Is the Championship Tour Class of 2023 the Best Ever?

Caity Simmers highlighted a gifted rookie class with two tour wins. Definitely a highlight from a weird year. Photo: Damien Poullenot//World Surf League

The Inertia

In 2023, the best surfers in the world struggled to get results. The GOAT slowly, but surely, faded from competitive prowess. Half of the women’s CT Olympic qualification quota was decided without any surfing. We discovered (or confirmed) that the best surfer in the world is fearful of big waves. And a CEO was mysteriously dismissed. Not to mention the Tour was bitten by the bad-wave bug during events.

Professional surfing is no stranger to dramatic, outrageous, and harrowing moments, but when I look back on 2023, it just seemed to be a unique concoction of odd factors unlike years in recent memory.

As talented as the Final Five men in the 2023 WSL Championship were, I can’t help but shake the hunch that the season felt a bit like a fluke. How can you have a compelling final five without Gabriel Medina, John John Florence, or Italo Ferreira?

All the male surfers in the Final outside of Filipe Toledo were 25 years or younger. On one hand, that’s exciting for surfing. One might suggest that it signals a changing of the guard, a new crop of talent ready to wipe the established stars aside.

But I don’t look at that list and feel like most of those surfers are currently better than the aforementioned three bonafide stars.

Florence finished eighth. Medina finished sixth thanks to a late season surge. Even surfers like Kanoa Igarashi (14th) and Jordy Smith (16th) fell much further than their talent suggests.

Italo Ferreira, who slid all the way down to 13th (to be fair he missed Tahiti due to injury), only made one final all year. The first Olympic gold medalist won’t get a chance to defend his title at Paris 2024.

Then there were the withering Americans, Kolohe Andino, and Kelly Slater.

Kolohe silently slipped off tour at the mid-year cut without ever winning a CT event. Slater, who for years looked like he might have something left in the tank if he could overcome injuries, finally looked like his retirement is truly upon us (especially given the revelation of his recent hip surgery). He never finished higher than ninth all year and was kept on tour post mid-year cut thanks to a wildcard.

Is this the new status quo of professional surfing? Or was this season’s result a fluke due to abnormally bad waves at several stops? Should we blame the mid-year cut? Was the judging criteria too inconsistent, as Medina and other Brazilians brazenly asserted after the Surf Ranch?


The best surfers didn’t perform their best, for whatever reason. Maybe it can be chalked up to the unpredictable nature of professional surfing.

I can’t say the same about the women’s side of things. The best surfers generally prevailed – a mix of CT veterans and up-and-coming stars. The sport undoubtedly progressed and the women proved they more than deserve stops at Pipe and Tahiti. But aside from the top performances, the lack of country diversity created its own bizarre scenario with the Olympic qualification.

The women’s CT is so top-loaded with Americans and Australians that four surfers “earned” their Olympic slots by default before the season even began (Johanne Defay, Teresa Bonvalot, Tatiana Weston-Webb, and Brisa Hennessy).

It feels a bit off to look at the CT ranking, scroll to the very bottom, and find the qualified Olympian Bonvalot in last place. She only surfed three events as an injury replacement, yet she will be knifing into Teahupo’o pits at the Olympics next summer.

Then just weeks before Filipe Toledo’s title defense at Lowers, his father went on a podcast and admitted online rumors that his son is afraid of big waves. And not just any big waves, Teahupo’o in particular, where his son will carry the weight of a nation on his back at Paris 2024. No pressure. I am sure the Toledo’s PR agent wasn’t stoked.

This is all still without mentioning the clandestine removal of CEO Erik Logan. That is the low-hanging fruit that one could use to define this season, but for me, it was just the cherry on top of a season full of oddly unexpected twists and turns.

So what could make 2024 less… bizarre… and more entertaining? The mid-season cut is the easy scapegoat. I honestly don’t hate it as much as most and that didn’t have any effect on the underwhelming performances of many of the surfers that we thought were the best.

Perhaps the new CEO will bring order and stability and we can pin the outcome of the season on the previous administration?

Or are we clinging onto surfing’s past crop of talent instead of embracing the up-and-comers?

I don’t have the answers. Neither does anyone else. And I don’t see the need to place blame, at least for now. I just couldn’t help but call it how I saw it: A unique series of uniquely peculiar occurrences.


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