Though the 2012 ASP Women's World Tour season ended in much the same way as four of the five preceding it, with Steph Gilmore poised atop its ranks, it was a year full of twists and turns. It whispered promises of a brilliant future. And when the 2013 schedule was released, it appeared even more fetching than its last incarnation: No events lost, even a new one gained.
But, if you read the not-so-fine print a few weeks ago, you'd have discovered that three of the eight events were "tentative." Some of the surfers seemed convinced that the tentative status meant the Beachley Classic, Dow AgroSciences Pro, and even the US Open had dropped into the void. If that were true, this would, in reality, be the weakest lineup in years. Women's Tour Manager Jessi Miley-Dyer discouraged alarm, assuring us that nothing had been canceled. The ASP was working on it.
And work they have. The Dow AgroSciences Pro (part of the TSB Bank New Zealand Surf Festival) was recently confirmed and the new Vans US Open steadied its stance. If the Beachley Classic (in Sydney) pulls through, five of the eight stops will also go down Down Under.
The biggest news in 2013 is the latest addition to the schedule, the state-sponsored Drug Aware Pro in Margaret River, Western Australia. Known for its rugged grandeur, Margs could quite possibly favor a different set of competitors than, say, Rio, as with any luck, success at Margs will be heavily dependent on big-wave prowess.
"I was really excited to see it on the schedule," Rebecca Woods said. "Especially for the top 17, because they're able to really take it to the wave and it will be exciting to watch, which is great. It holds a lot of size."
As for the competitors themselves, there's what I like to call "The Triangle" -- the seemingly perennial top three. Young, hyper-talented, and each impelled by her own unique carrot. You wouldn't be able to tell by looking at her rank, but last year was roller coaster-esque for Hawaii's Carissa Moore. Despite a tough ninth-place finish at the Beachley, the 20-year-old former world champ closed out 2012 in third, behind Aussies Stephanie Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbons -- first and second, respectively.
"I have been working on my overall competition strategy," Moore says. "In 2013, I hope to put on more consistent, exciting performances."
At 25 years old, Gilmore already has five world titles to her name. Why not add a sixth? Fitzgibbons, 22, has none. She's become quite cozy in the upper echelons of surf society, hanging onto a No. 2 rank for three years running, but she's certainly not comfortable. She spent her offseason hiking mountains and practicing punts, then cleaned up shop at the Breaka Burleigh Pro six-star last week. "It should be an awesome year on the World Tour in 2013," Fitzgibbons said.
At the fringes of that trio, Australia's Tyler Wright and American Courtney Conlogue are sitting in fourth and fifth, respectfully, about as contentedly as a couple of famished wolverines.
In 2012, the freshmen proved ferocious and we wouldn't dare discount this year's rookies. Well, rookie. Thanks to a strong showing in last year's ASP Star Series, Kauai native Alana Blanchard is once again amidst the top 17 after a brief hiatus. South Africa's Bianca Buitendag, 19, qualified for the Dream Tour with what seemed like relative ease. Miley-Dyer has likened her to Owen Wright, another goofy-footer who's nimble and explosive despite his height. Buitendag, a Roxy Pro, will be her very first WCT event and she said earlier this year that she enjoys surfing backside -- and causing upsets -- so it should be interesting to see how she fares in the mosh pit.
"Because they've had that couple of months [since the US Open last July] to work on different things, I think that this year, we'll really start to feel it," explained Miley-Dyer. "[Until this point,] A lot of people have been doing [progressive maneuvers] more in free surfs, and then we'll see the odd thing in heats. I think it's going to be more consistent now."
The 2013 season starts with the Roxy Pro Gold Coast on March 2.