"Filipe will surf the Olympics next year, so it might make sense to you know, try this whole barrel thing out."
Dreamy images of tropical barrels flood my Instagram, a sure sign that it’s nearly time for Teahupo’o. I can spell it, but I definitely can’t say it. Fortunately, saying things right is not my job and I feel fine. There are few more aesthetically fabulous images in surfing than a barreling wave over a tropical reef. Having a wonderful time, wish you were here.
Not having a wonderful time is Ethan Ewing, who fractured his L3 and L4 during a free surf session ahead of Friday’s contest start. Back injuries are stupid painful and can take a solid chunk of time to heal. Of course, elite athletes aren’t normal people, so I’m not about to guess on this one. Wishin’ him good vibes all around.
If Ethan, currently world number 2, can not surf Trestles, what happens? Even without surfing Tahiti, he’s securely in the top five. His Olympic slot is also confirmed.
Perusing the WSL rulebook is totally my favorite past time, so I was excited to dig into it in search of the answer to this super important question. Unfortunately, the rules are ambiguous. The top five surfers in the rankings go to the finals. What’s unclear is whether injury replacements are allowed for the final five.
(Editor’s note: The WSL has confirmed there’ll be no top five replacements. If Ethan doesn’t make it to Finals Day, only four surfers will compete.)
While we’re talking about the rulebook, here’s one thing we do know. If you’ve looked at the numbers you may have noticed a weird quirk in the standings between Yago and Gabby. Why isn’t Gabby’s lowest score dropped? Simple. It came after the cut. According to the rules, only one score is dropped this year, and it happens before the cut. All results after the cut stand for determining the rankings. So, Gabby is sixth, but not by much.
Let’s turn to the forecast. Oh. Hmm. Maybe it would be better if we didn’t. I do not want you to be sad, and if you saw that forecast, you might become sad. Let’s just say, the waves were yet again quite good ahead of the contest window. Swells, they come and go, and mostly go.
Last time I did a full rankings for all the men it completely melted my brain. I am not stupid enough to try it again. Instead, let’s look at some heats. Maybe some of them will look interesting even!
Last seen getting shacked at Skeleton Bay in Namibia, Kelly faces Yago and Ian Gentil in the opening heat at Teahupo’o. I’m assuming he can bend time to his will and make it to Tahiti. It’s also possible he stubbed his toe in Namibia and won’t be there. You never know with Kelly.
Teahupo’o is one of the few stops where it makes sense for Kelly to be on Tour at all, but I hope Yago crushes him. Kick his ass, Yago! I did not promise to be objective about this thing. Yago has some heavy-hitters chasing him for that top five spot, so he needs to make some heats here.
João, sitting at number 4 also needs to make heats in Tahiti. Though he’s got a bit more breathing room, he’s faces a tough opener with local boy Kauli Vaast. Both João and Kauli can barrel, and have posted some sick clips from this week’s swell. They’re well-matched and It’s the kind of heat we’d love to see in good waves. Jordy is also in this heat.
Mihimana Braye replaces Ethan Ewing, and Griff draws him for the opening round. Griff has no need to take chances here with this top five secured, but it’s impossible to imagine that he’ll sit on his hands. Griff actually likes surfing heats, which is pretty helpful given his chosen career. Griff’s no slouch in the barrel either. I’d expect him to win this one, but it’s no sure thing.
Ah, the Toledo question. With his top five spot secure, he doesn’t need to do anything here. But Filipe will surf the Olympics next year, so it might make sense to you know, try this whole barrel thing out. Liam O’Brien and Matahi Drollet are in this heat, and a win for local Matahi would be sweet. But really, the main point of suspense in this one is whether Filipe decides to barrel or nah.
Gabby has won Teahupo’o twice and finished second on three occasions. He’s currently sixth in the rankings and both João and Yago have to nervous about that reality. Gabby missed last year to injury, but it’s impossible not to see him as a favorite to win the whole damn thing. He meets two Hawaiians, Barron Mamiya and Seth Moniz in the opening round. You’ll remember Seth finishing second to Kelly in that wild Pipe final in 2022, so this is not an easy heat. I’d still expect the three-time world champ to win it.
I was surprised to learn that John John hasn’t been to Teahupo’o in five years. It certainly didn’t show in the gorgeous clip he posted earlier this week. Just smooth, casual barrel surfing. I could watch him all day. John John meets Rio Waida and Kanoa in heat six. I’m not sure how the judges will underscore John John this time, but I’m sure they’ll find a way. Rio is hardly a walk-through and ignoring the forecast entirely, this is a fun match-up.
Like Gabby, John John can make the top five with a good finish in Teahupo’o. In good waves, this would seem like a no-brainer. His highest finish came back in 2016 when he finished second to Kelly. The following year, he lost to Jordy to finish fourth. If the waves are shit, it’ll come down to how much John John really wants to go to Trestles. Certainly he has the skills, but how much is he willing to grovel?
Jack Robinson is right behind John John in the rankings in eighth. Robbo started the year well with a win at Pipe and third a Sunset, but injuries have derailed things for him. He tore his meniscus at Bells, which is a nagging, shitty sort of injury. He came back quickly, maybe too quickly, and surfed the Ranch for a seventeenth. His ankle was taped during his free surfs in El Salvador, suggesting another injury.
A recent quarterfinal finish at J-Bay ended a string of seventeenths for Robbo, and his clips from this week look solid. He has Connor O’Leary and Callum Robson in his opener. A goofy, Connor’s had a solid run this year, but he’s never finished higher than ninth at Teahupo’o. Callum has never competed at Tahiti before this year. This one feels like Robbo’s to lose.
The final heat gives us Leo Fioravanti, Ryan Callinan, and Matthew Gillivrary. Did I tell you I saw Leo’s dad wandering the halls of the Tachi Palace? He was wearing an immaculate white Italian Olympic team tracksuit, which is not exactly the outfit you’d expect to see wandering the halls of a casino in Lemoore. Leo’s the fave for this heat.
My work here is done.