After a six-month wait, the 2023 Championship Tour season kicks off with the Billabong Pro Pipeline on January 29. With a slew of world champions, a handful of title-adjacent Gen Z surf stars and a sprinkling of teenage prodigies, the 2023 roster has a genuine claim to be one of the finest in recent history. You want evidence? Read on….
World Champions Unite
Five men’s world champions will start the race at Pipeline. It could be argued that Filipe, Italo, Gabriel, and John John, all between the ages of 27 and 30, are at the peak of their physical and competitive powers. Medina should come in recharged after having his first competitive break in a decade. Florence too is rested, injury-free, and aiming to complete a season for the first time since 2017.
Toledo, surprisingly the youngest at just 27, will be even more dangerous for having shaken the world title monkey off his back last year. Italo, the most consistent performer since 2019, is desperate to add to both his world title tally and his eight pack.
To that gilded quartet, we can add a certain Kelly Slater, who has a 12th world title and Olympic qualification as an incentive to finally do the mother of all mic drops. Now five world champs have contested a title before (there were six in 2017: De Souza, Florence, Medina, Fanning, Parko, and Slater) though none with a collective tally as high as 18 world titles, or with the majority surfing at their zenith. This strength is unprecedented.
The women’s race has a similar top-heavy vibe. Carissa Moore, Stephanie Gilmore, and Tyler Wright bring 15 world titles to Pipe and Backdoor. It’s a remarkable stat that the last time one of these three surfers didn’t claim the title was in 2006. Riss, still smoldering from last year’s WSL Finals defeat, is surfing as good as at any point in her career.
At Trestles, Gilmore’s eighth world title cemented her place in surfing history. It also proved she still has the fire to compete. With absolutely nothing to prove in 2023, she could be even more dangerous. Wright enters 2023 more mentally and physically fit than at any stage since her last title in 2017. Their dominance can’t last forever, but you wouldn’t bet against one of the trio winning again this year.
What Lies Beneath
If the pointy end of the CT rankings is as sharp as a tiger’s tooth, it is those pushing for a first world title that adds light and heat to the roster. Jack Robinson and Ethan Ewing came closest last year, and both can be expected to improve in 2023. Ewing seemed to be finally operating near his upper register. Lurking behind with real intent is Griffin Colapinto and Kanoa Igarashi. All those surfers are aged 24 or 25, the sweet spot when youthful talent intersects with competitive experience. They’ll all be pushing the champs, all the way.
Breaking the 15-year Gilmore/Moore/Wright hegemony is a more difficult task for the women. Yet the quartet of Lakey Peterson, Johanne Defay, Caroline Marks, and Tatiana Weston-Webb have all come incredibly close in the past. It might be argued there is a talent gap between them and Moore and Gilmore. Yet that gap could be bridged through sheer commitment and competitive desire. If the veterans do lose focus or succumb to injury, I can’t think of a group in recent years who are more ready to pounce.
Back Of The Grid
In the Women’s especially, it is the rise of a whole clutch of a new generation of surf stars that makes this year’s roster incredibly strong. Caitlin Simmers is only 17, but having deferred her rookie year, arrives as a bona fide world title contender. It’s a big call given her inexperience, but the progressive natural footer is a once-in-a-generation talent.
Hawaiian prodigy Betty-Lou Sakura Johnson is the same age as Simmers, but with a year of CT surfing under her belt and Pipe and Sunset as the first events, she will be a far more dangerous competitor. Finally, Molly Picklum, recent winner of the Vans Pipe Masters, is regarded as the best young Aussie talent since Tyler Wright. She has the all-around technique to go toe-to-toe with the best.
The men’s ranks are less studded with teen prodigies. On the flip side, relatively unknown rookies like Max Huscenot and Ramzi Boukhaim enter the CT battle scarred by a decade of QS experience. However, with surfers the caliber of Ryan Callinan, Zeke Lau, Leo Fioravanti, and Joao Chianca all revving their engines at the back of the grid, it illustrates the depth of the 2023 roster.
Whether it’s the best in the last decade, or potentially ever, is up for discussion. You tell us.