Last year's title race was one of the most exciting and action-packed we've seen since Andy Irons took out Kelly Slater at Pipeline in 2004.
The No. 1 spot changed hands four times throughout the year in a highly emotional seesaw battle. Throw in the unpredictable and incredible John John Florence and you have a recipe for nonstop action. Slater, Taj Burrow and Mick Fanning each held the lead at some point, and Joel Parkinson took the title in a triumphant victory at the Billabong Pipeline Pro.
Looking forward to this season, I see more of the same nail-biting performances that will undoubtedly unfold. The talent level has risen too high to expect anything less, and with guys from 18 to 41 years old competing, everyone can relate to someone on tour.
The first question on everyone's minds, including the competitors: Will Slater make an effort for another world title? This question drives people mad. How could one human be so good? Some secretly wish he would just go away, but they know a world title without him means much less.
What drives this competitive machine forward? Will he someday come out in a press release like Lance Armstrong and admit to taking some illegal miracle drug? I highly doubt it. The 11-time world champ has achieved so much in his career that he will never be touched. But it seems like achievements are simply fading memories to him as he continues to push age and competitive and performance barriers to the extreme.
There will come a time when Slater will take a bow and leave competitive surfing forever. Is 2013 that time? My professional guess leans toward no, as I think back to that not-so-distant moment of Slater handing his title to Parkinson. It doesn't matter how many times he's won, deep down inside Slater knows it was his title to give away. That could provide him the fire to put in one more year and come out on top.
Meanwhile, Parkinson is in a place he has never been in before. Forever he has come into the first event hungry to get his campaign going, looking for a result that would springboard him to his first world title. He has always had that hunger to feed off. Coming into the event as the reigning world champion will do one of two things: create complacency or create an untouchable air of confidence that sees him glide to a Quiksilver Pro victory and his second world title. At any rate, it will be a new experience for Parkinson, but from what I have seen through social media outlets, it seems like he has been training hard and is ready to defend his long-awaited title.
There are a lot of potential title contenders on the 2013 roster, which is the component that could make this season even more exciting than last. Gabriel Medina started off on the wrong foot last year but gained momentum along the way and finished the year in seventh. Medina has proved he is a threat in any conditions, and he will be looking for blood this year. I feel he desperately wants to be the first Brazilian world champion, and he has the skills and mindset to do it. There is no one on tour who wants to draw Medina and for good reason.
Florence will come into the event as world No. 4. With his third straight victory at the recent Volcom Pipe Pro, he will be beaming with confidence. Florence finished fourth in his rookie year and was in the title hunt until the final event. He has learned a lot, and I see him taking advantage of his acute wave knowledge and his catlike balance. He is an all-around threat in any conditions, whether he is doing full rotation backside airs in two-foot Brazil or taking off late on a 10-footer at Pipe. This kid has it all and will be one to watch in 2013.
The 2013 rookies will also add some flavor to the tour, as a solid crop of new talent will try and make its presence felt. The rookie I feel will have the best fighting chance is Sebastian Zietz. He showed incredible skill and poise last year as he won his first Triple Crown in Hawaii and catapulted himself onto the world tour. Zietz has a well-rounded game in all wave conditions, and if he can find the right mindset, he has the potential to cause some serious upsets throughout the year.
The sport of surfing really feels like it is gaining momentum, and the 2013 season could pan out to be one of the most highly contested seasons in the history of the tour. We'll just have to wait and watch.