Continuing our 2017 Preview series, we present the second grouping of surfers on the women's Championship Tour (CT): The women who are just on the cusp of winning it all. These three -- Courtney Conlogue, Tatiana Weston-Webb and Johanne Defay -- are all ranked within the Top 5, all within reach of World Title trophies, all entirely capable of raining on a former World Champ's parade.
Between now and the Quiksilver and Roxy Pro events, which kick off March 14, we're looking at each group on both the men's and women's Tours, assessing the mindsets, motivations, and methodologies of athletes as they strive to reach new heights. Which of these three women will improve on last year's finishes...or slide down the rankings, and out of contender status?
The deadliest of the contenders, a World Title win for Santa Ana, California's, Courtney Conlogue seems less of a question of if but rather, when.
Having placed well within the Top 10 for her entire, blossoming CT career, Courtney has finished as world No. 2 twice in a row. In 2017, she's determined to put this bridesmaid-business to an end.
More than a heartbreaker, surely her 2016 season runner-up finish has only made her hungrier. Throughout the entire 2016 season she traded first- and second-place results with eventual World Champion Tyler Wright. Their simmering rivalry came to a boil during the Final in Portugal, when Courtney slipped away to her own peak. She surfed with a noticeably more refined style in her separate zone, and went on to take the win.
Though Wright clinched the Title at the very next event, in France -- and one event before the year's final stop, on Maui -- Courtney still gave her hell, with third-place finishes in the last two events. With seven CT scalps to her name, and holding the lead for much of last year until July's US Open, such is Conlogue's advantage heading into this new year: The woman certainly knows how to win. All that's left is the Title.
With only three years of Championship Tour experience, the young, tow-headed Kauaian has upped her ranking each season by monumental margins. From 18th to 7th, then to 4th last year, Tatiana has become a true contender, certainly able to hold her own among the best women on the planet.
Being that she was raised on Kauai, she's comfortable in the heavier stuff. Recall the time in 2015, in pumping conditions in France, when she got a perfect 10-point ride off a deep, lefthand pit. The question became, then, whether she could hang with the women when the conditions got poor.
Her win at the US Open in July -- in small, Huntington Beach-scale waves -- answered that question, as Tati conquered the field of fierce competitors and home-court favorites alike to take home her very first CT trophy. With another winter of Hawaiian training under her belt, heading into the Gold Coast she's as deadly a contender for World Champion as she'll ever be.
"She's come a long way since her first few events," said one of Johanne Defay's fellow French surfers. "She's one of the smartest women on Tour, that's why she's doing so well."
Coupled with the smarts, Defay is also quite bold. Raised on the powerful, roping lefthanders of Reunion Island, Johanne charges hard in heavy surf. In the small stuff, meanwhile, she commits to fins-free, progressive shredding. Like on the Gold Coast last year, when Defay landed a smooth nosepick air-reverse in her Quarterfinal heat, the first time a woman had completed that maneuver in a competition jersey.
What's made her a real 2017 contender, though, is how unfazed she is by modern icons and World Champs. In pumping Cloudbreak at the 2016 Fiji Pro, she took out Courtney Conlogue, then beat 3x World Champ Carissa Moore to win the Final -- in 6-8 foot waves where there could be no excuses.
Finishing 5th in the world on her third year on the CT, with the momentum she's created, she is without a doubt a certified contender, ready to go to battle against the best.