What makes a good wave? We’re pretty sure this mutant doesn’t qualify under any of the possible criteria. Photo: Ed Sloane

Anyone following the 2016 CT learned two things:

1. Davey Cathels was there.
2. The waves were pretty much shit.

True, there were fun days here and there. Some tunnels, some walls, the odd ramp. But overall only one of the CT venues lived up to its potential. Other than that it was all kinda… whatever.

However this wave famine didn’t extend to all of surfing’s competitive functions. In fact, it's safe to say that non-"Dream Tour" venues produced significantly better waves than the CT did during contest waiting periods. To demonstrate this idea, we've compiled a list of the top five surfing events of 2016. So in no particular order, and without further valediction…

The Eddie

Healey knows a thing or two about the Hawaiian safety stance — for good reason. Photo: Brent Bielmann

As one of the first contests in 2016, the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau was an absolute banger. Clyde Aikau, brother to Eddie and (by far) the oldest competitor in the event, called it the best Waimea in 30 years. The day was filled with rogue sets, beached jetskis, incredible tumbles, and downright fearless waveriding. Slater of course found a barrel, but it was John Florence who held the crown at day's end. The Hawaiian not only became the youngest ever Eddie champion, but this victory spring-boarded him into the most successful competitive year of his life (see: world title, triple crown victory, multiple CT winner). Relive it here.

Lance's Right QS 1,000

Imagine surfing this wave… now imagine surfing it with one other guy out. Photo: WSL

Who said the "Dream Tour" is exclusive to the top 34? As it turns out, there's another WSL super series called the "1,000s". In this series, QS benchwarmers duel it out for a pair of 2006 bottle-opener Reefs and a sixer of PBR. So yeah, the pay is shit and the points are negligible, but goddamn if the waves don't make up for it. The venues include Rangiroa (Tahiti), Keramas (Bali), Ala Moana (Oahu), Cloud Nine (Philippines), and the crown jewel Lance's Right (Mentawais). This year Lance's went haywire, producing 4-6 foot crystalline cocoons from takeoff to channel. Surfers from all over the world reveled in the dream-like conditions, but it was young Aussie Chris Zaffis whose barrel-to-turn combos sealed the deal in a high-scoring final. Relive it here.

Fiji Pro

Fiji Pro
Not a bad place to drop anchor. Photo: Jimmicane

I did say that one CT lived up to its potential! And sure, Cloudy was slow in the early days, but the backend of the waiting period lit up like Slater's dome under the midday sun. Round 3 through the final were held in big, bluebird conditions, with just about every competitor stuffing himself deep inside the East Pacific subway system. The highlight of the event was Taj's send-off heat against JJF, where both surfers traded off a handful of 8s and 9s in what will likely be remembered as Taj’s best heat on Tour. Not a bad way to go out, hey TB? Relive it here.

Padang Cup

The best roll-in the world has to offer. Lee Wilson soaks it all in. Photo: Ted Grambeau

Every year, Ripcurl designates the month of August to hold a contest at one of the world’s most spiritual and mesmerizing waves – Padang Padang. Located on Bali's Bukit Peninsula, this contest is no short trip for American surfers. But that didn't stop Damien Hobgood, Mason Ho, and Clay Marzo, three of our country's best tuberiders, from dropping everything and heading westward to score a day of emerald perfection. They finished 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in the event, but spending the day in Padang’s tube temple is more meaningful than any trophy or prize purse. This specialty event is something we look forward to every year, and 2016 did not disappoint. Relive it here.

Red Bull Cape Fear

Hippo looks right at home in these murky waters. Photo: Ed Sloane

Ok, so I claimed these contests were in no particular order, but this might have been the best surf contest of all time — at least entertainment-wise. The RBCF was like a live-recorded horror show, where you didn't know if the protagonists had survived or perished or disappeared all together. Cape Fear aka Cape Solander aka "Ours" is a terrifying wave by all accounts, what with the tube, the reef, the backwash, giant rock 10 feet away etc., but this swell was otherworldly. 10-15 foot chocolate covered monsters lurched and heaved towards a heavily warped trough. If the bumps and boils weren’t enough to knock the riders off, there was also the chest-high backwash coming up the face, along with an avalanche of spit which made most tunnels wholly inescapable. That everyone survived is a miracle. That a teenager won is incredible. That I lost a few fingernails watching it is understandable. Relive it here.