Fantasy Surfing season is right around the corner. If you haven't yet, pick your team now! Fantasy is the best way to enjoy each and every event on the Men's and Women's tours. If you're new to the game, check out the Beginner's Tips article - it's easy to learn and you'll be a pro in no time. First stop is Gold Coast, which kicks off next week, here's a look at the Men's side (Women's analysis here !)
Congratulations to last season's undisputed Men's Fantasy Surfing Champion: Eduardo Mattei. Throughout the year, Mattei put together great lineups to finish first place in the overall standings. His 6,249.46 FP led thousands of teams - Mattei, you're a true Fantasy Legend!
Check out the Women's Fantasy Review
Let's start with a look at the venue. Event #1 is held at Snapper Rocks, a world-class point break on Australia's East Coast. The wave breaks exclusively right during prime conditions, which include SW, S, or SE swell of 1m/3ft - 3m/10ft, and SE winds. Surfers will get a lot of face when conditions align - anywhere from 150-500 meters - so endurance will be a valuable quality.
Tier A offers no shortage of talent. You've got World Champion Adriano de Souza, defending event champion Filipe Toledo, Snapper local Mick Fanning, and high flying young-guns Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira. Tossed in the mix are prime title contenders Julian Wilson and Jeremy Flores. With star-power and fire-power in alliance, Tier A already makes an interesting case this young season.
Gabriel Medina (Projected 12.52 AHS / 129.24 FP) - Medina is expected to grab the most Tier A Fantasy Points (FP) at Gold Coast this year. You might be thinking a 129.24 total sounds low after Filipe Toledo's 135.97 tear last year, but Toledo also put up an insane 16.95 AHS over those 7 heats. That's +3.75 over the field, and while certainly worthy of the W, it's not statistically sustainable.
Like Filipe, Gabriel is a former Gold Coast Champion, and though he failed to pack a punch here in 2015 (12.9 AHS for 42.4 FP), he gets a pass for nursing a World Title induced hangover. Historically, the most recent eras of domination have been executed by surfers who's first title came before their 25th birthday (Kelly Slater - 20 in 1992(!), Andy Irons - 24 in 2002). Right now, it looks like the next Force Majeure is Medina.
Let's take last season as an example: To finish at +900 FP for the year, Gabriel needed to average 95.82 FP over the final 8 events - and he did. There's no shortage of what-if analysis on tap; you can say that Medina might have easily won the title if he had a better result through Margaret, or that without such a reality check he wouldn't have been motivated to finish so strong. The takeaway here is that it doesn't matter. Gabe didn't repeat his championship and he may be the most competitive guy on tour (no stats to support or disprove that yet, though). Look for last year's momentum to carry through, and this season, he knows the value of March success.
Odds to win it - 9:1
Mick Fanning (Projected: 12.48 AHS / 104.24 FP) - Mick is the people's hero in every way imaginable, but that's not why he's a fantasy Lock for Gold Coast. Fanning has a 15.87 career AHS at Snapper and came within inches of a World Title last year, plus the 3rd ranked AHS for conditions: Gold Coast/AUS/Right Break/Reef Break/Point Break at 12.41.
Many will make the argument of Fanno's out-of-water distractions. Without magnifying too much, suffice it to say that Mick surfed brilliantly through the Pipe Masters QF last year while simultaneously enduring personal hardship. While he may be taking some time off in 2016, his tour appearances are calculated to bring him back in 2017, but he'll need to make the most of them. Expect Mick to be extremely motivated each time he dons the jersey, starting at Gold Coast.
Odds to win it - 11:1
Jeremy Flores (Projected 11.22 AHS / 33.12 FP) - Flores had an incredible 2015, finishing 8th in the rankings after a harrowing injury and triumphant comeback win in Tahiti. But he's the lowest tier seed and only managed 28.2 FP here last year, which ultimately gives him the most risk in Tier A. The good news is that most teams will likely avoid Jeremy. If you're going bold, this is a moonshot since he'll need to outcompete the entire tier; but should he do it, you're likely to come out on top.
Odds to win it - 49:1
Italo Ferreira (Projected 11.72 AHS / 76.16 FP) - Keep a few things in mind when considering your contrarian picks: They'll never be the most popular and they'll never be expected to cash the most points - which is precisely what makes them valuable. Italo Ferreira is within 1.53 projected FP of Adriano de Souza (77.75) and Filipe Toledo (77.22), and both will likely be drafted by a majority of teams. The potential for Italo to outperform them provides a huge upside on the overall leaderboard. If you go with the fan favorites Fanning, De Souza, Toledo, or Julian Wilson, consider hedging a bit with Ferreira.
Odds to win it - 20:1
Tier B offers the toughest decisions you'll make in each fantasy contest. With the most slots, this is a make-or-break section of your lineup. It also hosts the most depth, so take your time and choose wisely.
John John Florence (Projected 12.79 AHS / 107.26 FP) - John John is an interesting fantasy case, he's only won two events (Rio and France, both beachbreaks) yet his AHS is better in left, reef locations (Beach: 11.11 / Point: 13.59 / Reef: 15.39 / Left: 15.4 / Right: 13.28). A true anomaly, Florence can never be counted out or on, but his career AHS at Gold Coast is 14.05. That's +.37 over the field and his #3 projected FP can't be ignored. There's always risk with Florence since he hasn't found a consistent winning formula, but his stats suggest picking him up.
Odds to win it - 9:1
Kelly Slater (Projected 12.89 AHS / 132.5 FP) - The projection model is giving Kelly Slater the most points for Gold Coast. It's important to remember that winning the real event doesn't always mean a surfer wins in fantasy, and this is a good example. While Slater is projected for the most points (132.5), he only won 10.62% of simulations; in contrast, Gabriel Medina won 11.12% (top result) with only 129.27 projected FP. Over thousands of simulated events, Gabriel's more favorable heat draw gives him an easier route to the podium.
There's a lot of risk with picking Slater here, though, as he's been on a performance slide over the last three seasons (2013: 88 Heats (H) / 15.96 AHS / 8 Finals Appearances (FA) / 3 Event Wins (W); 2014: 53 H / 14.27 AHS / 1 FA / 0 W; 2015: 43 H / 14.04 AHS / 0 FA / 0 W). But then the man wins the QS Volcom Pipe Pro and puts forth an encouraging performance at a massive BWT event. Kelly may not win the title this year, but if he's in peak form he's always a threat.
These projections should level out as the season progresses if he truly is in a decline; Kelly's simply been so good for so long and at every location. So you may want to take projections for this first event with a grain of salt. He'll face Matt Wilkinson and Conner Coffin in Round 1.
Odds to win it - 9:1
Jordy Smith (Projected 11.67 AHS / 60.66 FP) - Jordy Smith missed a lot of time last season with various injuries. He's extremely talented and classic Snapper suits his style perfectly, but he wasn't firing on all cylinders upon his return late last year. This Fade recommendation is based on risk alone; Jordy will be a popular pick in Tier B, but his floor is Round 3. It might be a good idea to watch him in his first event before deciding for Bells.
Odds to win it - 26:1
Caio Ibelli (Projected 10.01 AHS / 19.7 FP) - Don't look now, but rookie Caio Ibelli is starting the season in Tier B. This is important because Ibelli is largely untested at CT point break locations, and we were ultimately surprised by Italo Ferreira last year (he upset Kelly Slater in Round 3).
For rookies and wildcards, projections are based on overall performance of contemporaries in years passed. Individual highlights happen, often earlier in the season before the model has a better understanding. This is where you may be able to get a huge ROI for Ibelli. That being said, there is obvious risk as the R2 floor exists for all freshmen.
Odds to win it - 208:1
Tier C is usually the house salad of fantasy surfing - it's always there, but no one really wants it. That's changed a bit for the 2016 opener, as the numerous replacements and rookie class are providing an interesting pool.
Sebastian Zietz (Projected 11.04 AHS / 31.2 FP) - Back like he never left, Sebastian Zietz will fill in as Injury Replacement (IR) for Alejo Muniz. While most teams will be jumping to draft Kolohe Andino, a great option to stand apart is Seabass. He put up 43.1 FP last year thanks to an above average 13.25 AHS. You'll be able to cover some ground if he can get into Round 4 and players don't catch on that he's available.
Odds to win it - 83:1
Jack Freestone (Projected 10.06 AHS / 19.54 FP) - Jack Freestone is a rookie, but he competed at Gold COast last year. Without a doubt, that experience plus overall popularity are going to lead to a high start percentage. He posted a solid 13.23 AHS last year, but only 26.46 FP. At 25th seed, Freestone will face John John Florence and Joel Parkinson in Round 1.
Odds to win it - 217:1
Miguel Pupo (Projected 10.56 AHS / 31.2 FP) - Goofy-footer Miguel Pupo far surpassed expectations at Gold Coast last year, with a 14.22 AHS for 102.64 FP through the SF. While that may not be sustainable, he's against Jordy Smith and Wiggolly Dantas in Round 1 and represents some sneaky value. Depending on how you feel about Smith, Pupo may be more or less risk. It's always a good policy not to stack surfers in the same Round 1 heat draw, so if you're in favor of Miguel, avoid Jordy (and vice-versa).
Odds to win it - 125:1
If you want to chat fantasy, come follow me on Twitter @FantasyWSL. And if you're looking for more analysis on this year's freshmen class, check out the Fantasy Insider Rookie Review. Good luck and see you on the leaderboard!