Kelly Slater has nine world titles. Last year, he was experimenting with different equipment and surfboards, and it seemed to throw him off a bit. At 38, Slater is getting older, but when he’s on, he’s the miracle man, and No. 10 isn’t out of reach. The “Rad Man,” 24-year-old Dane Reynolds from Ventura has mind-blowing maneuvers and finished in the top 10 last year. Look for him to improve. His nemesis is South African Jordy Smith, a powerful regular foot who came on the world championship tour about the same time and can do it all, too.
Then there’s big Bede Durbidge. Last year’s No. 3, he quietly gets the job done. Aussie Taj Burrow, who finished fourth last year, is amazing; his airs are insane, and he should have been the champ years ago. Adriano De Souza has been the best of the Brazilians thus far; he’s quick and has taken down a lot of the big guns in some big heats, and he was the world junior champ just a few years back. C.J. Hobgood of Florida was world champ in 2001 and No. 7 last year; the goofy footer is hard to beat on barreling lefts, as is brother Damien Hobgood, who pulls in deep when he has the chance.
From Santa Barbara, Bobby Martinez is another powerful goofy footer who’s been hanging in the top 10 for the last few years and has a solid backside attack.
New Aussie guard Owen Wright is 20 and a rookie many will be watching; last season, he did some damage to the veterans.
Brothers Pat and Tanner from San Clemente are newcomers as well. Pat pulled a rodeo flit in a contest, which is unheard of, and Tanner has a mean front-side power snap.
And Huntington Beach’s Brett Simpson does air reverses with his eyes closed; a victory at the U.S. Open last summer put “Simpo” with the big boys. If there’s waves, they’ll run.
RICK FIGNETTI is a 10-time West Coast champion and a longtime KROQ-FM surfologist. He owns a surf shop on Main Street. You can reach him at (714) 536-1058.