The Final Five: Ethan Ewing and Tatiana Weston-Webb
It seems fair to say, considering the variables involved and what we saw last year, that the true title contenders will probably start from position three or better. We've discussed fitness and conditioning; we saw the fatigue come into Toledo's and Weston-Webb's surfing right at crucial moments last year. Extra heats will drain the tank, physically and mentally, and there's no way around that.
The other, more intangible, variable is luck. Being in the spot when the right wave comes, and, more importantly, having the judges favour on the day. Heats decided by tenths of a point or less are decided by luck. Each heat surfed increases the probability of having to rely on luck, and there is only a finite supply on any given day.
Both Weston-Webb and Ewing are islanders. Tatiana grew up on Kauai while Ewing rejoiced in a North Stradbroke upbringing. There's a staunchness and sense of self-possession which comes with being island born and raised. Both Ewing and Weston-Webb possess it in spades. It's expressed by Weston-Webb in terms of aggression while Ewing has developed an impenetrable sense of calm and composure. Both are winning attributes, especially on the cobblestones. Weston-Webb is the sometimes bitter-tasting antidote to the syrupy overly-sweet, anti-competitive vibe prevalent in Women's CT surfing. It's not always easy to swallow but it's necessary medicine. Why would we tune into watch competitive surfing if there was no sense of competition?
Weston-Webb will need to deal with Steph or Brisa as a first order of business - potentially her hardest heats. Aggression will need to be carefully rationed, saved for the later showdown with Moore she will be looking for. Once there, she will be relying on a strategy of getting in the face of the champ, flustering her, and smothering over the goodtime feels that Carissa thrives on. Her backhand is solid, judges go gaga over her high risk final hammers. She was one completed closeout smash from a World Title last year.
She brings an average record into the event (13th and two 9th's at Trestles) rendered irrelevant by last year's second place finish. Oddsmakers have Weston-Webb sitting on 8-1, which seems a little long if you ask me, and not bad odds. Fitness shouldn't be a problem for Tatiana, as she is one of the fittest on Tour. Aggression in repertoire and approach is her greatest strength and potential weakness if she can't carefully control it.
Possibility of a World Title: Fair Chance
Ewing has brought back style and perfect technique; answered the Brazilian Storm with progressive rail surfing.
Ethan has had one showing at Trestles, back in his rookie year of 2017. Beaten into a 13th place finish by Julian Wilson. We'll summarily discard that result. Ethan ain't the same surfer, and he sure ain't the same competitor. He was a kid then, shy and incapable of stomping heats. He'd drift away into reveries, full of self-doubt and hesitation. That kid is long gone. The fluid style has been comprehensively muscled up, with the perfect timing remaining. The point of difference for Ewing against Italo or Kanoa will be fluidity and spray height. Rooster tails crop-dusting the Californian morning will stand out against any repertoire, and at J-Bay those turns were decreed state of the art by the judges, which was the last time turns were thrown at the panel and asked to be parsed.
If judges throw big numbers at those turns, as I expect they will, then Ewing will arrive fresh, but warmed up, into his next heat with Jack Robbo, knowing he just knocked him off at J-Bay.
In his rookie year, Ewing frequently lingered for sets that never came, relying on his composure and technique. Five years down the track, the composure remains, fully intact, yet with the appropriate adjustments made. Notably, he makes sure he gets two waves. That composure is a godsend at Trestles, where Southern Hemi swells equal long, long, head-fucking waits.
Unlike Ferreira, Ewing thrives on low wave count, and with Trestles delivering quality sets, he will maximise every inch of real estate. Three turns and a final banger. If the first of those gets over a 7.5, Ewing will be a good chance of being on the podium. Timidity poses the only real risk for Ewing. Let's hope staunchness overrides shyness.
Luck for Ewing will be front-loaded and dependent on the all-important WSL call on which day to run. The forecast is abundant so there'll be multiple options, and Ewing’s chances very much increase at the top end of the forecast range. The difference between a 3-4 foot day and a 3-5 foot day is subtle but significant for Ewing, especially when his rail turns are placed side by side with an air game. That extra foot in size reduces aerial potency in equal measure as it increases rail surfing.
Possibility of a World Title: Good chance
The waiting period for the WSL Finals Day starts on Thursday September 8th. Check the forecast here.