THE ONLY TITLE RACE OF '08: Women's Tour Heads to Sydney

Whether you’re an avid fan of the Women’s WCT, or simply tired of the inevitability of Slater’s domination on the men’s tour, there's plenty of reason to follow the race for the world title over on the women's side. As much as much as everyone is deliriously overjoyed at the crowning of the nine-time world champion, there is no title race on the Men’s World Tour this year. The Women’s World Tour is the only place that you'll find a nail-biting, neck-and-neck race—one where the top tour horses are chomping at the bit for a win (not discouragingly skipping out on contests), one where every result counts, and one where the championship is still completely up for grabs.

Although Steph Gilmore currently leads the pack with a 12-point lead over Sofia Mulanovich, when you take into account the dropping of the lowest result (which happens at the end of the season), as of now, Sofia is leading by just over 200 points. The margin between them is merely one place at one event. The rest of the pack is not too far behind, and unless one of the top surfers has a few extremely bad runs, it's looking to be a title race that will extend all the way to the final event at Honolua in December. Considering the consistency with which the girls are surfing this year, the four remaining women's tour stops should be the most hotly contested ASP events this season.

The next event, Stop No. 5, kicks off next week at the Northern Beaches in Sydney, Australia. The Beachley Classic offers a $100,000 prize purse, plus 20% higher ratings points, making it the most bankable stop on tour. A good result here is crucial for the title contenders as well as those hoping to re-qualify for the tour in 2009. Amidst the metropolis that is Sydney, this event is the most spectator-laden stops, with tens of thousands of fans heading to the beach each day to watch the action. With so much at stake, the event will likely culminate as the pivotal point in this year's tour. Log on to or for the latest on the action.

There are plenty of prizes to be won on Women's Fantasy Surfer, including the Grand Prize of a $1000 wardrobe from Billabong (as well as a Billabong hoodie for the person with the top team in the Billabong Skybox at every event). Plus, the winner of each event in the PacSun Skybox will receive a $50 gift certificate, and in the Roxy Skybox, the highest-rated team will be rewarded with a Roxy wetsuit and four runner-ups will receive Roxy hoodies. Log on to to pick your team while the trading is still open! Here are a few things to keep in mind when picking your team:

The Obvious Choice

Eighty-three percent of Fantasy Surfer players own Steph Gilmore—that's more than any other WCT surfer, including Kelly Slater. The current world champ has won two of the four events of the season, and coming off a semifinal finish in Brazil, she's on fire and hungry for a second championship. At home back in Oz, there's a good chance this will be the event that will extend her current 12-point lead over Sofia Mulanovich.

Hometown Advantage?

When the contest is organized by one of the competitors—named after her and occurring in her own backyard, no less—one may question whether she has an unfair advantage. But given that she has yet to win the event, it's clear that the judges are paying no mind to politics. That's not to say that this year's not the year she'll take it. The seven-time world champion is surfing exceptionally well this season, and a good result here could catapult her out of third place and into the leading position going into the Peru and Hawaii events.

The Dark Horse

The winner of the Billabong Rio event, Melanie Bartels, is currently sitting in the 6th position in the rankings, but missed the Bells event. If you drop that score, she jumps to 4th in the ratings, and within striking distance of the title if she continues in the winning trend. The rest of the Top 17 speak highly of the powerful Hawaiian's ability, and if she can continue to manifest that ability in heats, she'll definitely be one to look out for.

The Underdog, aka The Other Local

As a rookie on the tour and still yet to procure a standout performance this year, Nicola Atherton may not be one who jumps out at you when choosing your team. But, as a local to the Sydney area who was bred on the punchy beachbreak surf, there's a good chance she could really excel at this event. She'd be a good, inexpensive pick to round out the bottom of your team.