Otten in the WSL commentator's box for 2017? Where do we sign?
Everyone in the surfing world is now aware one of Australia’s favourite surfing sons, Kai Otten is hanging up the singlet and retiring from tour. Kai really ought to knock on a few WSL doors and get himself a WSL commentator’s gig. His humour, intelligence and his universal popularity make him a no-brainer to upgrade any of the current crew.
The WSL needs a freshen up in the box more than we need new shoes, and Kai is the guy to provide it in spades.
Fellow Aussies Adam Melling, Matt Banting, Ryan Callinan and Davey Cathels also failed to qualify for the big leagues in 2017 and find themselves toiling on the QS grind.
Surfing Life spoke with Melling who is raring to go next year starting with the QS-6000 events in back-to-back weeks in Newcastle and the Australian Open in Manly in late February next year.
Surfing Life’s fearless forecast would be; watch Mello to blow right the fuck up and requalify for the 2018 Tour by the Ballito Pro in South Africa in the first week of July. In fact, if he’s not re-qualified for the tour by July, everyone reading this will be entitled to a full refund.
As talked about here, Ryan Callinan surfs too damn good to be stuck on the QS for long, and barring injury, Surfing Life says he’s a lock to requalify for 2018. We’d hate to put the kiss of death on young Ryan, but stuff it! Ryan will win the 2017 QS series with more daylight than a desert, second.
Ok, enough about who’s out, let’s take a look at who’s on the WSL next year. It’s a big rookie field, the biggest in years in fact. And with rookies comes excitement and a healthy portion of unknown.
Surfing Life had quietly spoken among itself leading up to this year, and we were confident Callinan would win rookie of the year. Not only did he not win, he failed to even qualify. The big lights of the big show do strange things to rookies and sometimes force them into their shell.
Half Australian, half Japanese with the full Irish name. Everything about Connor is different, and Surfing Life loves that!
Aussies Connor O'Leary and Ethan Ewing will join Hawaiian man-child Zeke Lau and crafty Brazilian Ian Gouveia as tour rookies. Along with a decidedly European flavour with Frenchie Joan Duru, Italy’s Leonardo Fioravanti and Portugal’s second ever tour qualifier and Tiago Pires understudy, Frederico Morais.
What can we expect from the new Aussie kids, we hear you all ask?!
Well, lots of excitement for starters!
Connor O'Leary’s is built like a classic middleweight and his favourite surfer is Rob Machado. There’s more than a pinch of Machado in the way Connor surfs. A super stylish goofyfooter who hails from the waters of Cronulla and comes from good surfing stock – his mum was a former Japanese Champion. He’s got an ability to sniff out a tube where tube’s don’t even exist and when he’s free surfing, he can go as high as anyone.
One of his best friends, film maker Darcy Ward, who’s spent hundreds of hours watching Connor surf said this, “Everyone raves about his backhand but his forehand is much more explosive and futuristic. The Tour better look out when he’s in some lefts!”
His biggest hurdle will be not to suffer a similar fate as Ryan Callinan did in 2016. Ryan tightened up on tour, and all of the calm looseness he’s know for surfing with, suddenly made way for a more upright, rigid surfer. Which the judges hate. If Connor can think less about the judges and who he’s drawn with, and just focus on what’s directly in front of the nose on his favourite 5’8” Channel Island, he’ll survive comfortably.
It's a scene Ethan is already getting used to. Being chaired up the beach. Credit: WSL/Bennett
Our other hope is Ethan Ewing from North Stradbroke Island, and this kid is a throwback to a different generation. Mick Fanning called him the real deal here after sharing six hours of barrels on the day of the decade at a remote right hander in Queensland.
Maybe it was Ethan’s grounded upbringing on North Straddie, but the kid is fearless and watching him surf, you get the sense he is always the hunter, not the hunted no matter what the waves are doing.
The pressure won’t bother Ewing either. He exploded onto surfing’s main stage in front of a few hundred thousand sets of eyes at the US Vans Open last year where he came second only to the unbeatable – at least in 2-3’ crumbly beach breaks – Filipe Toledo.
While in the water Ewing was running a train through the US Open field, out of the water all the talk was how everyone was watching a young Andy Irons. His flawless and laid back style impossibly mixed with the aggressive way Ewing attacks a wave – any wave; had people having all kinds of Andy flashbacks.
That’s the supernova of surfing compliments right there and Surfing Life endorses every cubic metre of it!
The hardest thing for a young rookie to lockdown on their first year of tour is consistency. They all have the talent, or they wouldn’t be there. But consistently reproducing it, heat in, heat out is where most come unstuck – See Keanu Asing’s 2016 rookie year. One minute he’s beating Slater then he’s racking up 25th place finishes everywhere, then he’s winning France, then he’s back to dead last. Consistency!
Ewing’s strength is his consistency, as noted by veteran surf photographer Andrew Shield, who’s spent more time than most watching him surf. “His surfing is so precise! He always looks so in control and consistent.”
If Ewing’s supernova makes its way towards earth next WSL season, he’ll not just challenge for rookie of the year, he’ll knock on the door of the top 10. Could this kid be the one to take over Australian surfing as our next great hope with Taj having already bailed, and Mick and Joel winding right down? Surfing Life says yes.
The stage is set and the appetite is whet for March 14th when the waiting period for the first event, Snapper Rocks, commences.
Stay tuned for Part II where we look at the WSL schedule and break down a few things ...