Before the Top 34 head to South Africa for the ASP World Championship Tour (WCT) J-Bay Open, we take a look at who has the highest stakes at Supertubes.
Most to Gain:
Matt Wilkinson (AUS), Ranked #33:
Consistently sitting toward the bottom of the rankings, this gregarious, hard-charging Aussie needs a win to fuel his competitive fire and stay on tour. After squeaking by last year at No. 22, the goofy-footer returned to the WCT in 2014 with a new coach and commitment to contest surfing. The Tour benefits from having a colorful contestant like Wilko, but his performance in water needs to match his dynamism on land.
Kelly Slater (USA), Ranked #3:
The 11-time world champion missed out on his 12th title last year, and should be hungrier than ever. But some surprising ousters have kept him from winning a single contest so far in 2014, a rarity for an exacting athlete who conquers every wave with precision. Still, Slater's consistent third- and fifth-place finishes have him ranked number three. Reigning at J-Bay would tip the scales to put the Champ back on top.
Michel Bourez (PYF), Ranked #2:
The second-most successful man on the 2014 WCT is sandwiched between current points leader Gabriel Medina (BRA) and perennial winner Kelly Slater (USA). Known for his powerful carve, Bourez's ferocious forehand attack suits the steep walls of Supertubes. Right now, the former underdog is so close to number one, he can taste it.
Brett Simpson (USA), Ranked #34:
Simpo has everything to gain from a good performance at J-Bay. When he joined the WCT in 2010 he was a promising addition boasting polished style, and armed with the arsenal of maneuvers required for success on the big stage. But Simpson has struggled on tour; despite his powerful surfing he's been prone to mistakes. At the Fiji Pro in May, he was ousted in Round 2 by close friend and heat rival Nat Young; he hasn't yet placed in an ASP WCT event this year. A spot on the podium in South Africa would not only renew his promise as a rising talent, but also his confidence as a competitor.
Most to Lose:
Joel Parkinson (AUS), Ranked #5:
After years of being the tour's â€œperennial bridesmaid,â€ Parko got a taste of victory with a Title win in 2012. This year, he has yet to win a contest but his high-scoring heats have put him in a precarious fifth place. A WCT veteran in his early thirties, slipping lower in the rankings could suggest that the new guard is edging him out. Despite his formidable mix of power and grace in the water, the two-time J-Bay winner has fought hard for his points. A loss at Supertubes would hamper his title campaign and potentially diminish his authority among the Top 34.
Jordy Smith (ZAF), Ranked #11:
Smith, a Durban local with both power-carves and new-school skills to spare, has won twice at J-Bay and will again be performing on home turf. In other words: The pressure's on. So far this season his finishes have been all over the map, including 13th place at the Fiji Pro. Nine heat wins have been enough to keep him toward the top, but not to make him a real title contender. Victory at his local spot would further fortify his hometown stature and secure his spot among the top dogs on tour.
Most to Gain and Most to Lose:
Gabriel Medina(BRA), Ranked #1:
Medina suddenly has a lot to protect. Last year, the Brazilian phenom finished at #13. Until the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast in March, he hadn't won an event since 2011. That year, he burst onto the WCT at the halfway point and placed first in France and San Francisco. Armed with Slater-like precision both in the water and above the lip, his first few years were uneven but punctuated with moments of brilliance. Following his stellar performance at the Fiji Pro, the young gun has transcended everyone in the rankings -- including elder statesman Kelly Slater. Medina's problem now? Keeping his throne in South Africa. A loss there could mean becoming the gifted guy on a long road to contest consistency.
Filipe Toledo (BRA), Ranked #16:
Known as a master of aerials, a solid performance at J-Bay would prove that this budding Brazilian talent is a well-rounded surfer. Currently ranked 16 on the WCT, he's in the middle of the pack. A respectable finish would solidify his standing in terms of reputation, and prove that he has contest cred in conditions that don't highlight his prowess above the lip.