Every year we look forward to the annual influx of new faces to the Championship Tour. We welcome change, and hope that some of these surfers have what it takes to shake things up and challenge the usual top seeds. Or, at the very least, put forth a few good performances and upset some ‘CT staples in the process.
From the next big thing to the 10-year Qualifying Series journeyman and the name you've likely never heard before, the qualifying class of 2017 has it all. Of the nine men and two women that made the cut this year, only three (Pat Gudauskas, Keanu Asing and Paige Hareb) have previous ‘CT experience and are thus exempt from the Rookie of the Year conversation in 2018. For everyone else, this is their first go-around on surfing's biggest stage. A life-long dream, realized.
Let us introduce them below.
31 years old
Santa Catarina, Brazil
"I spent 12 years on the QS, and there were times when I didn't know if I would ever qualify,” says Cardoso. “But this year I started to really believe in myself, and it worked. In some ways, not having a sponsor helped because I didn't put any pressure on myself.
"I've worked so hard to be part of the World Tour. And I've come so close. This year, going into Hawaii, I had to do my job, which was make a heat [at Haleiwa]. But then I couldn't believe it when it happened.
"It was a lot [doing the Tour without a major sponsor]. My family depended on my help, and the money I had, I was investing back in my career. But my father-in-law helped me so much. He gave me the support and security to run after my dream.
"Out of all of the events on Tour, I'm most looking forward to Bells. I already had a great performance there in the past, and I really enjoy the wave."
30 years old
Santa Catarina, Brazil
"This year was different from the last two times I was close to qualifying, because I went through a personal evolution that helped me realize my goal. Last year's injury led me to spend six months without surfing, and during that time I became more aware of my body and my mind.
"I came back from injury and got second place at the Vans US Open. And then in Hawaii, everything happened at the same time; I qualified at Haleiwa and two days later I premiered Dreaming Together, which was really special for me.
"After Haleiwa I was speechless. I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt so much happiness; it's difficult to put into words. It was a feeling of everything was worth it—all the struggles and all the hard work."
29 years old
Central Coast, Australia
"This year was my fifth year on the QS. I went into it really trying to keep my froth levels up no matter what, and to just surf as much as possible. It's been a bit of a challenge self-funding my campaign, but I also think it feeds the fire a bit more.
"Heading into Hawaii with a chance [to qualify], I just relaxed and made the most of it all. I was just really enjoying surfing over there—it wasn't the best season for waves, but I made the most of it by getting in the water as much as possible and just keeping a relaxed mind every day. And finally, it worked.
"At this point, I'm really excited to just go and get barreled on Tour. And go to Bells. I haven't been there for a few years but it's always fun, and it's such a good wave to do some big hacks. Mostly, I'm just really looking forward to seeing how I go against the big dogs."
24 years old
Sao Paulo, Brazil
"I don't think anything really changed for me this year, surfing wise. I feel like my surfing was always there. I'm definitely more mature as a person now, though, and I learned how to better deal with everything that I go through on Tour and in life. I also believe God has a perfect plan, and this was the year He wanted things to click and happen for me.
"The highlight for me this year was my final against Julian Wilson at Manly. The waves were small, but super clean and fun. The beach was packed, and we battled with back-to-back nine's in front of a cheering crowd. It was a good feeling to beat someone like him in such a high-scoring heat. It gave me a lot of confidence.
"When I made the round of 48 in Ballito [South Africa], I'd done enough to qualify. But, it actually took me a few days to actually realize that my dream came true. On the plane ride home I stopped and asked myself, ‘So what’s next? What do I need to do to qualify now?’ I did the math and realized my goal for the year was already made. It felt amazing. Next year, I want to make a final and finish in the Top 10. That would be nice."
21 years old
"The highlight of my year was making the semifinal of the Oi Rio Pro, all the way from the trials. It was just so much fun being able to compete without any kind of pressure on myself. Every heat felt so much like I was just having a surf. I ended up getting a third, which got me really amped to finish the QS well and get on full-time.
"After making my third-round heat in Haleiwa, I’d done enough to qualify. Honestly, it made me feel really tired afterwards—I could’ve done a lot better in the Triple Crown, but in my head, I was done, and I ended up losing in the next heat.
"I'm most excited to show people that I can actually surf good waves [laughs], that bad waves are not actually what I'm best in. But, I know backhand tube-riding — maybe backhand in general — is my biggest weakness, and what I need to work on the most. It’s really important if you want to be fighting for a world title someday, because most of the waves on Tour are rights.
"Getting to surf all those good waves and having a chance to surf against the surfers I’ve grown up watching, and then getting paid for that, is pretty awesome. Next year I just want to adapt to the Tour, improve my surfing at each spot on the schedule, and get some good results so that I can be there for years."
19 years old
San Clemente, California
"I definitely feel like I put in the hard work this year. And I feel like when I put as much effort as I can into everything, then afterward I feel deserving of completing my goals, and that's what gives me confidence. A lot of it has to do with your mind and your mental game. So I think the confidence part is mostly why I work so hard. I feel like things should go my way when I've been doing everything right, you know?
"Jake Paterson [Griffin's coach] has helped out so much. I'd say at least 70 percent. A lot of the stuff he says is really simple but no one really thinks of it. He's simplified everything for me, and that makes surfing heats a lot easier.
"Where do I want to be in a few years? I wanna say winning a world title…but it's hard to claim that right now. It's a lot to comprehend still. [laughs] So I'll just say Top 5. For now."
32 years old
San Clemente, California
"Watching the Pipe Masters was radical because it was all out of my hands. I was a nervous wreck, because I had put so much hard work into the past few years and I really wanted to be back on Tour. But I think that, in a way, it was even more rewarding the way that it all ended up happening, because I had so many people cheering with me during the Pipe Masters. It felt like I was watching and willing myself through the event [during Italo Ferreira's heats], even though I was watching it online.
"I'm so stoked to get back on Tour. Being on the ‘QS for a few years really gave me great appreciation for how much fun the ‘CT events and waves are, and that was really my inspiration for getting back on. I feel like I've grown up so much since my last time on Tour that it's almost like a new and improved version of the surfer I was then—with more experience, gratitude and overall stoke.
"Over the last three years away from the Tour, I learned tons about myself and how I function competitively and why I love doing it. All the challenges of the ‘QS really brought the best out of me, because I feel like I truly found clarity about why I was passionate about competing, which is for the love of performance of surfing. I realized that I genuinely love performing and inspiring people around me with that pure spirit of surf stoke. And for me, I think the ‘CT is the biggest platform to showcase that."
24 years old
"Last year was absolutely tough and disheartening, having the highest high I could have [winning the Quik Pro France], and then not requalifing. But, to be honest, I wouldn't want it any other way. It was really hard for everything to sink in after Pipe, but when it did, I told myself it was going to go one of two ways: I could either mope and feel bad for myself, or I could get my ass up and do something about it, because no one gives a shit what happened and no one is giving handouts.
"I'd say I was more excited going into my rookie year because everything was so new to me. But this year I'm less nervous because I know what it's like on Tour now and I understand what needs to be done. I'm looking forward to a fun year, but I know the competition isn't going to get any easier. This year I want to take more risks, but I'm also working on living in the moment and embracing the process more. Just really focusing on the present moment."
22 years old
"It hasn't sunk in yet that I've actually made it, but it's a very good feeling of accomplishment. I didn't take a vacation this year and I’m already working on the physical and mental training for the next year.
"It was crazy to watch Pipe, not knowing what was going to happen. But after Sunset was over, I got a message from Kanoa [Igarashi], and he told me that he would make it happen at Pipe [by getting a good result and double qualifying], so I was calm [laughs]. And then he did it.
"I'm anxious to compete for the first time on Tour in all of my favorite waves. But I'm excited for the opportunity and my goal is definitely to win Rookie of the Year."
15 years old
Melbourne Beach, Florida
"At the beginning of the year, I had no idea I wanted to qualify. I wasn't thinking about it at all. Things just happened so fast. But I did pretty good in Australia in the beginning of the year, so I kept doing ‘QS events for experience, and I kept doing well. I was mainly focusing on my surfing this year: getting better at airs, surfing Cloudbreak, getting experience in bigger waves, and I think that helped me a lot, because I wasn't putting any pressure on myself. I was still doing amateur and junior events and the ‘QS was just the fun stuff. But yeah, now that I've made it I'm really stoked. This is what I want to do. I feel like I'm ready for it now.
"I don't feel any pressure. I'll only be 16 next year so regardless of what happens it's only gonna make me better. Surfing great waves and learning from all the girls on Tour will help me improve my surfing and take it to the next level no matter what. And that's really my main goal right now."
27 years old
New Plymouth, New Zealand
"It was tough getting knocked off the ‘CT [in 2014] after six consecutive years on Tour, but I stayed pretty positive. It wasn't too disheartening until the second year in a row when I came so close but didn't quite requalify. But I think during those two years I almost tried too hard. Fortunately, the third time was the charm. The moment I found out I requalified I burst into tears.
"I think I'm already approaching the Tour differently. I’m more professional, mature and stronger these days. I definitely have set goals now and I'm not there just to make up numbers. I know I'll be the underdog in a lot of heats but I like it that way, it adds fuel to my fire and makes every heat win that much sweeter. Women's surfing has got ridiculously good over the last few years and I can't wait to be in the water with the best of them. Oh, and I can't wait to surf J-Bay and Slater's pool."
[Griffin Colapinto, ready for the new ‘CT season. Photo by Miller]