Whom and what to pay special attention to this year? Will Gabriel Medina take the third title from John John? Will Europeans enter the top ten? And what will Kelly Slater do? Here are my predictions.

The next World Surf Tour begins on March 11th. The best surfers in the world will compete again for the world title. Traditionally, they will start from Australia and the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast competition. Before they move to the surfers’ paradise I will make some small predictions and indicate what and who to pay attention to in the coming season.

1. A perfect wave away from the ocean

This year World Surf League, which is the co-owner of the Kelly Slater Wave Company, has for the very first time included the artificial wave event in the World Tour calendar. The event organized at the Slater ranch in Lemoore, California will have a breakthrough character. The surfing world doesn’t hide enthusiasm.

Ronnie Blakey, one of the WSL commentators, characterises the essence of the September competition: “All the pressure will be solely on the shoulders of the competitor. Conditions won’t play a part and there will be no excuses. It’s all on you. You’ve seen what your competitor has done and you have to out-surf it. There’s no priority or luck involved so it will come down to pure performance.”

Unified conditions for all surfers and a completely controllable wave means that the competition at Lemoore will have a strictly performance character. This means a lot of spectacular manoeuvres. If it works (a dedicated judging system, a way to make the event available to the public, the technology) professional surfing will enter new tracks.

From my perspective, a man who lives away from the natural waves, it is absolutely crucial. For people like me, so-called wave pools will in the future often be the only way to catch a few waves without a long trip to the ocean. The success of such places (also as arenas for conducting competitions) can contribute to their popularisation around the world.

2. Man vs. machine

Cool, positive guy from Hawaii – John John Florence vs. the surfing killer machine from Brazil – Gabriel Medina. Although gentlemen are generally nice to each other, the tension between them is, in my opinion, enormous. Last year’s Medina rally to the title ended only at the finish (last competition in Hawaii), and the Brazilian proved that he can never be underestimated when talking about the title fight. And although John John triumphed for the second year in a row, I think that it won’t be that easy in 2018.

Both started the year strongly. John tested boards in Australia, from where he threw a somewhat provocative post.

Gabriel on the other hand is working hard at the gym.

I think it will be a year of intense competition between them. John is no longer under such pressure as last year, which can be beneficial for him and translate into even better results. Gabriel, on the other hand, is hungry for the title and won’t let go. No one is so dangerous as him under pressure.

Gabriel Medina, photo: Damien Poullenot / World Surf League

John John Florence, photo: Damien Poullenot / World Surf League

Will anyone join this race? After last year I would like it to be Jordy Smith. I was very convinced by this surfer in 2017 and it would be a big variation for competition, so that the man from South Africa would join the fight again. Experts also point to another Brazilian as a candidate for the title this year – Felipe Toledo. I agree that as one of the few, he has the potential to compete with John and Gabriel shoulder to shoulder. In some areas it surpasses them in spite of its filigree posture.

3. Slater – more of a surfing visionary 

It’s hard to imagine a World Tour without Kelly Slater. I don’t think, however, that this year will be his last when it comes to competing. And although he won’t, in my opinion, will another title, he surely will surf like hell. At the same time, I have the impression that Kelly is making a gradual, natural for his age, switch from a competitor to a surfing visionary businessman. The success of his ventures (Kelly Slater Wave Company, Outerknown, Slater Design) only confirms this path.

Kelly Slater, photo: Steve Sherman / World Surf League

4. Europe is getting stronger

As a man from the old continent, I strongly support European surfers in the world title race. There are not many of them, the more I am happy when they can win something (like Jeremy Flores winning the Billbong Pipe Masters in 2017).

I will keep a close eye on at least two of Europes in 2018: Frederico Morais from Portugal and Leonardo Fioravanti from Italy. The 2017 season ended respectively in the 14th and 26th place, but Morais is just getting started, and young Fioravanti gains Championship Tour experience. The most important thing is that Europeans are beginning to be visible. I hope that this year will be an even better year for European surfing.

Leonardo Fioravanti, photo: Damien Poullenot / World Surf League

Frederico Morais, photo: Damien Poullenot / World Surf League

5. More surfing

The last thing I would like to mention here are the activities of the World Surf League, which consistently go in two directions. The first is the constant enlargement of the audience (stronger partnership with Facebook, new ideas for content). Surfing under the WSL sign will be more visible this year.

The second is intensive work on monetising the business. And although in 2018 all broadcasts will still be free, personal changes in the organisation itself clearly show what the direction is. For example, the new CEO Sophie Goldschmidt has many years of experience – quoting her professional summary – in “globalising professional sport” from organisations such as the NBA (where she was vice president of marketing partnerships and business development and managing director for EMEA and Women’s Tennis Association, where she brokered the signing of a $ 88 million sponsorship contract with Ericsson).

Of course, the steps WSL takes trigger a wave of negative comments. The most interesting for me is the observation of how this organisation changes (into the direction of a professional sports league) and how is actively preparing for the growing popularity of surfing around the world.

Thanks for reading. Now go surf!