"In the outdoor industry, brands used to take a mediocre men’s product, make it smaller and paint it pink. Shrink it, and pink it."
Welcome back to the extremely occasional Beachgrit coverage of the women’s Championship Tour. We have made it, at last, to the mid-season cut.
Did you cry?
Were you so very sad for the women we left behind? Honestly, I’m having a hard time remembering them at all. Now there are 10. Plus, two wildcards.
In the outdoor industry, brands used to take a mediocre men’s product — never anything high end — make it smaller, because women are so very small, and paint it pink. Shrink it, and pink it. Much the same could be said to the current approach of the World Surf League toward the women’s CT.
It is certainly much smaller than the men’s version. Post-cut, the men’s draw includes 24 surfers. Women, well, they get 12. It’s not a great look for an organization that likes to talk about its commitment to equity. Next time, maybe they’ll paint it teal instead.
Let’s take a look at who’s left, where they’ve been, and where they’re headed. Well, we do know where they’re headed. That’s right, they’re all headed straight for Lemoore. I guess I’m going there, too, unless I can think of a super good excuse.
In fact, if you have a good excuse you can lend me, feel free to share it! I need all the help I can get over here.
Let’s start with the wildcards. On the women’s side, there are two new wildcards — one for the remainder of this season and 2024 and one for 2024. There were minimal shenanigans here.
Johanne Defay spent much of the season out with a foot injury, and has the surgery scar to prove it. Johanne is super, super stoked that Steph made the cut or she might have been left out in the cold. Johanne finished last year third in the world, which gave her the edge over injured rookie Sophie McCulloch. Johanne’s currently last in the rankings, so she’s unlikely to challenge for the top five again this time around.
Arguably Brisa is a less obvious choice for the 2024 season wildcard. After all, Soph is right there and had a giant brace on her ankle. Soph missed two events, making the cutline a steep climb. That should be why the wildcards exist. But Brisa was the top-ranked woman to miss the cut, has been on Tour since 2016, and won Sunset in 2022. She’s also qualified for the Olympics. I suspect it’s that last detail that gave her a second chance.
To the rankings!
10. Steph Gilmore. She made the cut. For a six-time world champion, there should not have been any question on this front. Steph currently sits sixth just 1800 points behind Caity Simmers. Steph’s typically done well at Surf Ranch, and the right point at J-Bay awaits her. Steph can readily make a run up the rankings, if she brings her best surfing and the conditions aren’t total dogshit. Expect her in the top five before long, but she gets last here due to there even being any suspense at all over her ability to make the cut.
9. Tati West. She’s always just right there. Currently tied on points with Steph, Tati also sits just outside the top five. She hasn’t done anything exciting this year, but sometimes, exciting isn’t necessary. Tati’s consistent with two quarters, a semi, and a ninth. Add another semi — or even an event win, and she’ll be right back in the top five again. Tati already has her Olympic qualification sealed, so she could be forgiven for relaxing into the second half of the season. She’s ranked low on my list due to my inability to get excited about her surfing. Maybe that’s my fault. I’ll try harder for next time.
8. Lakey Peterson. Thanks to her quarterfinal finish at Margaret River, Lakey squeaked over the cut line. Mostly though, it’s been a forgettable season for her with a string of early round exits. When Lakey can do her signature wrap, she gets the scores. When she can’t, it often comes apart for her. Lakey’s freesurfing is dynamic and creative, and it would be cool to see her bring more that vibe to her heats. What’s not always evident on video is just how fast she surfs. At Margaret River, Lakey made Steph look like the she was surfing in slow motion. Lakey has won Surf Ranch in the past and she’s fiercely competitive. A run up the rankings is not at all out of the question. She’s sitting down here based on her performances so far this year. The future is wide open.
7. Gabriela Bryan. Gabriela was the only rookie to make the cut last year, and here she is, making it again. She got off to a solid start in Hawaii where she made the quarters at Pipe and the semi at Sunset. Then she made a speedy slide down the rankings. Small waves don’t suit her powerful style and Hawaiian upbringing. It’s a skill she’ll need to cultivate. The back half of the year should suit her better, though first timers often struggle with sheer strangeness of the Surf Ranch. Gabriela is currently tied on points with Bettylou and Lakey, and they all sit eighth. The top five looks close, but looks deceive.
6. Bettylou Sakura Johnson. Earlier this week, Bettylou posted a few solid clips from Snapper where she is preparing to do the Challenger Series event. After missing the cut last year, Bettylou is set for her first attempt at the second half of the year. At times, there’s still some grom arms in her surfing, and she looked underpowered next to Molly in their quarterfinal at Bells. But freesurfing in good waves, Bettylou shines. She’s well-rounded — she got shacked at the Box — and at her best, stylish. Like Gabriela, she’s got game, and hassled hard in her heat against Carissa at Pipe. Bettylou’s next challenge is to bring it all together consistently in her heat surfing. She’s still only 18, and a full year on Tour should help.
5. Caroline Marks. Now 21, Caroline Marks came on Tour in 2018 as the next big thing. That is a hell of a burden to carry. In 2019, she beat Steph Gilmore at Duranbah to win the first of two events, and she finished the year second overall. But after her fourth place at Tokyo in 2021, things seemed to unravel. Caroline missed most of 2022 for mental health reasons, and she hasn’t had a win since her return. But it’s only when set against the absurd expectations of her first years on Tour that her current fourth place in the rankings looks like an underperformance. Over the past year, Caroline has smoothed out her style — the windmill arms are mostly gone — and she’s posted some legit clips from Teahupo’o. The U.S. women will bring three surfers to the 2024 Olympics, and it would be a crime if Caroline were not one of them.
4. Caity Simmers. Like Caroline before her, Caity is the next big thing. From the outside, she looks to be carrying those expectations lightly. She’s a quirky human, and I’m hoping that doesn’t get lost in the pro athlete machine. Caity beat Courtney to win her first event in Portugal. She’s also lost two close heats to Caroline. The judges have preferred Caroline’s more polished if repetitive surfing to Caity’s jazzy creativity. How does Caity keep the creative, unpredictable style that makes her surfing so compelling, while giving the judges what they want? That’s the challenge for her now. A few trips to the gym in the next off-season might also help put more power behind her turns. Caity’s currently fifth in the rankings, and it’ll be a battle to stay there.
3. Carissa Moore. It’s a sign of just how much Carissa has accomplished in her career that a pair of event wins and a pair of quarterfinal finishes don’t sound like a huge season for her. And yet, Carissa’s second in the rankings behind Tyler, and it would not take much for her to take the top spot. She’s made backside barrel surfing her project for the past few seasons, and I’d love to see her have the chance to test those lessons in solid Teahupo’o later this year. Her ability to evolve is Carissa’s greatest strength as a surfer. She falters when she overthinks it and gets too much in her head. If she reaches Trestles at the top of the rankings, it would not at all surprise me. How well she can put last year’s disappointment behind her will test her more than the waves at Trestles.
2. Molly Picklum. Molly knows all about letting go and moving on. She missed the cut last year, and came back to lead the rankings all the way through to Margaret River. That’s an impressive run. I’ll admit that it’s a quirky choice to put Molly ahead of Carissa, but she deserves her moment in the sun. The second half of the season is unknown terrain for her. At times, Molly’s style gets ragged around the edges, as though she wants it a little too badly. I can’t hate her for wanting it, by any means, but the judges might — especially if she encounters Steph at a right point. Never let them see you try. Make it look inevitable and effortless. That’s Steph’s gift, and one Molly could add to her already deep arsenal.
1. Tyler Wright. Aside from a shocker in Portugal, Tyler hasn’t placed below the semifinals all year. Yes, she drives you all up the wall with her interviews and advocacy, and I’ll confess I enjoy watching you get riled up by her. Her surfing at Margaret River was a cut above and showed more variety than the usual layback that we’ve all seen too many times. I’d like to ban that turn forever, but the judges keep rewarding it, so it lives on. The rights in the back half of the season should suit her fine, but solid Teahupo’o could slam on the brakes. Still, I’d expect Tyler to reach Trestles in the top five without too much difficulty. Then it’s anyone’s game.