WSL Pundit Groundswell 2015

Groundswell, the Fantasy Surfer forum moderator, lays down his hot, warm, cold, boom/bust and caution picks for the 2015 WSL Championship Tour.

Moche Rip Curl Pro Portugal

We’re headed into the next-to-last event of the 2015 tour, and a world champ will NOT be decided in Portugal this year. That means we all get our wish of a Pipe Masters with championship implications. Ok, maybe that’s my wish for a relevant Pipe Masters again, but I’m sure there are more than a few people out there who’d like to see the title decided at Pipe and Backdoor.

Here’s my picks for Portugal – and keep in mind that the swell forecast looks a little murky for the first few days. Don’t be surprised to see the event not start until the 4th or 5th day of the waiting period.

HOT (no surprises here):

MICK FANNING – There’s no slowing down the 4th World Title train at this point. Mick has spotty results at Pipe, and has been known to light the beach breaks of Peniche up. So saying this is his big chance to almost seal the deal goes without saying. A win here would put him in the driver’s seat headed to Hawaii. And if anyone knows how to buckle down and win the heats they are supposed to win, it’s Mick. He was my top pick for France, and I’m not backing down from claiming a finals appearance for him in Portugal either.

JULIAN WILSON – You may have noticed that the surfers that make it to my Hot list rarely are from the bottom of the rankings. They’re at the bottom for a reason. And it’s not for being “en fuego”. Julian, on the other hand, has 3 semifinal or better results in his last 5 events. He’s won here in Portugal before, and he’s seriously the happiest guy on earth right now (getting engaged to a super model will do that to a guy). He’s high on life, and there’s no stopping him. Worth every penny on your salary cap.

GABRIEL MEDINA – Welcome back to the world of the living, Gabriel. It’s nice to see the post title hangover only took about 6 months to get out of his system. Since J-Bay, Gabriel has made the quarterfinals or better at the last 4 straight events. Had he one more solid result in place of a 13th this year, we might be talking about him actually defending his world title. Instead, we’re talking about him MAYBE being able to sneak into contention (if every other contender breaks their legs). But he’s seen just how fun winning is again, and I have a feeling he’ll be like that lion that gets a taste for blood. Once it’s in his veins, there’s not going to be many who can do anything to stop him.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY – John John Florence, Owen Wright

COLD (if these surfers do well, it would REALLY surprise me):

FILIPE TOLEDO – The semifinals of the Hurley Pro is where I think the wheels started to come off the Toledo train. He had a movie premiere that week, and a huge title-contending contest in his adopted hometown. At some point, the pressure was bound to get to him. He’s only 20 years old. This year is going to serve as a huge springboard for him and he knows it. But for now he’s got to muster up the energy to get through the last two events and prepare himself for 2016. He may technically still be in title contention, and this may be a beach break, but he’s starting to look a little worn down.

JOEL PARKINSON – I’m not really certain just how hurt Parko is. At Trestles, he admitted had some bulging discs in his neck and that going left was a big problem. And then he proceeded to blaze his way to the quarterfinals by sticking to those Lowers rights. France was not as kind to him. My point is, the best he can manage to do right now is a quarterfinal appearance. I wholeheartedly expect him to give everything he has, but if he’s only surfing at 80% right now, is that even close to being good enough? I think it isn’t.

JOSH KERR – Dropping like a stone. While I think that if a large enough swell hits Portugal during the event, Kerr could be in the driver’s seat for the win based on his tube riding, the problem is his nagging trend this year of poor results. The first half of the year wasn’t bad. But aside from a quarterfinal in Tahiti, he has had a difficult past 5 events. I’m not betting that changes here.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY – Brett Simpson, Michel Bourez

BOOM OR BUST (you may win the event with these guys or they may bomb out in Round 2):

JOHN JOHN FLORENCE – Are we going to see amazing barrels riding, high flying arias and quite possibly the best layback on tour? Or are we going to see him sit without catching a wave for the first 20 minutes of a heat? Again, it’s all about consistency at the top level. If you want a world title, and event victories, you have to go get them. You can’t just sit there and expect it all to come to you. Depending on which version of John John we see, it’ll either be the most brilliant surfing in Portugal, or a maddening heat to watch slip away from him.

ADRIAN BUCHAN – This is one of those events where we are seeing the surfers get to the end of the line for the European leg of the tour and they had to generate their own motivation. For some, that’s going home to their family. For others, it’s bailing on this event and going home to relax and charge the batteries. Buchan has been fairly consistent throughout the year. Losing in Round 3 is about his average. But the past few events, there’s been some really solid surfing in his heats and he’s pulling in a few results that will keep him on tour for 2016. One more solid one and he’s locked in. Mortgage paid for another year. There’s his motivation right there. Working man’s motivation.

KAI OTTON – I think Kai Otton has a marvelous chance at being the dark horse at this event. The way the seedings currently are, there draw is a little bit top heavy. 7 total wildcards and injury replacements will do that. But there’s always a surfer in these events that sneaks through the heats they’re supposed to be the favorite in and then builds upon that. Otton is a fantastic competitor when he has momentum.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY – Italo Ferreira, Wiggly Dantas

CAUTION (something to pay attention to):

KELLY SLATER – Waning interest along with several injuries that are starting to pile up. He’s still got the longest of long shots to win the world title, but he needs to win both remaining events and see all the other title contenders lose in Round 2. Once those competitors get past Round 2 & 3, I’m guessing the inevitability of another title-less year will set in on Slater and there will be a slight shift in attitude. Kind of a “pack it in” type of feel. He doesn’t WANT to be here as evidenced by his Quiksilver Pro France interviews. The boys ahead of him in the ratings may respect him, but if they can take him out of the title race, they’ll feel much better about him.

TIAGO PIRES – It’s a classy move the give the Potuguese Prince a wildcard into his home country’s only event. It would be like the Hurley Pro allowing Taylor Knox one more shot. And that’s great for nostalgia. But it’s not so great for winning heats.

WILDCARDS YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF – Who are these guys, right? Take a chance. Roll the dice. One of them is bound to knock off a title contender and surprise us. Those title contenders can’t ALL make the quarters, right? Flip a coin, pick a name out of a hat, whatever. This might be a great chance to make up some points in the standings for your team. But there’s no way we know who will be the standout.

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Quiksilver Pro France

HOT (no surprises here):

MICK FANNING – This is where Mick’s fitness starts to pay off. He spends the entire year gearing up for the home stretch events of Trestles, France, and Portugal. These are typically his best events on tour, and this year is no exception. He’s finally pushed ahead into the ratings lead, and I would expect nothing but the same type of result here as he had in Trestles. Semifinals or better.

FILIPE TOLEDO – A semifinal appearance at Trestles tells us that Filipe is capable of winning the heats he’s supposed to and he’s not going o play down to his opponents levels. He dominated the competition at the Hurley Pro and won the heats he was heavily favored in. Once you get to the Quarterfinals at a CT level event, you’re facing the cream of the crop. It’s a rare occasion when a scrub makes it to the semis. Any time the words “beach break” are mentioned, Filipe is going to be one of the elite surfers at that event. Until the tour heads to Hawaii, I’d lock him onto your team and not look back.

ADRIANO DE SOUZA – Consistent. That’s what’s keeping Adriano on the hot list right now. He’s upped his game to the point that he’s averaging some of the highest Fantasy Surfer points of the year. You don’t have to love his style, or his claiming, but respect the fact that he’s currently averaging 141 points per event. Use your head, not your heart to select your squad.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY – Italo Ferreira, Wiggly Dantas

COLD (if these surfers do well, it would REALLY surprise me):

BRETT SIMPSON – A bit of Brett’s game has been exposed. The younger guys have brought a more explosive aspect to the performance level on the tour, and it simply seems that Brett can’t keep up. At trestles, Wiggly Dantas made Simpson look downright old. And this was at a venue that Simpson lives less than an hour from. That’s embarrassing.

JOHN JOHN FLORENCE – There are guys who should rightly be on this cold list (Simpson). And there are guys like John John here who have no business being here. Their talent level alone should keep them off of it. But lately, John John doesn’t look like he has the confidence to win a 1-Star WQS event; let alone a top tiered event like the Quiksilver Pro. I know he’s the defending champ at this event, but this is a far different version of John John that we’re currently seeing in heats than we did last year. Injuries play their part, sure. But I’m not sure we’ll see him back at 100% for the rest of the year, so take that for what it’s worth. I think MAYBE a quarterfinal if he surfs out of his mind. But there’s so much waiting around and stop/start action in France that it doesn’t seem like it would benefit his chances. At least not this year.

MATT WILKINSON – The only thing worth watching about Wilko in Europe the past few years has been to see what kind of crazy wetsuit he’ll be wearing. Yes, I know he’s been training. And yes, he’s actually over there a few weeks early this year. But my guess is that we’re still not going to se anything that sets the world on fire. Round 5 at best.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY – Dusty Payne, Kolohe Andino

BOOM OR BUST (you may win the event with these guys or they may bomb out in Round 2):

MICHEL BOUREZ – It seems that removing from injuries is something that is exceptionally hard to do this year. Last year, we were talking about Bourez’ title chances at this point. Then he had a horrible European leg and fell out of the race. This year, he’s completely out of the race. Maybe with the pressure off, it’ll inspire a bit more from him starting in France.

JOSH KERR – I think there comes a point when the tour talent level starts to pass you by. By no means is Josh Kerr there yet, but he seems to be surfing down a notch or two in order to conform a bit. When he first got on tour, he scored either 9’s or 2’s. Now he’s starting to get through heats by surfing more conservatively. He needs to find that mix. Where he can paddle out, get 7’s and then start aiming at the 9’s once he’s comfortably in the lead. Once he does that, he’ll be a solid bet at most tour spots.

ADAM MELLING – I’ve heard Melling described at the “The Poor Man’s…” for quite a few years now. It’s a little tiresome. If you watch him freesurf, he’s dominating. Tears the lid off of everything and then throws fins out at every opportunity. It’s quite impressive actually. But put a contest singlet on him, and it ends up being a shit show at least once an event. Melling is his own man. And at times, that’s quite impressive. Like if it gets thick and barreling in the French beach breaks. But not so much if it’s gutless. That’s going to make or break him at this event.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY – Miguel Pupo, Nat Young

CAUTION (something to pay attention to):

KELLY SLATER – It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Kelly Slater make a final. Event longer since we’ve seen him win an event (December 2013 to be precise). And chances are, it’s going to be even longer. Why? Because there’s a chance that Slater is going to pull out of an event or two this year. Father time is undefeated, and the inevitable end is coming to Slater’s career. Probably not this year. But it’s coming soon. And the thing that will eventually cause him to retire won’t be the lack of will to win or his talent. it will be the little injuries that pile up over the course of a year. Currently, Slater is nursing at least 2 injuries that he needs to rest. And after he lost at Trestles, he hinted that that just might be what he does. Rest. If anyone deserves it, it’s Kelly. But we have no idea exactly when it’s going to happen, so be on your toes. Adding the fact that he’s currently playing in a golf tournament in Scotland, and it adds to the mystery of Slater. You never know what’s going to happen and you never know if what he says is 100% accurate.

JORDY SMITH – I’d be shocked if Jordy surfs an event before Hawaii. The likely thing that he’s looking at is sitting out the rest of 2015 and coming back healthy for 2016. I expect him to withdraw from this event before it starts. Knee injury, back injury, ego shot at not being able to defend his title at Trestles. These all together seem to signify that 2015 is all but done for Jordy. Maybe he’ll come back from it the way Mick did with his hamstring injury. And maybe we’ll just see a dialed down version of Jordy Smith. Either way though, don’t expect to see much (or any) of it this year.

MATT BANTING – If Banting were coming back for this event, you’d think that we’d see him in action at this week’s QS event in Portugal as a warm up. Well, he’s not in it. And my guess is he’s not ready to return from a very serious-looking knee injury as well. Everyone has been pretty quiet about his status, but even if he does return, how good would he be? 75% of normal? The thing that was interesting about Banting was his above-the-wave potential and his quick snaps. With a knee injury as severe as he sustained, that’s not going to happen again for a while.

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Hurley Pro Trestles

HOT (no surprises here):

FILIPE TOLEDO – I’d look for Filipe to be neck-and-neck with Slater and John John for the top selected surfer at this event. He lives just around the corner from Lowers and is there with his friends every day he’s home. He has recently won the Lowers WQS event in supreme fashion, making all other entrants in the event (including Slater) look like they were dragging anchor. Not a small feat. While he hasn’t had CT level success here, he seems to have found his niche and I’d put him down as the odds on favorite. There won’t be any 0.00 heat scores from him at this event.

MICK FANNING – When most of the tour seems to bog down a bit and start to feel the strain of traveling for the last 6 months, this is where Mick starts to shine. Mick has won in years past at the next three tour stops. That means we’re starting to see him hit his stride (inconsistent Teahupoo result not withstanding). He’s always had his fitness to rely on, but with everything he’s been going through this year – not just the shark attack at J-Bay – his mental toughness seems to have stepped up to the top of the ranks as well. When Slater steps away, Mick will be the smartest competitor on tour. he just won’t tell you or rub your nose in it. Strong pick for Trestles and beyond that, to cement world title #4.

JULIAN WILSON – If there’s a way for you to squeeze Wilson onto your team with Fanning and Toledo, I say you do it. Wilson is the third amigo in this group that can make Lowers look like an amusement park. Yes, it’s an easy place to surf and it tends to make surfers look better than they are – but it also exposes huge holes in surfers style if they have them. Wilson does not. Style oozes from this guy at every turn. Hopefully with all the sponsor obligations he has while he’s in town, he can find some downtime to relax. A relaxed Julian seems to be when we see him at his best. If I’m the Hurley team manager right now, I’m booking tee times for Wilson every moment he’s not in the water. Keep this guy happy – big things are coming his way.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY – Jeremy Flores, Kelly Slater

COLD (if these surfers do well, it would REALLY surprise me):

CJ HOBGOOD – Yes, I know he had such a magical event in Tahiti and he should be on the hot list some of you might say. But I say hold on. Take a look at his track record here at Trestles first. And then ask yourself how likely he is to buck that trend in his last year on tour. Trestles is a young man’s game. And the rust (aside from at Tahiti) is really beginning to show on Hobgood. Kelly is the exception to doing well in high-performance waves at an old(er) age. Hobbled is more along the lines of what you should expect to see when the age creeps towards 40 in a high performance wave like Trestles.

FRED PATACCHIA – *SIGH*. I let out a big sigh every time I put Fred’s name on the cold list. I want to believe in him. He’s always in that price category where he’s just above rock bottom and tempting me to pick him. I think he’ll make it to Round 3, but that’s usually where he peaks. Good enough to get by, but not good enough to outshine the big boys.

KEANU ASING – Remember earlier when I said if you have flaws in your style that Trestles will expose them? Using is a prime candidate for that one. In small beach breaks like Rio or smaller days in France, he can use his punchiness to really flare out on one, big turn. But Trestles requires you to have some more flow and smoothness to your turns. Keanu will probably get there eventually, but it’s hard to see his style flaws escaping the judges at Lowers.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY – Taj Burrow, Kai Otton

BOOM OR BUST (you may win the event with these guys or they may bomb out in Round 2):

DUSTY PAYNE – He’ll have a high percentage of players with him on their team. And if the current year is any indication, they’ll all regret it after the Hurley Pro is over. A disastrous year has proven something; yes, Dusty has changed his physique since his last stint on tour. But the mental hurdles and stumbles that happen to him in heats have not. The only reason he’s here in the high potential/ high risk category is because he’s consistently the highest scorer in the rounds he loses out in. That tells me that the talent is there. But the mental head game isn’t.

GABRIEL MEDINA – I’m chalking his loss on the Gold Coast up to a shitty swell, frustration, and a less-talented surfer pulling a fast one on him. If Trestles is at least 3 foot, Medina can redeem himself on this go-around. Last year he made it to the quarterfinals of an event that is typically not kind to goofy foots. A great event for him in Tahiti has let him know that he’s capable of great results this year. But it might not be as easy for him as it was last year. Any time you pick a goofy at Trestles, you’re relying on the swell to cooperate. Without swell, this could be a disaster of a pick. Especially at his high price tag.

JORDY SMITH – As I’m writing this, there’s just under two weeks until Trestles waiting period kicks off. If he was healthy, Jordy would be a hot list selection without any question. But currently, at last report, he’s the CT’s version of the walking wounded. Hurts his knee at J-Bay and then while he’s trying to baby it, he hurts his back. Wow. That’s either bad luck or lack of fitness. For those of you that saw his huge barrel / alley oop combo, be warned; that took place in Western Australia BEFORE he was injured. That is not recent. He could pull out of this event, and he could pull out of every other event in 2015. It wouldn’t surprise me either way. Just be warned; he’s definitely not 100% right now. But pride just may get that wetsuit on and a jersey on his chest.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY – Owen Wright, Michel Bourez

CAUTION (something to pay attention to):

JOHN JOHN FLORENCE – Standing up, setting your line, and weaving through a backhand barrel takes a much lesser toll on your ankle than does navigating successful heats at Trestles. Now, the injury that John John had on his ankle was pretty severe. Severe enough to keep him out of two straight events. I’m not saying he’s going to pull out of this event, but I’m not so sure we’re going to see the performance we saw here last year. Maybe just a scaled back version of John John until he’s 100%.

MATT BANTING – Did you see Banting knee buckle on that J-Bay warm-up wave? It wasn’t pretty. Not at all. If he surfs another heat this year, I’ll be amazed. But hey, the younger the surfer with the injury, the more likely they are to bounce back quickly. I just don’t think I’d expect much even if he does. The fact that he can stand on that knee is impressive enough as it is.

INJURY REPLACEMENTS – My guess at this event is that IF we see injury replacements, they will happen at the last minute. Who’s the best bet to get one? Alejo Muniz, Aritz Aranburu, Tomas Hermes, Dane Reynolds maybe? If you see the name Kanoa Igarashi pop up though, I’d jump at a chance to have him on my team. As of right now, there are no injury replacements to report. But stay tuned.

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Billabong Pro Tahiti

HOT (no surprises here):

OWEN WRIGHT – Perfect in Fiji. Lost surprisingly early in J-Bay. I’m calling him as my favorite for this event, just ahead of Medina and John John. Owen has a lot to prove, and he knows it. To be considered a title contender, you really have to win more than one event per year. I’m calling this as Owen’s second vicotry of 2015.

GABRIEL MEDINA – Defending Tahiti champion, he looked like he captured a little bit of a moral victory at J-Bay if nothing else. Maybe he’ll come into this event a little bit on the humble side (don’t bet on it) and maybe he won’t. But either way, he has the talent to win here again. He just needs the wave to offer him up the chance to show it.

JOHN JOHN FLORENCE – Oh, he’s back. And it’s one of those times where you’d be pretty silly NOT to have him on your squad. This is one of those events where he’s considered to be on the upper level of talent when it gets big, hollow, or both. Quarterfinals for sure. Maybe more beyond that.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY – Kelly Slater, Joel Parkinson

COLD (if these surfers do well, it would REALLY surprise me):

FILIPE TOLEDO – Remember all those ways that Filipe and John John are similar? Airs, speed, turns? Check. But as far as waves of consequence go, this is one area where Filipe has a long ways to go. Dump him for this event and then make up with him for Trestles and France. But single digit heat scores are kind of his thing here.

RICHARD CHRISTIE – It’s tough enough coming to Tahiti for the first time. Now add in the fact that you’re right on the bubble of qualification and you’re a rookie on the CT and it jumps up quite a few notches. I think he’ll be fun to watch at Trestles, France and Portugal, but Teahupoo on his backside? Not this year.

ADRIANO DE SOUZA – Here’s where think the wheels are going to fall off. The only way he gets past Round 5 is if the conditions are less than stellar and the draw completely goes his way. Otherwise, I’m expecting a change in the top of the leaderboard after this event for sure.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY – Sebastian Zietz, Miguel Pupo

BOOM OR BUST (you may win the event with these guys or they may bomb out in Round 2):

WIGGOLLY DANTAS – I was really impressed with his ability in the big stuff when the tour went to Fiji. I think if he can channel that same mojo, He’s got a chance to make it very far in this event. VERY far.

ITALO FERREIRA – Again a rookie goofy foot (same as Dantas). The only thing keeping these guys off my hot list are their lack of experience here. I think this time next year, they’ll be mainstays on 40% of teams or more. But this year might be the chance to sneak one of these guys on your team when many others won’t have them. These are the guys who will own this event in the future. Get ‘em while you can.

KAI OTTON – I’m not always sure what to expect from Otton. One minute he’s charging through death tubes, and then next minute he’s bombing out in Round 2. But his recent hot streak has me somewhat hopeful. I think this event could play a huge part in his requalification hopes and he knows it. Bet on him if it’s big. Not quite a safe gamble if it’s smaller.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY – Michel Bourez, Ace Buchan

CAUTION (something to pay attention to):

WILDCARDS – Yes, it’s great to pick with your heart and possibly pick up Bruce Irons, Jamie O’Brien, etc if they win the trials. But remember that those guys have been in MANY CT heats before and their results are…underwhelming to say the least. Use your head when it comes to picking up and one valued under $4 million dollars. Not your heart.

INJURIES – As of right now, the rumor that Jordy Smith and Matt Banting are out is just that – a rumor. But honestly, you shouldn’t be picking either of these guys right now anyway. Banting sustained a pretty nasty knee injury at J-Bay, and it’s going to be surprising to see him in a jersey again in 2015. Jordy Smith has several things going against him at Teahupoo; 1) He’s got his own knee, leg, back etc injuries. 2) He’s got a horrible record in big lefts. 3) He’s always mentioning the “near death” experience he had there one year. Seems that the mental part of Teahupoo might be just as tough for him as the physical.

JEREMY FLORES – Head injuries are a serious thing. Jeremy has already been back in the water for a while now, but there’s nothing that says he’s 100%. While he is an unquestionable charger, nobody can fault him for being less than his best for the next several months. While we all know he’ll bounce back stronger than ever at some point, it may not be this year, or this event.

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J-Bay Open

HOT (no surprises here):

MICK FANNING – Defending event champ. Righthand points are where he usually destroys the competition. I’m not expecting his performance to drop off a bit from last year. He knows this wave so well and knows where he can fit in every little snap, hook, or cutback. This wave is a machine. But then again, so is Mick. Quarterfinals or better should be expected and delivered.

JOEL PARKINSON – We saw a little blip on the radar at Fiji that just might have saved Joel’s year. He’s inside of the Top 15 now. His style is casual. But something is going to have to get formal and fast. Enter J-Bay. I’d expect him to have the highest score of Round 1 based on the current draw and for him to make everyone in the competitor’s area stop to watch his heat. Where he goes beyond Round 4 is anyone’s guess anymore, but if there’s anywhere outside the Gold Coast that lines up perfectly to suit him, J-Bay is it. My bet is this will be the best result he sees all year.

MICHEL BOUREZ – Instagram is a wonderful thing. It allowed us to see weeks in advance that Bourez had crushed his hand surfing at Teahupoo before the Brazil event, and that he was going mad during the recovery process. And now it shows us that he’s been scoping out the best rights that he can find in his preparation for J-Bay. Now how a newly repaired hand is going to react in icy cold water seems like the only thing that might hold the Tahitian back. But I’m guessing that after a wobbly Round 1, he’ll find his footing and take quite a few scalps at this event. Solid pickup for how cheaply he is currently priced.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY – Owen Wright, Julian Wilson

COLD (if these surfers do well, it would REALLY surprise me):

CJ HOBGOOD – The swan song pulls into South Africa and it typically isn’t a spot that CJ does well at. But maybe he’ll fool the surf gods by wearing someone else’s jersey like in Fiji, right? That paid off so well for him….oh. That’s right. It didn’t. Not expecting anything beyond Round 2 here.

GABRIEL MEDINA – Here’s where it starts to get interesting. Gabs is currently sitting at 20th on the 2015 world tour victory lap. It’s fun to wave to the crowd and accept all the congratulations on a well-earned world championship. But ticker tape parades give one a false sense of accomplishment. Yes, you beat the world last year. But in case you hadn’t noticed, the world is currently doing a number on you. The target on Gabriel’s back got a lot bigger after his world title. And with the way that everyone has been gunning for him so far in 2015, you’d think they were all sharp shooters. They’re not. Gabriel just needs to pay attention to where the victory parade is currently at because they don’t throw too many parades or celebrations for guys who finish 20th.

ADRIANO DE SOUZA – Ok, here’s the thing; I’m probably going to be wrong on this in many people’s eyes. Most likely, he’ll make it to Round 5. But is that a good result for a guy leading the ratings? In my opinion, no. It’s an event where many people will see that he’s done, well, ok here in the past. But he won it – when it was a WQS event and he was one of five Top 34 surfers in the event. But he’s the current ratings leader – and he’s wobbling. Quite a bit actually. Hasn’t made it past Round 3 since Margaret River. And there are 4 other surfers who I could easily see vaulting past him in the ratings and then never looking back. So if your goal is to pick a guy that gets you maximum points, there are much cheaper versions out there of you.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY – Italo Ferreira, Wiggly Dantas

BOOM OR BUST (you may win the event with these guys or they may bomb out in Round 2):

JOHN JOHN FLORENCE – I’m not betting too heavily of John John returning and lighting up J-Bay right off the bat. These waves are going to require him to transition from toes to heel very quickly and in a stable way that doesn’t sacrifice power or speed. Do you know what part of the body controls quite a bit of that? Ankles. And right now, John John is rehabbing his from a significant injury. I’d hold off here and wait for Tahiti. There he can grab a rail and work his way through sections like few can. But at J-Bay? Yeah, I expect very little from him here – IF he even shows up.

JORDY SMITH – I have absolutely no idea what condition Jordy’s knee is in. But i think there’s a timeline that he’s going to follow regardless of how good of condition that knee is in. And that means he’ll be in the J-Bay event. He’s the only South African on tour. This is a “home” event for him (even though he lives in San Clemente now). But I don’t trust my team to Jordy until I’ve seen him in action. He could be all amped up for this event. or he could be completely rushing himself back just to compete in this highly sentimental event. Pay attention to his free surfing before the event and the WQS event at Ballot he’s currently entered in right before J-Bay. if he looks good there, add him to your team. If not, well, you can smell fool’s gold as well as I can.

DUSTY PAYNE – Still don’t believe me, eh? Still waiting for that huge event where Dusty blows up, shows everyone how great he REALLY is and takes up the title of Andy Irons part 2? Folks, it’s not going to happen. At best, you’ll see a Round 5 appearance once or twice a year. J-Bay could be it. So could Tahiti. So maybe you want to roll the dice and put him on your team? Go with Dane Reynolds if price is holding you back. At least then you’ll save a little money and the potential upside is greater.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY: Dane Reynolds, Kolohe Andino

CAUTION (something to pay attention to):

JEREMY FLORES – Face still reeling from a recent faceplate on the reef in Indo. I’d say his chances of surfing in the event are 50/50 with just under two weeks to go until J-Bay kicks off. Things in his favor; 1) injury isn’t affecting muscles or bones required to surf, 2) cold weather at J-Bay likely won’t cause infection, 3) He’s pretty keen to stay on the roll he’s currently on

MEDIOCRITY – Don’t sell your team short by selecting a bunch of guys who are good bets to just get past Round 2. There are a lot of mediocre surfers on tour right now in this pundit’s opinion. Guys that will retire without an event win. Where they’re good at a location, but they’ll likely never be great. They all hover in that 6 million and below range. Beware of the surfer that’s “good enough”. Stick with the ones that have potential to do something big. Ones that can swing for the fences. Not the ones that are the life of the party and are fun to be on tour with. Those will be the guys that retire with the tag “made the semifinals at an event. Once.”

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Fiji Pro

HOT (no surprises here):

KELLY SLATER – Where is Kelly the most comfortable on tour? Trestles? Pipe? Fiji? I’m going with Fiji based on the way Slater has proclaimed it his second home. He knows all the boatmen, all the staff at the resort, and has the place dialed in. There aren’t a lot of events that I would put him on my team for anymore, but Fiji, Tahiti, and Pipe are the three that are right up there. Let’s call this a fond farewell tour. One last shot for Kelly to ride off into the sunset with a victory. And yes, there’s a little bit of nostalgia with this pick. There are other pundits that seem to pick their entire teams as if it’s still 2005, but I think Slater still has one (maybe 2) more event victories left in him before he retires at the end of the year.

OWEN WRIGHT – Wright has aligned himself for a great run through the next few events. Fiji and Tahiti are sure to be locations that will benefit his run towards any type of hope for a world title. IF the conditions get anywhere above head high, he could be an amazing bargain at his current price of $8.25 million. Once he gets to 10 million, it becomes much harder to afford him, and he’s knocking on the door of the upper values.

GABRIEL MEDINA – I think that if Gabriel is smart, he’ll look at this event as a vacation. A vacation of tons of fans on the beach pulling him in every direction. A vacation from tons of media obligations. it’s one of the only events where it doesn’t matter if you’re the current world champion. You all stay in the same accommodations. You all “rough it” in the bures (huts). And maybe, if he’s smart, he’ll use it as a vacation from the entourage that follows him from event to event. You can’t bring 20 family members with you to Tavarua. It’s an opportunity to get back to basics.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY – Nat Young, Adriano De Souza

COLD (if these surfers do well, it would REALLY surprise me):

JOEL PARKINSON – For the first four events of the year, Parko has looked a bit like he’s distracted. We’re used to seeing that stylish surfer that makes difficult waves look easy and that pulls off victories with ease. Kind of seems like he’s been on vacation. Well, will the relaxed atmosphere of Fiji be the perfect scenario to ignite another world title run? Sadly, no. Fiji doesn’t even wait for those with their heads not in the game. And for those of you who know their history, who is the only surfer on tour to miss their Round 1 heat because they were out fishing? Yup, that’s Right. It was Parkinson.. 20013 in Fiji. Right after he won his first world title and started to relax. Beginning of the end.

JORDY SMITH – Every played that game Hot Potato? Well, Jordy is the potato whenever the tour heads to a barreling left. Why not drop him here and then pick him up for a low price when the next event happens at J-Bay? I’m guessing that many Fantasy Surfer players are going to do exactly that with me even having to tell them.

CJ HOBGOOD – I’m taking a risk here with this pick, but I’ve gotta go with my head. Last year, Hobgood was one of the Top 5 selected surfers for this event and he bombed out of the event in Round 2. There are a lot of people who are going to expect him to vastly outpace his current value of 3 million. I say that the time for investing in Hobgood has passed. He and Slater are both on their way out the door. The only difference is that Slater will willingly walk away in December. Hobgood has just lost the magic and isn’t going to have much of a choice.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY – Bede Durbidge, Michel Bourez

BOOM OR BUST (you may win the event with these guys or they may bomb out in Round 2):

JOHN JOHN FLORENCE – This is where we start to get a feel for what kind of year it’s going to be for John John. After being on the tour for almost the exact amount of time that Gabriel Medina has been on tour, maybe it’s time to stop comparing the two. Gabriel has a sense of how to win a heat no matter where they are. John John has flashes of brilliance, but the consistency has so far eluded him. He made the final in Margaret River, yes. But temper that with the fact that he failed to make the quarterfinals at any other event this year. If the swell forecast looks big, pick him. If it doesn’t look like a barrel-fest, I’d go another direction. At $10 million, chewing up 20% of your salary cap on one surfer shouldn’t be such a gamble.

KOLOHE ANDINO – Last year, he kept up with everyone he surfed against and Fiji was a turning point for him. Maybe he can do that again this year, because so far, he’s just plain stunk. Jay Davies, a wildcard at Margaret River, currently outranks him in the current standings, and Davies has only surfed in one event. Andino has time to correct this, and assume his place back in the Top 10. But he’s got to turn it around soon. He’s a gamble, but he’s done it before. He’s currently just a shade over $5 million, so maybe he’s worth it at half the price of John John.

DUSTY PAYNE – I love it when people call me out for saying Dusty is a gamble. Those people point to the amazing heat totals that he throws up in Round 1 and the top level surfers that are usually the ones who beat him. Do you know WHY he’s always going up against the top seeds? because his ranking is almost always 25th or below. That means he’s almost ALWAYS going to have to fight the toughest draw of the events until he can improve his seed. And that takes consistency. Something that Payne has never had. He has sparks of good results when the pressure is on in Hawaii. But aside from that, he’s largely been a disappointment. I’m not saying he’s going on my cold list, but the boom or bust category seems like he’s carved his name in stone atop the list.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY – Brazilian Goofyfoots, Jeremy Flores

CAUTION (something to pay attention to):

LOCAL WILDCARDS – It’s always pretty cool to see a local Fijian out there competing with the world’s best at their home break. But they’ve actually never won a heat in all the years of competing out there on their home turf.

BUDGET CRUNCH – Have you invested in a surfer that looks solid at J-Bay but maybe not-so-good at Fiji? Drop him. Get the good result FIRST. Always play in the now and don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Play the smart game now and figure out those events when you get to them. Don’t be afraid to play the game now instead of holding onto a surfer that likely won’t pay off.

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Oi Rio Pro

HOT (no surprises here):

ADRIANO DE SOUZA – Hottest surfer on tour right now. He seems to have figured out the judging and is extra motivated by Gabriel Medina’s world title last year. He was Gabriel Medina before there was a Gabriel Medina on tour. And now maybe he’s been a little upstaged. Sponsorship dollars have gone away. So now he’s out to prove everyone wrong. And Rio is a home event for him. He needs all the points he can get before they head to the big lefthanders of Fiji and Tahiti – his weakest events.

FILIPE TOLEDO – If it’s smaller than head high, this guy has every trick in the book at his disposal and can make almost every other surfer look like they are standing still. He just dropped in value after Margaret River, so now would be a good time to invest.

MICHEL BOUREZ – Seems odd that a surfer raised in the massive barrels of Tahiti has some of his best events when it’s small. But Bourez has a fantastic ability to perform well in the junk. And rest assured, you’re not getting fantastic conditions in Brazil.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY – Julian Wilson, Owen Wright

COLD (if these surfers do well, it would REALLY surprise me):

DUSTY PAYNE – Three events in and he’s been one of the Top 5 most selected surfers at all 3 events. This needs to end. We’re seeing the same old Dusty that we saw before the injuries booted him off tour. Three events, one heat win. Same as Brett Simpson and rookie Ricardo Christie. But still not as bad as…

CJ HOBGOOD – Dead last. An inglorious end to a very distinguished career on tour. But, there’s a little bit of hope for him once the tour heads to Fiji and Tahiti. And in previous years, I’d say that living in Florida gives him an upper hand. But not anymore. He’s older. He doesn’t live near the beach in Florida anymore – cutting down on his small wave water time. And the small wave game favors the young guys. As far as rankings go, there are currently two wildcards that are ranked higher than Hobgood is. He’ll be a cheap pick for Fiji.

JOEL PARKINSON – Of all the vets on tour, Parko is really starting to show his age. Or maybe it’s his indifference to being on tour any longer. He has his world title. Looks like his motivation is back at home with his family now.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER INTO THIS CATEGORY – Brett Simpson, Glenn Hall

BOOM OR BUST (you may win the event with these guys or they may bomb out in Round 2):

JOHN JOHN FLORENCE – He’s won this event. He’s lost in the early rounds here. It’s a roll of the dice. But he could win the event. Or he could lose to a wildcard. Flip a coin. But know that there’s roughly 60% of the Fantasy Surfer users that are going to pick him as well. Do you join them? Or do you buck the trend?

GABRIEL MEDINA – Not sure he’s found his mojo for the year yet. An off season of new sponsorships (shaved chests anyone?) and media obligations might have left him somewhat vulnerable to surfers who are hungrier and don’t have world titles yet. Winning a title is one thing. Defending it is much, much harder.

KOLOHE ANDINO – When surfers get to a certain level such as the Top 10, they have to start winning the heats they’re supposed to win. That means that surfers like Glenn Hall shouldn’t be beating him. They should be easy victories. He’ll get there, but there’s no telling when.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY – Jadson Andre, Wiggolly Dantas

CAUTION (something to pay attention to):

JORDY SMITH – A cut up heel and a knee injury. We’ll see how he performs at this month’s Lowers event – or better yet, IF he surfs in it. But two weeks might not be enough time to heal his injuries.

WILDCARDS – Typically, wildcards in Rio are unknown and don’t tend to do particularly well. If you recognize the name, they might be a solid pick up. But if you don’t, it’s likely a surfer who’s never competed at the top level before.

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Drug Aware Margaret River Pro

HOT (no surprises here):

MICK FANNING – While I’m sure the open rounds of the Margaret River event will be bigger than Bells, I’m not so sure we’ll see much different results. I know Fanning had a rough go of it here last year, but he also saw right away that he could get on a good roll after. (Bells was after Margaret River in 2014). I think if Mick wants to make a really strong push towards world title #4, he could do it with a semifinal or better here.

JOSH KERR – What?!? You said no surprises. And I’m sticking to it. Last year Kerr made the final here. And that was no accident. He’s consistently done well here. Over the years he’s won this event as a QS event and he’s placed very well here in other years. I think that at 8.25 million, he’s a solid choice on the high end of the mid-price spectrum. I’d expect a quarterfinal finish or higher. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see a victory here either.

JORDY SMITH – His form is looking pretty darn good at the moment. Yeah, he had a bit of a meltdown at the judges in Bells, but you and I would have been frustrated too if you went up against Mick Fanning and the conditions were absolute slop. As long as there aren’t any lefthand barrels, just about every other spot on tour should be a Jordy stomping ground. Great pick until the tour heads to Fiji, Tahiti, and Hawaii.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY: Filipe Toledo, Kelly Slater

COLD (if these surfers do well, it would REALLY surprise me):

BRETT SIMPSON – You’re a fool if you’re expecting anything more than a 3rd Round finish outside of Tahiti or Fiji. And only those two places because almost anyone on tour can grab a rail and not have to make any turns. Two events into the year, and so far, he’s registered a 25th and a 13th. Not impressing me. Currently, 4 out of 5 rookies on tour are ranked higher than him and I don’t see them dropping below him anytime soon.

DUSTY PAYNE – You know, I’ll probably end up eating my words on this one, but so far all I’ve seen out of Dusty’s return to tour is a great 1st round heat on the Gold Coast and a lot of wasted potential. I was thinking of putting him in the boom or bust category, but I think the chances of him performing well lie in the 20-30% range. Those aren’t good odds. And yes, he’s done well in QS events here at Margaret River, but I honestly don’t think that matters. Andy Irons fell off tour and then came back in championship form. Dusty fell off tour and… came back. I don’t see anything different other than a lot more muscle on him now.

GLENN HALL – I know that Hall beat Gabriel Medina at the Gold Coast event, but I’m guessing that that will be his high water mark for the year. We’ll look back when we get to the 2016 Gold Coast event and say “Oh yeah, last year was when Gabriel lost on that weird interference to that one guy. What was his name?” Glenn Hall. A future obscure trivia answer. But unfortunately, not really a style that matches well with the Top 34.

OTHERS TO BE CONSIDERED IN THIS CATEGORY: Italo Ferreria, Kai Otton

BOOM OR BUST (you may win the event with these guys or they may bomb out in Round 2):

JOHN JOHN FLORENCE – They key to being in the title hunt at the end of the year is to kickstart your campaign early. Don’t wait until the middle of the year to NEED to win events. Win them early and stay consistent. Obviously easier said than done. But I think John John has the wherewithal to know that he needs to get things started very soon. A trip out West to the desert might be just the thing to get him centered and in the right frame of mind to go on a tear. At 9.5 million, he’s probably not going to get any cheaper. This might be the time to invest if you’re going to hop on the JJ train.

ADRIAN BUCHAN – Hmmm. Interesting pick. Excels a bit in large conditions. Excels a bit in lefts. Not so much on his backhand or in righthand barrels as of late. If the swell stays up and the lefts are plentiful, Ace has a shot. If they swing more towards the rights or the event moves to The Box, he’s screwed. 50/50 isn’t too bad a way to go on tour. But he’s slipping down the ratings. Desperation might get him a result or three.

JULIAN WILSON – I think there’s a ton of potential here. If you’ve already got him on your team at 7 million, stick with him. He’s not a super expensive gamble to take. But until his consistency matches his potential, I’d hold off if he’s valued at anything over 7 million. Great low-cost, mid-range gamble.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY – Kolohe Andino, Owen Wright

CAUTION (something to pay attention to):

TAJ BURROW – Taj just had a horrible Bells event and last year at Margaret River he had a crap event as well (Both Round 3 losses). This is supposed to be a home turf event for Taj, but it’s looked anything but. I’m starting to sense that we’re going to see Taj at the back half of the Top 15 this year. Maybe the shoulder isn’t up to par? Maybe he’s getting a little worn out? Or maybe we’re just seeing the last few hurrahs from a surfer that used to set the performance bar but no longer is? Any way you look at it, Taj isn’t looking 100%.

MICHEL BOUREZ – This was the site of Michel’s first career win last year and he went on to win Brazil as well. I’m not counting him out for this event, but maybe it’s best to stand back and wait til his value bottoms out. He should have some confidence headed to Margaret River, so let’s see how that turns out. The right handers crumbled under his massive hacks last year. I’d honestly expect him to get back on track either here, J-Bay, or Trestles. Judges love it when you turn so hard on a wave that the rest of the wave is deformed. Michel did that here last year.

ADRIANO DE SOUZA – Yes, he just made the final of the Bells event. But did you notice that while he was throwing up 7’s and 8’s it seemed like that might be his version of a 10? Safe surfing isn’t always good surfing. Yes, he didn’t fall but once the entire final day at Bells. But Bells is also a bit softer and sloped wave than Margaret River is. I expect that the judges will be looking for more committed turns from him and not safe turns. Case in point; the Bells final rolled around and we all thought Mick might throw up some high 9’s and high 8’s. But with the level of safety that De Souza gives towards not falling, the most you’d expect to see from him would be a mid-to-high 7. I’m sure that with a bit more commitment towards his turns he could reach a higher ceiling, but the judges will have to stop rewarding safe turns first.

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Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach

HOT (no surprises here):

MICK FANNING – Defending event champion. Consistent heat winner here. Nobody else has really been as consistent as Mick has at this location over the last 5 years. He’s an anchor for most squads here and I’m betting he’ll be on a lot more teams this event even though his value went up. Small waves or large, he’ll make the quarters or better.

JORDY SMITH – Here’s something I noticed during the Quiksilver Pro. Jordy doesn’t necessarily seem to be back to 100% with his upper body and paddling. But his fluidity and lower body strength doesn’t seem to have skipped a beat. Once he gets into waves, he’s surfing pretty darn well. I’m going to have to strongly consider him for the Hot list until his poor record at hollow lefts comes into play.

FILIPE TOLEDO – Did you see how Filipe won his heats? With searing hacks that sent buckets of spray in the air. And he finished those searing rides off with some amazing airs and finishing moves. He isn’t some air guy that blows out a 360 air on the first possible section. Whatever mindset he came to 2015 with looks top notch. As long as he stays with it, he’ll be a Hot lister until Fiji.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY: Julian Wilson (2014 Bells semifinalist), and Owen Wright

COLD (if these surfers do well, it would REALLY surprise me):

BRETT SIMPSON – I’m not taking my foot off the throat of one of the most disappointing surfers on tour. Great guy. Super funny. Everyone loves him. But if you had to bet your house on if he will have a breakout event on tour sometime soon, you wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t bet my house on him, and I wouldn’t bet the livelyhood of my Fantasy Surfer team on him either. Save some money and pick a wildcard. Or leave the spot blank and throw the 3 million in salary cap at a big name.

JADSON ANDRE – The Brazilian movement is upon us. Gabriel has the potential to win almost any event he enters, and Filipe and Adriano are right about there in the smaller waves / righthanders category as well. But I don’t see Jadson making that leap with them. Especially here at Bells. In small waves that are primarily lefts or at least have a left option like Trestles and France, I can see him pulling out a few upsets. But not here at Bells.

FRED PATACCHIA – Fred’s a hero. Turns a round 3 loss into something the whole surf world replays and loves as he smashes a board on the rocks and gives it away in an online instagram contest. He speaks his mind. He calls the judges and the WSL out when they deserve it. But keep in mind that that frustration comes from losing in Rounds 2 & 3 a LOT. Remember that when you pick with your head and not your heart.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY: Glenn Hall & Kai Otton

BOOM OR BUST (you may win the event with these guys or they may bomb out in Round 2):

DUSTY PAYNE – For a while there at the Quiksilver Pro, sometime during Round 1, we were all applauding the mighty return of Dusty Payne to the elite ranks. And then the swell fizzled out a bit and Dusty was relieved of any further obligation at the event by Mick Fanning. But here’s the thing; Dusty had a great event. He’s shown he doesn’t give a shit who he comes up against. If he can settle in at Bells a week early and prepare himself for any type of conditions, he could earn some serious points for your teams.

JOHN JOHN FLORENCE – There’s a large segment of people who want John John to be in the title contenders category (myself included). But until he develops that killer instinct and can beat opponents mercilessly in any condition, he’s going to remain in the Boom or Bust category. He has the massive potential to take out top seeds at just about any event on tour. But you can also see the energy go out of his sails the second a reverse or wonky turn doesn’t go his way. The attitude changes and he surfs the rest of the heat with either a pout or a scowl on his face. Side note; judges don’t like that.

MATT BANTING – I see a lot of potential here. A lot of speed and progressive maneuvers are all there. He’s got the potential to be the Australian answer to Filipe Toledo right now. Take the world by the balls and let them know you’re here and you mean business. He beat Mick Fanning in Round 1 at Snapper before falling to Jordy in Round 3. There’s a bit of potential there.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN THIS CATEGORY: Michel Bourez & Kolohe Andino

CAUTION (something to pay attention to):

JOEL PARKINSON – I’ve got a bit of growing concern about putting Parko on any team right now. He doesn’t seem like he’s operating at 100% anymore. This could be a number of things; motivation, tired of tour life, bad mood, or maybe even just a bad day here and there. But it’s starting to look like the old adage that Parko makes things look so easy isn’t really holding true at the moment. It’s starting to look like a job with him now.

KELLY SLATER – Heaven help me if The King reads this. But for the first time in my memory of the past 25 years, Kelly looks beatable in just about every event. He’s not looking like Top 5 talent any more. And maybe that’s the ultimate praise for Kelly Slater; the tour has risen up to meet his level of surfing. But nostalgia doesn’t get you a whole lot of points for Fantasy Surfer. And it looked like a whole lot of nostalgia at Snapper Rocks. And Pipe before that. And Portugal…

GOOFYFOOTS – Until last year, Snapper Rocks had a pretty big reputation as a location that heavily favored the regularfoots. Since that has been put to rest, the only other event with as long of a history of regularfoot dominance is BElls. In fact, it’s longer than Snapper was. Can you name the last goofy to win the event? Mark Occhilupo in 1998. That’s 17 years ago. And did you know that in the past 15 years, only two goofy foots have made the final? Flavio Padaratz in 2000 and Nat Young in 2013. That’s an astounding run of regularfooted dominance. But also a clue as to how you should likely go about picking your team.

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Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast

HOT (no surprises here):

MICK FANNING – There are no lingering issues with Mick carrying over from 2014. He’s in top shape (again), and he’s got a stellar track record on the Gold Coast. He’s a solid bet for at least the quarterfinals.

JOEL PARKINSON – Joel has been camping up and down the Australian East Coast with his family for the past few weeks and he’s looking fit and relaxed. The more relaxed that Parko is, the better he tends to perform. Solid bet here barring any injury.

GABRIEL MEDINA – First goofy to win the event here last year since 2004. First goofy to win a world title since 2001. I’m keeping him on my hot list until he proves that he doesn’t belong there. Defying the odds has earned him a chair at the head of the table.

COLD (if these surfers do well, it would REALLY surprise me):

GLENN HALL – Hey, the warm sentiment that surrounds him for finally getting another shot on tour after his injury is great. However, he’s going to have a hell of a start to the year if he doesn’t improve his seed quickly. Otherwise, he’s going to see himself coming up against the Top 5 early and often. And the Top 5 are the Top 5 for a reason.

BRETT SIMPSON – Aside from the two injury wildcards awarded to CJ Hobgood and Glenn Hall, Brett Simpson lucked into the final spot on tour. He didn’t do much to persuade me that he is going to do anything more in 2015. So he’s going to be the coldest of the cold until he proves otherwise. If I were writing this on paper, I’d be using pen.

JEREMY FLORES – Yeah, it really sucks to be the guy that piles on to someone who just had a tremendously difficult year in 2014. But until I see something that makes me say “Hey, that guy really looks like he wants to be on tour again!”, I’m just going to leave his name here and leave it be.

BOOM OR BUST (you may win the event with these guys or they may bomb out in Round 2):

DUSTY PAYNE – Prove it to me. That’s going to be my mantra for Payne in 2015. When he first arrived on tour a few years ago, he was hyped up quite a bit. And I, along with many others, bit. Only to be skunked. Well, I’m sitting here with Payne under the microscope; just watching every turn and air hoping to finally see a flash of what he was so hyped up about last go-around. This is his second chance. Andy Irons got one of those after falling off tour and proceeded to win three world titles with his second chance. While Payne is by no means the second coming of Andy Irons, I’m hopeful that we can see him vault up and prove that the original hype was at least somewhat true – if not just a few years too soon.

RICARDO CHRISTIE – He reminds me of Bede Durbidge 2.0 – All the smoothness of Bede’s style, but with a bit of the tricks that can leap him to the upper half of the Top 34. Search for a few of his videos in Indo last year (Like this one; http://vimeo.com/108180284) and you’ll see what I mean. The guy can ride the barrel well, and use that ramping end section quite well.

JOHN JOHN FLORENCE – Yay, we made the Top 5. Congrats. Now it’s time to make the Top 1. Stop tweaking your ankles skateboarding on the Gold Coast, stop competing in the expression sessions (I think he already has), and take the world title that everyone thinks you’re capable of. Hell, if the conspiracy theorists are right, the WSL will just hand it to you if you win just a few events. So win the first five events and coast the rest of the way!

CAUTION (something to pay attention to):

JORDY SMITH – Shoulder injuries are serious business on tour. They tend to linger and set a surfer back quite a bit in their preparation for the upcoming year. I was tempted to put Owen Wright in this category as well, but he’s already back in the water. We’re coming up on February now and Jordy has yet to get the green light to get back in the water. Add that to someone whose confidence needs as many boosts throughout the year as it can get, and I’m very leery of choosing him for the Australian leg in 2015.

ADRIANO DE SOUZA – Knees are also a factor that go into life on tour, and recovering from them is hell. De Souza has spent the last 3 1/2 months out of the water and has only just now been given clearance to resume training and surfing. That’s a major setback for a start to the 2015 campaign. He’s a motivated bugger, so don’t count him out, just temper the expectations until at least Bells.

TAJ BURROW – Like I said above, shoulder injuries are serious business. That’s why Taj did the smart thing last year and said yes to surgery and no to the Pipe Masters. He’s fully recovered now and if you pay attention to him on social media, you’ll see that the guy looks completely relaxed. Wether that has to do more with not being on the Johnny Gannon training routine anymore or just the time off remains to be seen.

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2015 World Surf League Championship Tour Predictions

Welcome back for the 2015 Fantasy Surfer season everyone! Here’s my 2015 predictions that you can all point to and mock for the remainder of the year when they don’t come true. Because everybody knows that you should openly mock and ridicule others, let’s hear your picks for the year as well.

2014 Rank / Name / Stance / Country / FS Starting Value / 2015 Prediction (exact #) / Snarky Comment

1 – Gabriel Medina – Goofy – Brazil – 12,500,000 – 2015 Top 5 (5) – The party continues. At least 2 wins.

2 – Mick Fanning – Regular – Australia – 11,500,000 – 2015 Top 5 (3) – Must remain focused. I predict a family can’t be too far off for Mick and the wife.

3 – John John Florence – Regular – USA – 11,000,000 – 2015 Top 5 (1) – Floodgates officially opened. Gabriel vs John John for the next 10 years.

4 – Kelly Slater – Regular – USA – 10,500,000 – 2015 Top 10 (6) – Going, going, gone. A farewell tour several years in the making. The tour will survive and thrive without him. Thank you, King Kelly.

5 – Michel Bourez – Regular – Tahiti – 10,000,000 – 2015 Top 15 (12) – Last year came out of nowhere. This year will be tougher to be the underdog. Maybe he’ll finally do well in Tahiti?

6 – Joel Parkinson – Regular – Australia – 9,500,000 – 2015 Top 10 (7) – What’s left for the guy to prove? Two years removed from his title and nothing has really happened since.

7 – Jordy Smith – Regular – South Africa – 9,000,000 – 2015 Top 15 (15) – Shoulder injuries are tough to bounce back from.

8 – Adriano de Souza – Regular – Brazil – 8,500,000 – 2015 Top 15 (14) – Knee injuries are even tougher to bounce back from.

9 – Taj Burrow – Regular – Australia – 8,500,000 – 2015 Top 10 (9) – The worry is that Taj sniffed what it was like to be off tour and didn’t seem to miss it. One last run at a title and he’s done. I just don’t think it’s this year.

10- Josh Kerr – Regular – Australia – 8,000,000 – 2015 Top 20 (16) – World Title chances; none. Still looking for that first career win. Tough crowd to try and do it against.

11- Kolohe Andino – Regular – USA – 8,000,000 – 2015 Top 5 (4) – Now the rise begins. I’m think that career win #1 comes this year and that Gabriel and John John see who their main rival will be.

12- Owen Wright – Goofy – Australia – 7,500,000 – 2015 Top 10 (8) – Climbing back up into the ranks of the elite. That world title could be there with a Mick Fanning like effort.

13- Nat Young – Goofy – USA – 7,500,000 – 2015 Top 15 (11) – Top 10 seems to be ok with Nat so why rock the boat. He’ll always be up there in the Top 5-15, but the top shelf might be just out of reach. I want to be wrong on this one though.

14- Julian Wilson – Regular – Australia – 7,000,000 – 2015 Top 5 (2) – Comeback of all comebacks, I’m betting he’ll come up just short in the Pipe Masters this year and just narrowly miss out on a world title. Yes, I know, it’s a big leap from early 2014.

15- Adrian Buchan – Goofy – Australia – 7,000,000 – 2015 Top 20 (17) – I have yet to ever hear a little kid say their favorite surfer is Adrian Buchan. I hear it in the accounting department all the time though.

16- Bede Durbidge – Regular – Australia – 6,500,000 – 2015 Top 25 (23) – Let the slipping of the veterans begin. At some point that ledge is going to have to fall out from under the experienced crowd.

17- Filipe Toledo – Regular – Brazil – 6,500,000 – 2015 Top 10 (10) – Brazil uprising continues. As long as his ankles and knees are in tact, Toledo is the junior varsity to Gabriel Medina’s varsity.

18- Kai Otton – Goofy – Australia – 6,000,000 – 2015 Top 25 (24) – If I could combine Bede Durbidge and Ace Buchan, I just might get Kai Otton. One or two career finals, and other than that, not much.

19- Miguel Pupo – Goofy – Brazil – 6,000,000 – 2015 Top 30 (26) – I could see him turning things on and dominating an event from start to finish one day. It’s not that day yet.

20- Sebastian Zietz – Regular – USA – 5,500,000 – 2015 Top 25 (21) – Happiest, funniest guy on tour makes the rest of the tour such a better place. Hard not to smile when the guy is smiling wether he wins or loses. The losses just happen a bit more.

21- Fred Patacchia – Goofy – USA – 5,500,000 – 2015 Top 25 (25) – Freaking out after an early round loss and speaking your mind has never been so entertaining since Bobby Martinez.

22- Jadson Andre – Goofy – Brazil – 5,000,000 – 2015 Top 34 (31) – I’m betting that the middle of the road is the highest we’ll see Jadson. Not surprised to see him fade out under the supernova that is Medina.

23- Matt Banting – Regular – Australia – 5,000,000 – 2015 Top 20 (19) – A little seasoning and I could see this guy challemging for the last Top 10 seat with Nat Young. The Aussie Nat Young.

24- Wiggolly Dantas – Goofy – Brazil – 4,500,000 – 2015 Top 20 (20) – Yes the name is funny. I’m sure we’ll hear a few botched attempts at it on the webcast. But this could be a name to really watch out for in the upset department.

25- Adam Melling – Regular – Australia – 4,500,000 – 2015 Top 30 (27) – We’re all still waiting for the encore to his J-Bay performance years ago. I’m guessing that it’s not going to happen.

26- Italo Ferreira – Goofy – Brazil – 4,000,000 – 2015 Top 34 (34) – Goofy foot, low seed, no hype. All the hurdles are in place. He could surprise, but I just hope his style improves; otherwise it’s going to be a lot of heats that many of us barely watch while we’re at work.

27- Matt Wilkinson – Goofy – Australia – 4,000,000 – 2015 Top 30 (30) – Crazy wetsuits! Rollerblading to the event! No big results! Please please please win an event and keep acting crazy on tour. We need some personality here.

28- Keanu Asing – Regular – USA – 3,500,000 – 2015 Top 34 (33) – Rookie years are tough going for a lot of rookies. I think he’ll have an even more successful WQS season and finish for 2016 with a higher seed and far more experience.

29- Dusty Payne – Regular – USA – 3,500,000 – 2015 Top 25 (22) – Show me the money. Let’s see it. Put up or shut up. I’m tired of hearing how much he’s going to blow up and then waiting til Hawaii to see if he’s going to right the sinking ship.

30- Jeremy Flores – Regular – France – 3,000,000 – 2015 Top 30 (29) – It’s all about attitude. He has the potential to be the smiling Frenchman that bounces from event to event. But it seems that it’s starting to drag on him. We’ll have to see how much.

31- Brett Simpson – Regular – USA – 3,000,000 – 2015 Top 30 (28) – Let’s see if there’s any way that I think Brett could sneak into the Top 20… Nope. Falling off tour or barely requalifying seems to be about it here. Hopefully I’m wrong, but so far, I haven’t been. Sometimes a tiger just can’t change his stripes.

32- Ricardo Christie – Regular – New Zealand – 3,000,000 – 2015 Top 15 (13) – Here’s Bede Durbidge, Adrian Buchan, and Kai Otton’s replacement. Top 15 for the next 5-10 years and then the next crew pops up.

33- CJ Hobgood – Goofy – USA – 3,000,000 – 2015 Top 20 (18) – Today….I consider myself to be….the luckiest man on the face of the earth. Hobgood knows how lucky he is to be here. I smell another rise in the ratings.

34- Glenn Hall – Goofy – Australia – 3,000,000 – 2015 Top 34 (32) – It’s a great story, Hall gets the long-deserved wildcard he should have gotten in 2014. But it’s going to be the same type of result as he’s seen the past few years.

One Comment

  1. I predicted on surfline at the start of this year that Medina was going to have a problem with this year tour, and so far I’m 100% correct, as I also predicted that Medina was going to catch everyone off guard for the first part of last year tour and to keep his points standing for the reminder of the tour that he made it hard for anyone to catch up to him on points, that’s how he won the championship. This year everyone is alert and there not going to let what happen last year happen this year again?

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