If 2016 proved anything, it's that there's a massive amount of talent coming up throughout pro surfing's ranks. In fact, several new faces emerged this year. Here are five surfers who made the biggest competitive leaps over the course of 12 months, making strong cases for the most improved surfer of the year.
North Stradbroke's Ethan Ewing finished 2015 with a Qualifying Series ranking of 257. While identified as a junior surfer with tremendous potential, having just turned 17, it was thought that his potential could take a few years to realize. Ewing then started the Australasian Junior Tour with an incredible four straight victories. He then took that form to the QS, winning a QS3000 in Costa Rica, making the quarters in Ballito and securing his Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour spot with a runner-up finish at the US Open. He capped off his year with impressive results at Haleiwa and Sunset, a Triple Crown Rookie of The Year Award, and a 2nd place finish on the QS. That's not improvement, that intergalactic advancement.
While the 17-year-old had been earmarked for big things since a young age, few, including Colapinto himself, could have foreseen his rapid ascent through the ranks. The naturalfooter started last year ranked 147 on the QS and had the goal of cracking the top 100 and securing himself a start in the QS10000-rated events. A result at home in California at the US Open kickstarted his year, and a third place in Brazil, followed by a 9th at Haleiwa, saw him rocket up to 32 on the QS.
To see 16-year-old Samuel Pupo tackle man-sized Haleiwa with all the experience of a veteran at the Hawaiian Pro was to realize the dramatic improvement he has achieved in a year. The younger brother of CT surfer Miguel Pupo, Samuel counted good results in the Azores, Haleiwa and Sunset. In doing so he jumped 214 places, to 64th on the QS rankings, and confirmed that he is one of the sport's future stars.
The Brazilian goofyfooter was less of a surprise than others on the list, courtesy of his age (24) and his name (being the son of Fabio Gouveia, the legendary Brazilian surfer). And until Europe, his surfing had reflected his last year, finishing with a QS ranking of 93. Three finals in five weeks, including a victory in the Azores Pro, changed that, and Gouveia marched up into qualification. He'd found a way to channel his electric freesurfing into the competitive realm, and with that dramatic improvement he earned himself a golden ticket to the big leagues.
Macy Callaghan's rise through the ranks mirrored that of Ethan Ewing. Early in the year the stylish naturalfooter went one better than Ewing taking out five of the eight Junior Qualifying Series events. Despite being only 15, she then hit the QS, registering two 5th places on the way to an end-of-year 15th in the rankings, a jump from No. 78 in 2015. With a better seed and more experience, you'd expect that rapid trajectory to continue all the way to the top in 2017.