Who Will Win the Surf City El Salvador Pro?

The World Surf League seemed, for virtually all of last year and the early parts of this year, to have collectively walked under a ladder and broken a mirror in front of a swathe of black cats, based on the consistent failure of Championship Tour locations to fire during CT contests. But gradually this year that luck has begun to turn, and in Tahiti that year of bad luck was forgotten as competitors were treated to some of the best barrels imaginable at Teahupo’o. Heaving, cavernous waves were coming through with incredible regularity through some of the women’s event and then particularly during the men’s, resulting in high score after high score and some of the most entertaining competition we have seen in a long time. 

The results yielded a new yellow jersey wearer on both sides of the draw, with John John Florence and Brisa Hennessey each rising to the top of the world rankings. But it was Italo Ferreira who enjoyed the most significant rise courtesy of his defeat of Florence in the final, while there were fewer drastic changes on the women’s side as a result of wildcard local Vahine Fierra’s win. 

The tour now heads to El Salvador almost immediately, and with just three events remaining before the WSL Finalists are decided, there is plenty on the line at the right-hand point break. And in more positive news, it appears likely that there will be plenty of waves to work with. The same swell that hit Teahupo’o for the Tahiti Pro will provide swell at Punta Roca early in the event window while more will arrive as that window progresses, though some unpredictability in the wind will have a large say on when things run. Regardless, it looks there is plenty to work with over the ten-day window. 

Men’s Surf City El Salvador Pro

Having only first been added to the tour in 2022, there isn’t a whole lot of history for either the men or the women at the Surf City El Salvador Pro. The two winners to date have been Griffin Colapinto and Filipe Toledo; Toledo, of course, won’t be competing, but Colapinto will head in as one of the favourites to take it out again. But he’ll have plenty of competition, particularly from the raft of regular footers at the top end of the world rankings.

The Favourites

Somehow, John John Florence is still yet to win an event this year, but he is sitting pretty atop the world rankings regardless and comes into the Surf City El Salvador Pro as the in-form surfer in the world. Unsurprisingly, he relished the heaving conditions at Teahupo’o, making his way through to a second consecutive final after he also finished second at the Western Australia Margaret River Pro. He has now made the final in three of six events this year and looks as well placed as he has been for years to win what would be a third world title. Florence excels in a wide range of conditions and long, ropey right-handers are among them, even if he hasn’t shown it here yet. He missed the first incarnation of the event through injury and last year was knocked out in the Round of 32, but based on how he has been surfing so far this year and in particular at the last couple of contests, it would be a big surprise if he does not end up going pretty deep into this one.

Florence’s back to back second place finishes meant that he took the jersey of Griffin Colapinto, who has been wearing it for much of the year and will be eager to bridge the gap Florence opened up on him in El Salvador. And based on how he has performed here, he is a good chance of doing that. The San Clemente local has been the best surfer at this break over the two years during which it has been on tour, winning it in 2022 and very nearly going back to back last year when he finished second. He put together big score after big score across those two contests, each of which has been a microcosm of his general improvement over the past two or three years. Now aged 25, he is as good a surfer and as legitimate a world title contender as he ever has been, and though he had a disappointing result in Teahupo’o he is primed to bounce back with another strong performance at Punta Roca.

Rounding out the top three in the world rankings is Jack Robinson, who, like Colapinto, had an early exit at Teahupo’o, but with two wins in six events this year he is not someone to be writing off. Robinson is one of the best in the world in heavy conditions and will be hoping for as much swell as possible as a result, but regardless he is very capable of putting together consistently big scores on this wave, even if it is a little less critical. He hasn’t actually performed particularly well at the two previous editions of this event, finishing 17th and 5th in those two, though he showed what he could do with a 17.76 in his Round of 16 heat in 2022, and last year he went down in a relatively high-scoring Elimination Round heat. Robinson has been a little bit erratic this year, with his two wins accompanied by three Elimination Round finishes, so it’s certainly not out of the realms of possibility that he flops once again in Punta Roca. On the other side of the coin, however, he has shown over the past couple of years that at his best, he is as good as anyone in the world. If he brings that form he will be hard to stop.

The Next Tier

Sitting in fourth in the world rankings is Ethan Ewing, who this wave suits to a tee and is probably the most likely man outside of the above trio to win this – if not even more likely. Ewing’s aesthetically pleasing, carving style of surfing and ability to link manoeuvres as well as anybody makes him a dangerous man on his frontside on long waves such as this, as he has shown at numerous similar waves in recent times. Last year he won at Bells Beach and finished second at J-Bay – the two most comparable breaks to Punta Roca on the tour – while the year before that he was third at Bells and won J-Bay. On the surface that doesn’t appear to have translated to this contest, with ninth and fifth place finishes the last two years, but those results don’t do justice to how he surfed. Last year he put together a 15.37 in the Opening Round and then a 15.43 in the Round of 16, where he went down to Liam O’Brien’s 15.53. The year prior, he was knocked out in the quarterfinals despite scoring 16.10, with Italo Ferreira beating him with a 17.47. Ewing is a lethal surfer at right-hand point breaks, and with a bit of luck will go further than he ever has at this contest this time around.

A whole lot further down the world rankings is Gabriel Medina, but the difference between him in 12th and the top five is not a whole lot, and he could easily close the gap significantly at this contest. After advancing past the Round of 16 just once in the first five events of the season, he excelled at Teahupo’o as he generally does, picking up a third place finish and climbing seven spots in the world rankings as a result. He was knocked out early at this event last year but in 2022, he finished third in just his second event back from an extended hiatus, averaging 14.04 per heat and missing out on a spot in the final by just 0.13 against Colapinto. Obviously this is a very different wave to Teahupo’o, but Medina may well have picked up a little bit of confidence from that result, and with the top five now well and truly within his sights it would be no surprise to see the three-time world champ fly home over the last three events, kicking off in El Salvador. 

The Roughie

The top five above look like clearly the best chances to win this contest, but one man certainly capable of posing a threat is Italo Ferreira. Like his compatriot in Medina, the former world champion has been a long way from his best for most of this year, but after not making it past the quarterfinals once all season he won in Tahiti to catapult himself from 16th to 5th in the world rankings. Also like Medina, Ferreira will be surfing Punta Roca on his backhand, but that certainly hasn’t stopped him in the past. He has finished 5th and 3rd at his two previous appearances here, averaging nearly 14 per heat at both of those contests, and last year he could have easily advanced further having gone down 13.44-13.33 to Ian Gentil in the quarters. He hasn’t really been able to find his best on any point breaks so far this year, but with his tail up after a win at Teahupo’o and now in the top five, this could be his chance to change that.

Our Prediction

As mentioned, there looks to be a pretty clear top five at this event, each of whom could easily end up victorious. Colapinto is very hard to go past given how he has surfed here the last two years and this year in general, but one man who could hardly be better suited to the wave is Ethan Ewing. He has not enjoyed the success that one would expect at this wave over the past two years, but with a couple of close losses things could easily have been different. He will paint the long walls of Punta Roca like a canvas, and is every chance of going a long way further than he has at this contest in the past two years and sealing his first event win of the season.

Women’s Surf City El Salvador Pro 

As we do on the men’s side, we will have a new yellow jersey wearer for the Women’s Surf City El Salvador Pro, after Brisa Hennessy finished second in Tahiti to make it five out of six events in which she has made at least the semis. At just the third edition of this event she will again be a great chance to go deep, as will last year’s winner, Caroline Marks, among a host of others. Let’s take a look at the best chances to win this year’s contest.

The Favourites

The women’s tour has by and large seen a dearth of consistent performers this year, but Brisa Hennessy stands alone as the one who has been able to avoid the kind of early exits which have been a feature of the other world title contenders. Her only poor finish came at Supertubos when she was injured anyway; in four of the other five she has made the semi-finals, while in Tahiti she went one better and made the final. The one thing missing from her resume this year is a contest win, something that, incredibly, she has only managed one time in her career to date. But the 24-year-old is surfing as well as she ever has this year, and it seems inevitable that she will rack up the second win of her career sometime soon. Why not at Punta Roca?

Sitting just below her in the women’s world rankings is Caitlin Simmers, whose season has been consistent in its inconsistency to date. Through the first six events of the year, she has finished 1st, 5th, 9th, 1st, 5th, 9th. She’ll be hoping that trend continues at least for one more contest. Simmers is still just 18 years of age so it’s probably no great surprise that she isn’t particularly consistent, but her winning strike rate over the past year and a half is as good as anyone in the world. Since the start of last year, her first full one on the tour, she has won four of 16 events and this year is at two out of six. Simmers is potentially destined for greatness on a tour that has improved out of sight in recent years, and has already established herself as one of the best in the world even at the ripe old age of 18. She suffered an early exit here last year, but Simmers is a threat at every event in which she competes. This one is no different.

Unlike Simmers, Caroline Marks has shown a penchant for this wave in the past, finishing 3rd here in 2022 and then winning it last year. The reigning world champion has had a raft of good but not great performances this year, making the semi-final at three of six events but not going further than that, and those results have her sitting precariously in fifth place in the world rankings. But with two semi-final finishes in her past three events and having made the semis here in each of the last two years, she is a good chance of making her first final of the season. Marks will be one of the few goofy footers competing at this event, but she has shown many times before how capable she is on her backhand, not least at this very break. A good result here would really consolidate her spot in the top five, and the reigning world champion and reigning winner of this event is a great chance to pick up the 10,000 points in El Salvador once again.

The Next Tier

Molly Picklum has hit something of a roadblock after a really strong start to the season, but she has made the quarterfinals at the past two events and surfed reasonably well particularly at Margaret River a couple of events ago. Despite an indifferent run of form Picklum still sits in third place in the world rankings, and the 21-year-old is well-placed to make the WSL Finals for the second time in her short career. Already she has a reasonably comfortable gap over Gabriela Bryan back in sixth place, but a strong result here would see her just about lock herself into the top five with just two events to go. She’s only competed on the CT in El Salvador once, that being last year when she finished fifth, but she surfed really well in a couple of heats, scoring 15.83 in the Elimination Round before being knocked out by Steph Gilmore in the quarters despite putting up 14.96. If she puts up similar scores this time around she is a good chance of going a lot deeper into this contest.

Sitting just behind Picklum in the world standings is Frenchwoman Johanne Defay, who like her much younger counterpart has hit a bit of a slow patch in her year after a strong start. Following a win and then a second place in consecutive events in Portugal and then at Bells Beach, she has been knocked out early at each of the last two. But the veteran remains a consistent threat at most events, and has finished as high as third here in the past, which she managed back in 2022. She certainly isn’t the form surfer in the world at the moment, but Defay has continued to improve as her career has worn on and, the last two contests notwithstanding, is rarely knocked out early. After a couple of disappointing results she needs a big one here to consolidate her spot in the top five, and is more than capable of just that.

The Roughie

Tyler Wright is probably too good to be considered a roughie, but the two-time world champion is sitting back in ninth in the world rankings and has a lot of work to do if she is to compete at the WSL Finals. But she is beginning to show some ominous signs of form. After back to back early exits in Hawaii, she has now picked up a second, third and a fifth in the last four contests, and now gets a chance to pick up her first win of the year at a break at which she finished second last year. She was excellent on the wave back then, scoring at least 12.74 in each of her first four heats before going down in a slow final against Caroline Marks. That was more than enough to demonstrate her capabilities on this wave. A big result here could see her climb significantly up the world rankings and put her right in the mix for the top five, and as one of the steeliest competitors in the business it would be no surprise to see her put in a much-needed run deep into this contest.

Our Prediction

There may be competitors with a better case to win this event than Wright, but she is a great chance to notch up her first win of the season as an outsider. Right when she needs to, Wright is coming into some quality form and is looming dangerously a few thousand points below Marks in fifth, and after finishing third last year will have expecatations of going even further in 2024. She hasn’t gone through a Championship Tour season without a win since 2019, and can make sure that trend continues with a pivotal win at Punta Roca.  

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