While some years are in fact different than others, our typical reaction toward the annual crop of new qualifiers on the world tour is kinda like our reaction after opening grandma's gift in front of her at Christmas. Aw, Ricardo Christie? Thaaaanks Grandmaaaa… Now don't get me wrong, Wiggolly Dantases and Italo Ferreiras and tube socks and neck ties are useful and all (and we take nothing away from these guys, they rip)…but how 'bout something we've been really wanting? The following six grinders are who we're hoping to see under our 'CT Christmas tree at the end of the season. So get with the program, Nana!
Why him? Because Central America needs its first. Because his inverted backside rotators. Because his spontaneity and Latin flair. Because the tour's too white. Because pura vida.
He’d shine here – Brazil
He’d struggle there – Margaret's. Bells.
From the horse's mouth… "I've been dreaming of qualifying since I started competing. Really, I wanna be the one to open the doors for kids in Latin America, to set a good example for them and my country. One of the main things I'll be doing differently this year is getting to the Primes and other comps at least one week early to train and figure out the wave. I think that's really important. That, and improving my physical shape, probably by surfing as much as I can [laughs]."
Why him? Because absolutely no one on tour, let alone Earth, approaches a wave like Mason Ho does. Because cross-step floaters. Because head-checks. Because post-heat interviews — entertaining ones! Because nobody would be having more fun on tour than Mason.
He’d shine here – Pipe. Teahupo'o.
He’d struggle there – Heat strategy. Bells.
From the horse's mouth… "Qualifying is my main goal and I feel like this year should be my best year since I've been trying for so long [laughs]. Each year my results have been pretty similar, but I've actually found that when I take things too seriously, and turn down some freesurf side-trips, I feel imbalanced. You gotta stay happy, too, you know? So, pretty much, I'm gonna push the 'QS hard again while surfing as many different kinds of waves as possible to train for it too."
Why him? Because his Rincon-groomed form. Because half the guys on the 'CT can't turn like Conner can. Because Highline. Because he'd be the most talented new American on tour since Kolohe.
He’d shine here – J-Bay. Snapper. Bells.
He’d struggle there – Brazil. Margaret's.
From the horse's mouth… "I think last year I had this weird post-almost-made-it hangover from the year before where I came really close. I think I need to stop looking ahead of myself, whether that's the next contest, or the next mag trip, or next freesurf, and put 100% of my effort into qualifying. Just being more prepared and having more of a strategy going into each event helps a lot. It only takes two big results to put you in a really good position — you saw Dusty [Payne] this year. If you can capitalize on two, then you can be right there."
Why him? Because it's high time this young Floridian proves he's worth the hype. Because the East Coast needs a new face on tour. Because he charges just as hard as he flares. Because his frontside finner and boned-out slob-reverse. Because we'd rather see him shredding the webcast than in a country music video.
He’d shine here – Teahupo'o. Lowers. Brazil.
He’d struggle there – Margaret's. Snapper. Bells
From the horse's mouth… "After a shocker last year, I'm trying to set goals for myself. By the last three to four Primes, I'd like be in that top 50-60 zone so that I can make a final big push with those remaining events. Pretty much get myself into that position to qualify. I need to find that consistency, because that's exactly what the top guys have. That, and focus more on my actual surfing and continuing to improve on it."
Why him? Because that psychotic, competitive focus. Because the tour needs a new Sunny. Because he came so close in 2013. Because water displacement. Because the tour needs some Hawaiian blood.
He’d shine here – J-Bay. Pipe.
He’d struggle there – Brazil. Portugal.
From the horse's mouth… "This year I'm gonna try and do as many events as I can so I can build some momentum and rhythm by midway through the year and I can finish off strong in Hawaii. It's clear that the busier you stay, the better your chance for results, even if that means throwing lower star events into the mix."
Why him? Because he'd rush when Fiji and Tahiti get big. Because he will go for it. Because his tweaked backside rotators. Because it's about f–king time.
He’d shine here – France. Teahupo'o. Portugal.
He’d struggle there – Bells. Snapper.
From the horse's mouth… "I'm pretty devoted this year and I don't know if 'taking it more seriously' is the phrase, but I probably need to work on more heat drills and go on less freesurfing trips. Maybe focus more on what the judges wanna see and less taking off and going for the biggest maneuver I can. I still get a kick out of that though, so I'm gonna have to fit that in there somewhere. I don't wanna lose my edge or the thing everyone likes me for."