Toledo and Picklum Maintain Their Momentum as Jeffreys Bay Sets the Stage of an Explosive Tour Finale
With 10 stops spread over nine months, the world tour is a long, hard grind with a wide variety of venues. From beach breaks and points to reef slabs with huge barrels, there’s a little bit of everything, but perhaps no wave exposes the weaknesses in a surfer’s technique like Jeffreys Bay.
One of the best right-hand points in the world and unquestionably South Africa’s most famous wave, J-Bay has been blowing minds and redefining perfection for more than 50 years. But despite its flawless nature and the fact that it has been around for so long, it is still one of the most difficult waves to surf well. The list of winners at J-Bay is a veritable who’s who of pro surfing elite, and only the most powerful and stylish need apply—those who have mastered the fundamentals and found a way to incorporate them into a flawless, modern flow. Jordy Smith, Mick Fanning, Tom Curren, Mark Ochilupo, Andy Irons, and of course Kelly Slater have all proven themselves as some of the best to ever ride the wave—and it’s no coincidence that the regular foots on that list greatly outnumber the goofies. J-Bay has always been a frontsider’s game, and in the rare instance that a goofy is victorious, it is on the back of an otherworldly display of mastery built on a perfected bottom turn.
This year was not one of those rare instances when a goofy won or even made the finals at Jeffreys Bay, but the event certainly wasn’t short of mastery. By the time the field had been whittled down to two competitors, they were the standout regular foots of the year. After a top five showing last year, Ethan Ewing is back and better than ever this season. His rail game and all-around technique is the best in the business at the moment, and is perfectly suited to J-Bay. And on the other side of the ticket was the defending world champion, former event champion, and current tour front runner, Felipe Toledo.
It was the battle of the tour’s smoothest surfer and the world’s fastest, most explosive surfer—a perfect matchup at the world’s best point break. It was a hard-fought heat, but ultimately the momentum remained with Toledo, who has now won three events on the year and two of the last three contested. He is the unchallenged leader of the tour right now, and, despite the fact that Teahupoo has historically been a notably weak event for him, will almost certainly end the year in the yellow jersey, which means an automatic spot in the final heat of the world title event.
If anyone is going to narrow Toledo’s lead at Teahupoo or steal the title from him at Trestles, it’s Ewing, who has also made three finals this year (although he has only won once). Ewing is approximately 7,000 points behind Toledo, but due to the fact that he has a high second throwaway score, he can’t claim the yellow jersey before Trestles, even with a win. That being said, his power-based surfing will serve as a great contrast to Toledo’s high-fi approach at Lowers, especially if the swell is solid there.
Meanwhile, the dark horse that no one is talking about is Griffin Colapinto, who slipped down into third place on the rankings after an early exit at J-Bay. Griff is less than 300 points behind Ewing, but has a low score that will get dropped as his second throwaway, which means that he could actually move past both Ewing and Toledo and into the yellow jersey if he were to win at Teahupoo, as long as Toledo loses before the quarterfinals. And despite the fact that Toledo has all of the momentum at the moment, Griff is probably the only surfer on tour who can match the defending world champ when it comes to progressive small-wave shredding.
Joao Chianca and Yago Dora are currently sitting in fourth and fifth place, but have not yet clinched their spots in the world title event. Meanwhile, Gabriel Medina and John John Florence are threatening in sixth and seventh place, respectively—and both has shown that they have what it takes to win at Teahupoo.
While the men’s race is still pretty wide open, there is only one available spot remaining in the women’s world title event after rookie Molly Picklum clinched her spot by making her third final this year. Although she came up short and didn’t quite take out her second career win, she has still been the most consistent performer of the season, making the quarterfinals or better nine times out of nine events. The only woman who could beat the rampaging rookie was Lakey Peterson, who eked out her first win of the season and moved up into sixth place on the ratings. Lakey will have to finish at least one and most likely two heats ahead of the year’s other rookie phenom, Caitlyn Simmers, if she wants to sneak into the top five and have a chance at the title in San Clemente. Simmers is currently hanging on for dear life to that last spot, leading Lakey by 3000 points and defending world champ Steph Gilmore by 5000.
Meanwhile, Carisa Moore’s juggernaut season continues. While she slipped up once this year with an early round exit, her other eight results have been two fifths, two thirds, and three wins. Amazingly, Tyler Wright is only 2000 points off the pace, after having made an incredible five finals and two additional semifinals thus far this year. And Caroline Marks rounds out the top five in third place—still very much in the thick of it (although technically only Wright could take over the yellow jersey with a win at Teahupoo).
Speaking of the Tahitian slab, Teahupoo will not only be the final stop on this year’s tour, but also the surfing venue for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. This year’s event should be a great preview of what to expect at the Olympics, especially because the top two rated surfers on tour from each country tour at the end of the year will automatically qualify.
The Teahupoo Pro runs in mid-August, and the South Pacific has been pumping this summer, which means the season is likely to end with a bang. We can’t wait!