The Final Five: Carissa Moore and Filipe Toledo
Not much background information is required for the Men's and Women's Number 1 seeds, yet some commentary is required.
Carissa has benefited greatly from the mid-year cut, which in one fell swoop, eliminated all the young/hungry/progressive female surfers who may have pushed Carissa to update her surfing. Absent them she has been able to fall back on her strengths, which is consistent power surfing, superior heat strategy and an ability to push the dial from 75% surfing (her default setting) to something higher when required. Carissa can rise.
Despite a tepid performance at Pipeline and no signs of any aerial or tail high attack which we saw her do at Newcastle last April, she does have the repertoire to match the new teen attack coming through. Her very great luxury is she is not required to do so. Straight up meat and potatoes power surfing will win Carissa more heats than not, and as she proved at Trestles last year, will be sufficient against the current crop of Final Fivers.
She's a wonderful, wonderful front runner. Very rarely run down once she hits the front.
Apart from being well beaten by newcomers Moana Jones Wong at Pipeline and Molly Picklum at Sunset she has looked strong all year, without busting down any doors. She has at least this year and possibly next before she will need to look to the Slater 2012 template – whereby Kelly, at 40 years of age, was able to update and upgrade his surfing to a level equivalent to the new standard set by Dane Reynolds et al. A mind-blowing achievement which is yet to be fully recognised.
It's hard to see a way Carissa could get beaten at Trestles, absent someone like Tatiana really getting in her grill and upsetting her composure. Her team will be versed in that eventuality and will supply counsel if she does falter at first.
Possibility of a World Title: Unbackable favourite.
How will history judge a Filipe Toledo World Title? Pretty well if past precedent is any guide. Luckily for us, we don't need to go back into the deep past to find historical examples. Pro surfing started as a unified World Tour in 1976. The winner of that rag-tag, put together year was Peter Townend. PT did not win a comp and was not widely regarded as the World's Best Surfer. He had overcome a reputation as a three feet and under shorebreak kid through gutsy Hawaiian perfomances. Nonetheless, PT goes down in history as a World Champion. As does Damien Hardman, and CJ Hobgood, and Occy. Are they placed lower down in the pantheon by surf fans? Sure. Does that matter? Not a fucking bit.
Toledo comes into the No 1 position on the back of consistent showings, lacking some of the killer instinct Finals Day showings of yore. It was once a rare thing for Toledo to lose a Final once he had made it. Normally he would be so red hot he would shut it down easily. This year he lost two Finals, the first in high performance surf to Griffin Colapinto, and a Final at head-high G-Land to Jack Robinson. He beat two rookies for his two wins for the year: Callum Robson at Bells and Sammy Pupo in Rio. Consistent showings across the roster were weighed down by dismal performances at Pipe and Teahupoo.
Surf fans will have to accept that Toledo is not and will likely never be the heavy water surfer we expect a World Champ to be. His Pipe showings are arguably getting worse, after a 2018 high point, and despite a couple of over-cooked 7 point rides at Teahupoo he is showing no extra level of comfort there. He was absolutely decimated at the Box by Jack Robinson in 2019 - made to look like a hapless recreational surfer who didn't want to be out there. Jack paddled around him and took waves off him at will.
Those are all matters of record now.
Will they matter at Trestles?
You can't discount some of those dismal performances coming in as some devastating mind virus on Finals Day for Toledo. Especially if a rampaging Jack Robinson starts landing huge airs while Toledo sits and waits for sets.
Much more likely is Toledo calmly and cooly bringing his unparalleled high perf repertoire to Trestles and icing a maiden World Title.
Would you bet against him at head-high Trestles..?
Possibility of a World Title: Favourite, with caveats.