Santa Cruz Preview

Shea Lopez on who to pick for your Fantasy Surfer team

Evening light at Steamer Lane. Photo: Craig

Watching the final day of Portugal, I was impressed with a number of performances as well as the large and attentive crowd, very much engaged in the action. With Kelly Slater's early exit, the event offered a view of what the Tour will look like one day, sans Slater, and its clear that pro surfing has a bright future. With shocking regularity in heat after heat, any ride that had a chance of being one of a surfer's top two waves was met with a claim of some sort. But you can hardly blame the competitors for emphatically claiming anything and everything they rode with the raucous crowd only feet away. After all, competitive surfing exists to entertain, and getting the crowd involved should be priority No. 1--after, of course, proper judging. On that topic, I will only say this: People consciously have their favorites and subconsciously this will factor into their decisions. I’ve been around long enough to know that as close as we get to systematic and unbiased judging, human nature prevails time and time again--and that’s a fact.

So please forgive an 18-year-old kid for not being able to bottle up his emotions when he felt--along with everyone else who was watching--he was robbed of a win by the judges during the Rip Curl Pro final. To his legion of fans and his adoring family, this is on par with a bad call deciding the final score of a soccer game. I’ve seen plenty of surfers cry and destroy things after heats--even world champs--and all of them many years his senior. What this release of emotion ultimately signals, however, is a young man who will not be happy with anything less than a win, and he plans on taking multiple World Titles back to Brazil.

But right now Gabriel and the rest of the Tour are putting the past behind them to focus on a new location to hone their craft. For many competitors, this may be their first experience in Santa Cruz, and they will be attempting to find a comfort zone in the ever-changing lineup at the Lane. Thinking back to days of PSAA Bud Tour events there, the locals were incredibly dominant. It was often the guys you had never heard of who were able to find the gems among the myriad of peaks.

For my Fantasy Surfer team I chose guys that have a nice balance of experience with the location and cold weather and/or are not afraid to show up early and surf their brains out in preparation.

Gabriel Medina:
Hard work pays off…or burns you out. At just 18 years old, the latter is highly unlikely for Gabriel, so if you are in Santa Cruz you will see young Medina surfing all day, everyday until he catches a plane to Hawaii--and he will not be a happy camper on that flight unless he has won Santa Cruz.

Julian Wilson:
With the bittersweet taste still fresh from his victory in Portugal, Wilson will be ramping up to prove his victory in Portugal was just the beginning of a series of podium visits. If the well-rounded and grounded Australian can figure out the wave and toy with it like he’s one of the local air guys, we could be looking at back-to-back victories for him.

John Florence:
John will be ready. The Lane is just another familiar childhood playground for the lifelong O’Neill team rider.

Jordy Smith:
Like John, Jordy benefits from riding for O’Neill and having years of experience in the area. In Portugal, Jordy surfed his way to a loss by not holding his priority at the end--a mistake I’ve watched him make multiple times now. If the waves produce, I expect Jordy to go far and give it his all.

Mick Fanning:
Under certain conditions at the Lane, Mick becomes as dangerous as he is at Snapper, Bells, and J-Bay. His consistency when conditions aren’t ideal makes him even more of a threat to gain valuable points before the Pipe Masters and the conclusion to the 2012 season.

Adam Melling:
If you’ve watched him surf on his frontside in solid waves, then you’ve already stopped reading this and coughed up the 3 million dollars to put Adam on your team.

Matt Wilkinson:
Wilko has been pinned up against a wall all year unable to record the results befitting of his talents. But as a WQS winner at the Lane, and the owner of the most radically unique backside attack on Tour, Wilko has the odds in his favor this time around.

Kolohe Andino:
Riding a healthy surge of results coming back from injury, the 18 year old has the momentum to securing a spot in next year's Top 34. After countless trips to Santa Cruz, this event offers an almost Lowers equivalent advantage for him. You can plan on seeing Kolohe get his tail high on every lip that bends his way.

Click here to pick your team for Santa Cruz now.