It may take a few years to settle in but the 2024 Championship Tour will go down as a turning point in professional surfing. It’s a year in which new names will take over professional surfing’s ambassador flag. The sport is getting its second go-round in the Olympics and this time it’s boosted by a controversy that has made not-so-flattering global headlines. A majority of those Olympic athletes, of course, will be CT competitors, likely all injecting a boost of intrigue into Dream Tour comp windows.
Oh, and then there’s the fact that Carissa Moore and Stephanie Gilmore won’t be competing for world titles. Only Tyler Wright and (last year) Caroline Marks can claim titles since Gilmore and Moore started collecting them back in 2007. Yes, for more than 15 years the women’s tour has been dominated by two women and now the rest of the field has its time to shine. Now the younger stars on tour have no choice but to steal the spotlight.
Speaking of moving on, the men’s tour (mostly fans of the men’s tour) have looked past the fact that Kelly Slater will be moving on one day too. Father Time is undefeated, after all, and Kelly isn’t just over a decade removed from his last world title, he’s years past being a consistent threat. Slater’s finished one season inside the Top 10 since he broke his foot at J-Bay in 2017 and had it not been for a historic win at Pipe in 2022 he would have missed consecutive mid-season cuts. I asked a handful of The Inertia staff editors to predict Kelly’s mid-season cut fate this year and the unanimous expectation is that if Kelly doesn’t choose to step away, the League will have to consider whether to give him another wildcard come May. No matter what happens, this is a year to soak it all up and enjoy watching Slater while we still can as well as Moore’s appearances at Pipe and the Summer Games.
With that in mind, here are a handful of other thoughts (and predictions) from some of The Inertia staff editors as we kick off a new season on tour:
Men’s Top 5 Prediction (by staff votes)
Women’s Top 5 Predictions
Rookie(s) of the Year
“Cole(Housmand’s) coming into the season with a lot of buzz behind him, and with good reason. He had back-to-back wins at Sydney and Ballito during a rip-roaring Challenger Series season. Also, he’s the next wave of the San Clemente storm, so that’s gotta count for something. My hot take is he’s gonna break the top 5 in his rookie year.” ~ Associate Editor, Cooper Gegan
“I think Eli Hanneman’s got a lot of momentum from last year and he gets to surf his first two contests as a member of the CT roster at home in Hawaii. He may be from Maui but he’s spent so much time on the North Shore and has surfed so many heats there that he’s being given an opportunity to start his tour career with a hometown crowd supporting him and at two familiar waves. I’m not declaring he’ll throw up massive results right out the gate but he’s such a creative, well-rounded surfer I think he finds his groove against the CT field better than anybody else this year.” ~Social Editor, Juan Hernandez
“I’m just going all in on the San Clemente crew. That US Open win really cemented Sawyer Lindblad as a threat. The women’s roster is pretty stacked, though, so it’s hard to say how she’ll fare overall. Either way, she’s on the way up.” ~ Associate Editor, Cooper Gegan
Pick a cut line casualty or a cut-line champion that’ll surprise people this year, a la João Chianca going down to the CS in ’22 and skyrocketing to the Top 5 in ’23.
“Would this be a hot take? It doesn’t feel like it but he has flown a bit under the radar. Kolohe Andino has more of his story to write. Yeah, he has kids now, but he’s still just 29 and his surfing is as relevant as ever. He’ll be on the Challenger Series in ’24 but he quietly had a really good Qualifying Series Run in 2023: he took third at both Morro Bay and the Cold Water Classic, was runner up at the Outer Banks and won Virginia Beach. Just from watching him on social media and different, quick interviews, he seems more relaxed and sure of himself. I feel like he re-qualifies this year and to me, that would be a huge win. This guy is still a fantastic surfer.” ~Senior Managing Editor, Joe Carberry
“Technically not a casualty of the cut line last year but I think Kanoa has a major bounce-back year. He was really close to being cut last season and he’s told us much of that was a result of changing his entire approach, experimenting with things in ’23. He had his eye on a gold medal a year before it was in play and this being an Olympic year, I just think he comes out guns blazing. And that will spill over into the CT.” ~Social Editor, Juan Hernandez
“Kelly Slater will miss the cut again, but it won’t matter because it appears that he doesn’t care much about his results at the end of the year anymore and he’ll just pick and choose which events he wants to compete in. Those will be events that don’t have shitty waves.” ~Senior Editor, Alex Haro
Who benefits most (competitively) from Carissa’s an Steph’s absence this year?
“I think all the young girls coming up benefit enormously from this — Carissa and Steph are intimidating to surf against with their respective lists of titles. (We) could see a lot more of the younger ladies making it through heats and into finals day results with them out.” ~ Gear Editor, Will Sileo
“Caroline Marks. I know Caity Simmers will benefit as well, but Caroline has made it to the top of the mountain, and like any sport, once you figure that out that trail, it’s easier to keep climbing it. As an athlete, you just know what works within your system to get you there. Caroline could go on a run here without Steph and Carissa in the mix.” ~Senior Managing Editor, Joe Carberry
“Lakey Peterson. Her surfing is always championship worthy, but she struggles against Carissa and Steph. With them gone, her path is a little less rocky.” ~Sr. Editor, Alex Haro