There are a lot of changes being implemented on Tour right now. But the change that may make the biggest impact on deciding an event champion is the extra round. In my experience, nothing is more taxing physically and emotionally than a simple 30-minute heat, during which I've collapsed in the sand after at Bells, had my hamstring cramp up so bad I couldn't walk before a final in Brazil, and generally had my performances trail off the further into an event I progressed.
At Lowers—a notorious leg- and arm-burning wave—competitors are most likely surfing four times this Saturday (the last day of the waiting period). With the surf expected to be well overhead, the 100-yard-long right-handers will be the waves of choice. Doing the math, the finalists will have put all their energy into roughly 20 waves that last day for a combined total of 4,000 yards of surfing and paddling condensed into two hours of heat time.
Not many sports are as physically demanding on the athletes as surfing. That is why it was no fluke that Mick Fanning won his two world titles while being the fittest surfer on Tour. Meanwhile, Dane's intense training of beer and updating his website landed him on an I.V. last year at Lowers. And now everyone has to contend with one more round on their way to the final.
Who will benefit from this? Of course Mick is more than ready to go the distance. Then there is perennial fitness freak Taylor Knox, who, if he gets some momentum at Lowers, should only get stronger and more difficult to beat as the surf gets bigger and the week progresses. Kelly Slater will show a dramatic increase in performance with every heat as he becomes comfortable with his equipment (he usually rides new boards at this event) and always seems to save his best for last. What about Andy Irons? He came on Tour this year in the worst shape of his career, but now looks to be back in the game. After his much-publicized training sessions with Parko and his trainer, we may just see the best yet from AI.
All these guys are veterans of the Tour and what they make up for with hard work and experience is almost negated by the boundless energy of youth. That is why surfers like Jordy, Owen, Michel, Adriano, and Jadson will be extremely tough to beat as they represent a combination of youth and fitness that is hard to match. Whatever unfolds in the coming days, you can guarantee that everyone left in the event will be digging deep in their pursuit of the $105,000 check.