The world's best surfers have arrived at Southern California's Lower Trestles from around the globe to contest for the 2014 ASP World Title at the Hurley Pro and Swatch Women's Pro Trestles. The events get underway Tuesday, with a waiting period from September 9 - 20.
On the eve of a what is shaping up to be an exciting opening day according to the forecast, participants gathered to talk about mastering California's iconic rock-bottom break before heading out into the lineup for what became an all-day freesurf.
Entering the water Tuesday in the yellow jersey, which indicates the rankings leader, Gabriel Medina (BRA) was looking confident. Having just claimed his third event title at the Billabong Pro Tahiti, Medina is poised to break away from his competitors in the World Title race and secure his lead.
"The Brazilians are so passionate about all sports and I think we really need a Brazilian World Champion, especially in surfing," Medina said. "It's going to be great for Brazil, it's going to be great for surfing, and it's going to be great for me. I'm really excited."
â€œEveryone surfs their best here at Trestles,â€ Burrow said. â€œTo get ahead here you really have to pick the best waves and unleash at the right time. When someone's pushing you in a heat you have to bring out those head-turning maneuvers. There's a good battle at the top of the rankings. Gabriel seems invincible at the moment and he's definitely the one to beat.â€
Lowers is a high-performance wave, and those "head-turning" maneuvers opens up the event title to a number of up-and-comers. Kolohe Andino (USA) is the arguably the most successful of the new-school aerial specialists. Currently ranked No. 8 in the standings, Andino finished fifth in Tahiti, falling to the eventual event winner. A San Clemente native, the local crowd will have high hopes for their hometown hero.
â€œI'm definitely feeling some pressure to do well here,â€ Andino said. â€œBut sometimes pressure is good because it makes you try harder. Trestles is a really soft wave, which makes the equipment you choose really important. I've been focusing on all the other waves on Tour so it's going to be a challenge for me to come back and surf well here at my home break.â€
But with Andino on the rise and surfing at home, perhaps more pressure is on surfers like Jordy Smith (ZAF). Smith's season of mixed results has seen him drop significantly in the ratings. Currently ranked No. 14, he's still clear of the cutoff (No. 23 and below), but could use a few good results for some buffer.
â€œIt's been a roller coaster year for me,â€ Smith said. â€œI feel like my surfing's been really on point and I've had some of the best heats of my life, but this year's just not been the year for me. My focus now is going to be get some results for the back end of the year and get in a great position for next year. Trestles is a wave that really suits me and I want to make the Final here and win it.â€
On the women's Tour, Carissa Moore (HAW) is the current ratings leader. The reigning two-time World Champion has notched two event titles so far this year, but she hasn't seen the Semifinals since Rio. Competing in the first women's WCT event at Trestles, Moore will be looking to stamp her name on the historic event.
â€œLower Trestles is one of my favorite waves in the world, if not my favorite,â€ said Moore. â€œIt really gives you the opportunity to let loose and get creative. There's a really tight Title Race this year with four events left, and we're starting from scratch because there's such a level playing field. I'm really starting to put pressure on myself to defend my Title, I can feel it creeping up.â€
One of the surfers threatening Moore's three-peat is Tyler Wright (AUS). Known as one of the more progressive surfers on Tour, Wright's playful style saw her top the podium at the Vans US Open in Huntington Beach, Calif. Currently No. 3 in the world rankings, another win by Wright would put real pressure on Moore and World No. 2 Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS).
â€œI think this event will be fantastic for the Women's Tour,â€ Wright said. â€œIt's a great opportunity for some really progressive maneuvers. It's a skate park and an open canvas to really go to work on and be creative.â€
There has never been a women's World Title event at Lowers, though it did play host to a women's Qualification Series (QS) event, in which Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) competed. So unlike most of her opponents, the Aussie -- currently No. 4 in the standings -- has seen Trestles in competition. (The competition was run as a 4-Star in 2005 and was won by Silvana Lima (BRA). As veteran surfer on the elite Tour, Gilmore is planning a no-holds-barred strategy for the Swatch Pro.
â€œLower Trestles is all about progression and innovation,â€ said Gilmore. â€œI think the girls will really impress everyone at this event with how well they're surfing and far we've come in the past two years. I don't have as much experience here as the Hawaiians or Americans but Trestles is the perfect place to try risky maneuvers.â€
Alongside the debut of their WCT event at Lowers, the biggest news for the women's Tour this week is the return of Courtney Conlogue to competition. Having fully recovered from injury, Conlogue is on fire, ready to put the jersey back on and compete in familiar waters.
â€œI'm so stoked to be back,â€ said Conlogue. â€œMissing three events has really reminded me of my love and passion for the sport. I'm in my backyard here at Lower Trestles and I can't wait to go up against some of the top seeds in my heats. This wave will really show everyone's personalities and we'll see some really innovative surfing, I can't wait.â€