Seven of the 15 athletes who qualified for the WSL’s 2024 Championship Tour via its 2023 Challenger Series will be rookies when the Billabong Pro Pipeline kicks off in late January. The League confirmed its 2024 rosters have been set Wednesday following the final stop of the 2023 Challenger Series in Brazil, which saw Samuel Pupo and Erin Brooks celebrate wins along with a slew of those qualifications being locked in.
The wave of rookies is worth keeping an eye on as next season develops — something WSL Chief of Sport, Jessi Miley-Dyer alluded to.
“Last season, Caitlin Simmers made the Final 5, showing us what rookies are capable of. We’re excited to see the potential of this year’s rookie class and how they will rise to the occasion of competing against the best in the world,” she said.
Simmers isn’t the only rookie to end up in the top five throughout the short history of the WSL Finals, the mid-season cut, and the elevation of the Challenger Series as a main pipeline for CT qualification. In fact, in those three years, several athletes appearing in the Rip Curl WSL Finals were either rookies or CT vets who had fallen off the tour the previous year.
Molly Picklum, another women’s finalist in 2023, was a rookie in 2022 who missed the midseason cut that year, re-qualified, then went on to win an event in her return to the CT. Morgan Cibilic was a rookie in 2021 when he finished as the world number five and appeared in the inaugural Rip Curl WSL Finals. Cibilic missed the cut the following year and has been competing full-time on the Challenger series ever since, coming up just over 4,000 points shy of qualification this year. João Chianca was a victim of the 2022 mid-season cut as a rookie who re-qualified that same year and returned to the CT owning the yellow jersey for a portion of the season and competing at Trestles in September.
So, to add to Miley-Dyer’s point, we may start to see a trend emerging of athletes on this list each year parlaying their hot streaks into immediate world title contention:
Top 10 Qualifiers from the 2023 Challenger Series Rankings
Cole Houshmand (USA)
Samuel Pupo (BRA)
Jacob Willcox (AUS)
Crosby Colapinto (USA)
Eli Hanneman (HAW)
Imaikalani deVault (HAW)
Frederico Morais (POR)
Jake Marshall (USA)
Kade Matson (USA)
Deivid Silva (BRA)
Top 5 Qualifiers from 2023 Challenger Series Rankings
India Robinson (AUS)
Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS)
Sawyer Lindblad (USA)
Alyssa Spencer (USA)
Isabella Nichols (AUS)
The other CT competitors on next year’s tour(s) are comprised of the 22 men and 10 women who finished above the mid-season cut line and four season wildcards (two men and two women) awarded by the WSL in 2023. Headlining that group was Kelly Slater, who missed the cut in 2022. What’s still uncertain, though, is whether or not Slater is on track to return by late January. The 11-time world champ told The Inertia’s Alex Haro he’d be undergoing three months of rehab just to get back in the water following hip surgery in September. That would put him back in the water in December, but Slater didn’t mention a timetable for being in Championship Tour shape.
“I’ll throw everything I can at it to get back by winter. Rest first then PT and any dietary stuff I can do; lots of deep tissue massage once the labrum is settled and attached. Obviously if there are any protocols from PRP to stem cells I can do, I’ll look into that,” he said, adding that “the foot was possibly worse and kept me out longer overall. But I also didn’t give that enough attention and time and still have issues with it.”