It’s that time of year again, when a new batch of rookies graduate to the big leagues.
Amongst the six first time qualifiers there’s real diversity. Some have been grinding for years, finally taking their place after several seasons of just missing the cut, while others are rising stars looking to make their mark.
Some are aerial specialists, while others are known for their power hacks and competitive tenacity. The spread represents that which currently exists on tour- a mixture of seasoned vets; experts at hitting all elements of the judging criteria and putting together complete rides and those who regularly throw caution to the wind and, as a result, can bag a nine with a single manoeuvre if everything goes right.
The national split is also indicative of a continuing trend in competitive surfing, with one Aussie, one American and four Brazilians. I can’t even remember which wave of the Brazilian storm we’re onto now, but the nations momentum certainly looks set to continue for the foreseeable.
Without further ado let’s meet the rookies:
Nineteen year old Griffin Colapinto has been the stand out breakthrough story in this years qualification race. Hailing from San Clemente, Colapinto has been moulded by the swathes of surfing talent that he’s grown up surfing with. There’s shades of long time buddy Kolohe Andino and even a smattering of hay-day Dane. His airs are ridiculous and his turns flawless in their execution, without ever appearing dull or over-coached.
While it’s tricky to get proficient in big barrels growing up in SC, long time sponsor Billabong have afforded Griffin several seasons out in Hawaii, where he’s fine tuned his barrel riding at Pipe. His real test in this department is due to take place in a few days time, where one would expect he’ll get a wildcard and face off against the world’s best at the Pipe Masters.
Yago Dora has been drawing praise for his performances, both in and out of the contest vest for several years now. He’s a celebrated free surfer, dropping a string of top quality clips over the last 12 months, as well as shaking up QS comps with his flowing and explosive approach. While he’s been long heralded for his style, some were unsure if Yago had the consistency to make the tour, but after a few years of continually learning and developing there’s no doubt he deserves his spot.
While his progressive surfing, particularly above the lip, is the stand out piece of his arsenal, he’s also an excellent tube rider, possessing the same ability to read and adapt at lightning speed that has afforded fellow goofy footed countryman Gabriel Medina so much success in the tour’s numerous barrelling waves over the years. It is for these reasons that Yago is our pick for rookie of the year, and we’d not be at all surprised if he finished comfortably in the top 10.
Tomas Hermes has been grinding on the QS for 10 years, coming within a hair’s breadth of qualifying twice before. However the 30 year old appeared to step up his game this year, landing a string of big finishes including a second place at Huntington and a third place at home. Although his air game admittedly isn’t that of Dora, Colapinto or Mendes, he’s shit hot in small waves and his years of QS experience could prove to be his trump card.
A quick look at the success (or otherwise) of last year’s rookie class suggests that years of competitive experience in the primes could serve you better than raw talent surf media fan-fare. Morais and Duru, for example, with their combined 12 years experience on the QS, sit considerably higher on the rankings than hotly tipped fellow rookies Fiorvanti and Ewing, both of who’m are in danger of falling off tour.
How Hermes surfs in big barrels remains to be seen, but he’s definitely one to watch at the venues known for their ‘challenging’ conditions.
Jesse Mendes only just missed the cut for qualification last year, consigning himself to another year of QS grinding. However, far from appearing down-trodden by his near success, Mendes emerged hungrier than ever, achieving three podium finishes, including victory at two QS 6,000’s, before the mid-year point, securing his place on tour by the time July rolled around.
Mendes surfs fast and loose, with whip in his turns and mastery above the lip, and we think he could well end up in that top contingent defining the judging criteria and helping push the level of progressive surfing on tour even higher. He’s got a crazy backside full rotation and forehand layback on lock and like Yago, he’ll undoubtedly be one of those surfers who can throw down a huge aerial manoeuvre whenever he needs it, making him a force to be reckoned with in playful surf.
Wade Carmichael hails from Avoca Beach in NSW, and is part of the small boardriders club there which produced the likes of Matt Wilko and Ace Buchan. He was crowned Australian junior champ in 2012 and transitioned onto the QS from there. Carmichael’s is another tale of hard graft, competing on the QS for 5 years where he often had to get to events off his own back, while holding down a job as a lifeguard.
Wade’s searing rail game is his main weapon, and his inclusion next year is bound to go down well with lovers of old-school power surfing lamenting the arrival of all these new school ‘trick kids’. He’s also no slouch in the barrel and can pop an air when he needs to.
If you though Hermes’ 10 years on the QS was impressive, behold, Cardoso, who’s been plugging away for 12, like Carmichael relying on self-funding to make it to some events, including all of this years. He was understandably emotional when his dream finally came true last month at Haleiwa. “It’s not been easy, I’ve been in this moment before, been here, needed a result and it never came,” he told the WSL “After all these years working hard, everyone helped me. Super stoked to qualify next year.”
The 31 year old Brazilian power-house surfs like his stocky stature suggests; clean, powerful and with buckets of water radiating from his thoroughly buried rails. He can grovel when he needs to (12 years spent in predominantly two foot onshore waves will equip you with that) and draw big and beautiful lines on clean open faces when the waves are up. Whether he’ll have the flare to keep up with the young guns remains to be seen, but like Carmichael his presence will undoubtedly please the purists.