While the race for the 2017 World Title is already at its halfway point, things are just beginning to heat up on the Qualifying Series, where up-and-coming surfers are battling for the right to join the Championship Tour in 2018. Out of hundreds making the effort, only the top 10 finishers will make the cut. With five of the most heavily weighted events still ahead, much will change, but here's a brief glimpse of some surfers to watch.
Jesse Mendes knows the agony of missing the cut as well as anyone. He's fallen just short of qualifying for the Championship Tour for two years in a row. And while thoughts of throwing in the towel surfaced during his lowest moments, the Brazilian decided to double down, and it's paying off now in a huge way. With big QS6000 wins at the Australian Open and Chiba Open Mendes has opened up a massive 8,000- point lead in the race.
In 2016, the lowest seed to qualify was Ezekiel Lau, who ended up with 18,750 points. Traditionally, 19,000 is the target that puts surfers in range. 20,000 usually gets you in. With five QS10000 events left to go, Mendes has already racked up 16,980. He knows better than to think he's a shoo-in, but he's certainly in the catbird seat.
Yago Dora is already the breakout star of the season. He got a huge taste of Championship Tour (CT) glory by making the most of his wildcard opportunity at the Oi Rio Pro, where he took down three World Champions on his way to the Final.
In years past, Dora was only dabbling in the QS effort. This year he's making a sustained campaign. Winning the QS6000 in Newcastle was a huge first step, and he's got one nice backup result. It's enough to launch him to No. 4 on QS rankings, but he'll need a few more Rio-like performances this year at the QS level to get where he wants to go.
Ian Crane finished the 2016 season ranked No. 54 on the QS. Heading into the heavy stuff, he's already up at No. 7, thanks in large part to a 3rd at Newcastle and a 9th in Japan. Crane is a perennial performer in San Clemente lineups he calls home, so he has no shortage of sparring partners to keep his reflexes sharp. Of course, some of them may end up being his biggest obstacles as the season unfolds. Keep your eyes on him.
Europe's biggest surprise so far this year has been Jorgann Couzinet, the Frenchman who's jumped into the No. 3 spot on the QS rankings, and he's done it without any big wins. Couzinet has racked up five solid results already. He's bagged nearly 9,000 points total, with 1125 being the low number he's trying to better. But while that's impressive, it makes netting points tougher. Each surfer's top five results are what count at year's end. The big regularfooter will be focusing on the big ones from here on out.
Hiroto Ohhara would love nothing more than to put Japan back on the global surfing stage, and he jumped out to a great start this year with a string of solid results in smaller QS events, including a win on Australia's Central Coast and a third place at the Australian Open. But if Ohhara wants to keep this lofty position, he'll need to find success outside the small-wave arena, where he's a dominant player. There's no hiding from Hawaii, where the last two QS10000 events will run in November and December.