Now a few days from the start of the SEAT Pro Netanya pres. by Reef, let's take a moment to dissect the fields of talented men and women taking on the challenging Mediterranean seas.
Absent from the inaugural edition, 2016 European QS Champion Jonathan Gonzalez will lead the charge for his first showing this season. In an emotional speech late last year, the region's Champion admitted to give the Qualifying race a final go in 2017 and will undoubtedly want to start strong in Israel. His polished and powerful brand of surfing will be a standard for competitors to match when comes game-time in Netanya.
Winning last year in front of an inspired crowd of surf aficionados and curious locals, Pedro Henrique is a strong pretender to go back-to-back. The Portuguese surfer lit up the waves and will bring confidence to the party.
"Israel is a very special place and I loved my time there, so I definitely want to go back and see my friends again," Henrique said. "I think people will be better prepared with boards and everything with the experience we had last year. I don't have a main sponsor so planning the year ahead is tough but Netanya is one of the events I want to do again."
To complete the top trio, a local favourite: Vladimir Merlis. Last year's top Israeli in the event finished an honorable equal 9th for his first-ever WSL comp and will have an even stronger support from the public as he tries again this time around. The lack of pressure on the surfers doing only one event definitely is an advantage and with a little bit more experience, Vladimir could upset a few top seeds in Netanya again.
While we'll particularly look at these three surfers when competition starts later this week, let's not forget the numerous potential threats for the top seeds: the Cloarec brothers Nelson & Tom, a couple of Frenchies often making finals day, Spain's Gony Zubizarreta, Dimitri Ouvre who had a great start of the season in 2016, and Brazil's Peterson Crisanto who's return to competition saw him advance through multiple rounds in Huntington last week.
They all signed up for the second edition and will want to up the ante to claim a career-first victory on the WSL tours.
Behind them, the two sisters Noa & Anat Lelior from nearby Tel Aviv will try to improve on their equal 5th of 2016 and fly the Israeli flag up to the final for the first time. The young surfers have been on a constant rise on the junior tour and their surfing is maturing beyond their young age, posing a real threat to the top European female surfers in Netanya.