.83 in the Opening Round – before having a disappointing outing in the Round of 16. It would be a massive surprise if he fails to go a whole lot further than that this time around.

In contrast to John John, Ethan Ewing has had a couple of solid results at this event since it returned to the tour in 2022, and will be one of the favourites to take out this year’s edition. He finished third in 2022 when he was arguably the best performed surfer at the event, averaging a huge 15.29 per heat in his five paddle outs, while last year he made his way to the quarters with three easy wins before going down to Griffin Colapinto. Ewing, now 25, is primed for his best crack yet at a maiden world title this year, and should be a threat in most events in 2024. This one is no different. He’s one of the best surfers in the world and has surfed extremely well here in the past, so it would be no surprise to see him atop the podium come the end of the contest.

Ewing compatriot Jack Robinson is another who enters this year with very high expectations, though he didn’t exactly start the year as he wanted with a 17th place finish at Pipe. That result was in stark contrast to last year, when he was the best surfer in the world by a long way in the early stages. After winning Pipe he finished third at Sunset, scoring at least 14.33 in his last four heats of that event. Robinson is another who excels in waves of consequence; having grown up surfing the heaving breaks around Margaret River, where others falter in heavy conditions, he seems to grow an extra leg. That means that a big Sunset Beach suits him to a tee, and it looks likely that we will get exactly that at this contest. That will make Robinson a tough man to beat.

The Next Tier

Like Robinson, Gabriel Medina didn’t exactly start the year as he would have hoped at a wave that he has typically excelled at, with a 17th place finish at Pipeline. But with a full year back on tour following a tumultuous 2022 in which he missed the first half of the season, Medina is primed to return to championship contention this season and one poor result certainly won’t stop him. The explosive Brazilian doesn’t actually have a lot of history at Sunset Beach; he missed the 2022 edition of the event and last year was knocked out in the Round of 16, though he did put together a number of big scores in that brief appearance. But despite his indifferent last couple of years, Medina remains one of the best surfers on the planet, and he will be desperate to begin his ascent up the standings with a big result over the next week or so.

Griffin Colapinto had the best season of his career in 2023, finally jumping into the top five after just missing out the previous two seasons and ultimately finishing in third. And it was at the Hurley Pro Sunset Beach where that run began. Having been knocked out early at the contest in 2022, and after a poor start to the 2023 season at Pipeline, the man from San Clemente made a statement with a big showing in the second event of the year. He made his way through to the final at this event, falling short to Toledo in a high quality final 17.74-16.10. He should again be in the mix for a WSL Finals spot and is very capable of going all the way, and based on his performance here last season this looks like a good place for him to kickstart his run towards Trestles.

The Roughie

Barron Mamiya has made it past the quarterfinals in a CT event just three times in his career. One of those occasions was last week at Pipeline, when he won, while the other was two years ago at Sunset Beach, when he won. Those two results bode particularly well for his chances here over the next week. Hailing from just around the corner in Haleiwa, it’s little surprise that his best results have come at his home breaks, and the fact that he has won here in the past (as a replacement, no less), and that he enters the contest wearing the yellow jersey having won at Pipe to start the year, suggests that he is well poised to do some damage this time around. Given that he has finished no higher than 12th in his career (which he achieved last year) it would be an amazing start to 2024 for him to win consecutive events. But he is gradually working his way into the conversation as a top ten surfer in the world, and on the North Shore he’s a lot better than that. He has to be considered a serious contender at this contest.

The Verdict

The top five names above are clearly the best placed to win this event, and I also like Barron Mamiya’s chances as more of an outside chance to take it out. But while each of the above names has claims as to why they can win the event, Jack Robinson looms as one who will be particularly difficult to beat. Though he was disappointing last week, he showed over the early stages of last season that when he is on song he is arguably the best surfer in the world, and that’s even more the case in heavy conditions. He’s performed well here in the past, should be suited by the big waves, and can notch up his first win of the season at the Hurley Pro.