The Progress Report: Rookie Class of 2017Nov 15, 2017
It was at Bells that Morais first showed that he had the potential to make it on the CT. However even with that Quarterfinal finish, not many could have predicted his explosive performance at J-Bay that took him to the Final, demonstrating that he has the weapons to beat the best in the world. He has failed to hit those incredible heights since, but perhaps even more importantly he has been super consistent and largely error-free. The combination sees him as the World No. 14 and the frontrunner for the Rookie of the Year. One more solid result at Pipeline will cap one of the more impressive CT debuts in recent history.
O'Leary's surfing, and smile, has been a welcome addition to the CT. WSL / ED SLOANE
Even for someone with such a firm handle on his own capabilities and expectations, O'Leary must be surprised with just how well he has adapted to the CT. His electric start to the season at Snapper laid the groundwork, but it was his Final at Cloudbreak that proved just how high his ceiling really is. Two 25ths at Trestles and France slowed his momentum somewhat, but now sitting as the World No. 14, just 100 points behind Frederico Morais, his year can be considered an outstanding achievement. It feels like the ever-smiling Cronulla goofyfoot will be around for a long time yet.
The Frenchman's ascent to CT safety is made even more impressive by his poor start to the year, where he won just one heat in the first four events. The pacific leg, however, provided the chance to show his outstanding tube riding qualities, while his deadly backhand earned big points at J-Bay. He has since consolidated earning not only a CT berth in 2018, but also respect as one of the more well-balanced and fluid surfers on the CT. With his barrel-riding ability the Pipe Masters could well provide the icing on an extremely impressive rookie year.
Fioravanti finds form in Portugal. WSL / DAMIEN POULLENOT
The Italian has been fighting ever since four 25ths in succession at the start of the year handicapped his chances for requalification. His Quarterfinal in Fiji showed both his fight and his natural talent. He then showed flashes of his brilliance in J-Bay and Portugal, results which have kept him at least within reach of requalifying at Pipe, a wave he knows and loves. It also must be remembered that Fioravanti has just turned 20. With this year's experience he will be all the more dangerous in the future. If it doesn't happen this year, a swift return to the CT is inevitable.
The nuggety goofyfooter has been a positive presence on the CT, bringing energy and commitment to each and every heat. He has, however, failed to capitalize on solid performances in earlier rounds and has only made it past Round Three once, with a great barrel-riding display in Fiji. Poor form on the Qualifying Series (he is currently ranked 130) also hasn't helped him regain confidence away from the CT or provide a safety net. Like most of the younger Brazilian generation he has put in serious time in the lineup at Pipeline, but it looks like he may have left his run a little too late.
Hitting Sunset with a new approach and new confidence. WSL / FREESURF/KEOKI
Zeke has only showed his true potential on the CT at Bells. His Semifinal finish there indicated that he could go on to be a major player at this level. A string of 25ths, six in total, however has left him stranded near the tail end of the rankings. There has been many moments where his mix of explosive power and Hawaiian style have lit up a heat, but consistency has been elusive. On the plus side he has turned his QS year around with wins in Cascais and Sunset and looks well placed to secure his CT qualification in Hawaii. It's a good thing too; his surfing deserves to be shown at the highest level.
There was no hiding Ewing's inexperience and difficulties in dealing with the step up to the CT as he endured a shocker of a start to his rookie year. It wasn't till the seventh event, the Billabong Pro Tahiti, that the 18-year-old won his first CT heat. In that run there were moments when Ewing's undoubted class shone through, but a lack of confidence undermined any breakthroughs. To his credit, Ewing has bounced back in the latter half of the year, clearing the dreaded Round Two in each event since Tahiti. It wasn't enough to get near the qualification spots, but it will help in the future. It's been a tough year, but the learning curve has been significantly slackened. When he comes back, and he will, we should see the results of which he's capable.