By Matt Griggs

All photos courtesy of ASP Covered Images

Don’t let the routine appearance of Kelly’s achievements cloud the battles that are going down in the backstreets of the World Championship Tour right now. In the dressing sheds and competitors areas of the events, there is a call for his blood, a questioning of his aging ability and a challenge from a new mould including Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson and Jeremy Flores. This year’s top 45 is full of fresh faces and stories – as well as weapons sharp enough to draw blood at any event on the ‘Dream Tour’… Let’s break it down:

Surfers

“I reckon Mick will win…." says Travis Logie. “I don’t know, Parko sends so much spray, I reckon he’s got it…" says Mick Lowe. “Nah, it’s Kelly again. Who wants to bet?" Toby Martin seemed pretty certain. We were in Brazil, the title had already been decided… again – and already the surfers were looking for next year, but in surfing, nothing is certain – and next year’s top 45 seems as such.

As we fingered the current ratings, there were danger men everywhere: Bruce Irons at Pipe and Teahupoo, the Hobgoods in the Pacific, Josh Kerr at Trestles… But to win a world title, you need to win at least three events and stay consistent throughout. In my opinion, there are only four or five people in the top 45 that can do that: Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, Andy Irons, Taj Burrow and Kelly Slater.

They are the winners, they are the ones that can score 9’s and 10’s in any part of any wave in any part of any venue – and it’s for that that others rarely come close to them. So let’s start here:

Contenders

#1 Fanning: Fit, fast and furious. There is nobody on tour as fit and focused as Mick Fanning, but last year Mick learnt some valuable lessons: He learnt he was perhaps training too hard and guilty of becoming stale. When a professional surfer goes stale, he starts to go through the motions and this is what was happening to Mick Fanning… he wasn’t going for the turns he was capable of and not taking the risks necessary for winning a world title. He put his time into enjoying going for bigger turns and enjoying the competition. That and a few tactical variations and we all saw what happened to the last half of 2006: 1st, 5th, 2nd, 5th, 1st, 9th. It is for that form I put him as first contender.

#2 Parkinson: Smooth, unpredictable flair and creativity. Joel’s natural ability really has no equal. He knows how to win events, he is capable at every stop and I think, like Mick, found his mojo again in the back half of the tour. “If you look at the history of the ratings," noticed Mick Fanning. “Everybody who has got second has had a bad year straight after. Joel had his bad year and seems ready again."

#3 Irons: Simple, big turns in big sections. Andy doesn’t have the technique that Mick, Joel and Kelly have, but he has bigger turns – and what’s even more dangerous, the bigger the section, the bigger the moment, the bigger the pressure and the opportunity, the bigger he goes. Andy is the danger man, born for competition and not scared of winning.

#4 Burrow: Speed, flair and creativity. Taj is another one that WILL win a contest or two. He is the complete professional, but now realized that to win a world title, you have to invest all your time into just that. Taj has sidelined his video projects and is sick of being the guy Kelly thought would take the reigns, but not living up to his - and everyone else’s expectations. But more than that, I think Taj has finally figured out that he wants this for himself. I expect him to be a frontrunner all the way.

#5 Kelly: Kelly won the world title last year without worry. He was the best surfer and definitely the best competitor. But people lost as much as he won, falling and throwing in the white flag before the battle started. That won’t happen next year as I think people aren’t scared of Kelly anymore – and are surfing as good. If he turns up to play… and I don’t mean his music, he will probably be the hardest to beat, but I think we have seen the best of Kelly. If he doesn’t have a good start, retirement will probably challenge mental stamina. The best of the above is yet to come, that’s why I put them before him.

Competition

There are 48 surfers in every WCT event. 45 of the world’s best, chosen from the World Qualifying Series (WQS) and three wildcards, chosen by the event sponsor and local administration. To ensure the best possible waves, each event has a 12-day waiting period. Since the event only needs 3 and a half days to run, perfect waves are part and parcell at every stop.

Places

If you and your mates sat down and pondered the perfect round the world surf trip, you’d probably mimic the World Championship Tour (WCT). Snapper Rocks, Bells Beach, Teahupoo, Cloudbreak, Chile, J-Bay, Japan, Trestles, France, Mundaka, Brazil and Pipeline. It’s a perfect combination of potential hot-dogging and bloodspilling that completes the tour. Whoever wins at the end of this, really deserves it.

Rookies

It’s a possibility that the judges are also bored with the aging crop of top 45 surfers, because at some stage during 2004, they really started scoring the rookies. I remember in 2002, Damien Hobgood struggling to get through heats. He kept going up to the head judge and saying, “What do I have to do? I’m doing the same if not more, and I keep getting beaten."

You only have to look at Bobby Martinez, Adriano de Souza and Pancho Sullivan and realize they are the prelude to an even better 2007. Josh Kerr has got every turn in the book – and some that aren’t. Mick Campbell is fast, precise, fit and focused. Ben Dunn is a future contender and Jeremy Flores has the blood of a winner. But not everyone is convinced of this Euro youngster as yet – and he still has some area to improve. “I think he will get smashed in the first year," says Mick Fanning. “But will be good in a few years time."

While millions of viewers around the world will voice their favourites, the battle for the crown will be fought between 45 surfers, and fought like never before! All you have to do is sit back, relax, crack a cold Foster’s and enjoy the circus that is WCT surfing.