2017 WSL Championship Tour Preview

Tahiti Pro Teahupoo, one of the heaviest waves in the world

The WSL world tour’s eyeing another lap around the globe, here’s what you need to know if you want to join them.

World tour surfers only have about two and a half months between the end of one season and the start of another. As offseasons go, it’s a short one. But when your job entails tromping around the world chasing waves and prize money, don’t start feeling too sorry for them.

In 2016 Hawaii’s John John Florence and Australia’s Tyler Wright won the men’s and women’s WSL World Title, respectfully, and come the end of February it will be time to pull a jersey back on and defend their accomplishments.

“With the crowning of John John Florence and Tyler Wright as the 2016 WSL Champions, surfing is being pushed to incredible new heights,” says Kieren Perrow, WSL Commissioner. “The design of each year’s schedule is to create a varied format of high-quality venues through which we can determine the best surfers on the planet. Very excited to see what next year brings and we may have a few more announcements to make before the season commences.”

With that in mind, let’s take a look at where the WSL’s most elite athletes will be trekking in 2017.

Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast

Location: Coolangatta, Australia
Dates: March 14 – 25, 2017

The first event of the 2017, every year the WSL’s best surfers amass on the Gold Coast of Australia for the Quiksilver Pro. Held at iconic Snapper Rocks, the contest serves as an exhibition of state-of-the-art, high-performance surfing. It’s also a hell of a good time. And with Duranbah Beach right over the hill and Byron Bay about an hour’s drive away, there are ample options for more civilian surf. (Byron Bay is also home to Bluesfest – so if you have some extra vacation time, stick around for this world-famous music festival at the end of the month.)

Numerous sponsor parties and nightlife activities on the schedule ensure there’s plenty to do when the sun goes down. Other fun places to play tourist include the Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast, Tenpin Bowling in Coolangatta, and the myriad of art galleries around Coolanagatta and Tweed Heads.

Drug Aware Margaret River Pro

Location: Margaret River, Australia
Dates: March 29 – April 9, 2017

WSL Championship tour, Taj Burrow at Margaret River Pro. Photo by Respondek

Taj Burrow at Margaret River Pro. Photo by Respondek

One never quite knows what they’re going to get when they land in Margaret River in wild and wooly Western Australia. The surf can be quadruple overhead and terrifying at main break. Or hope across the channel to the slab known simply as “The Box” and things get spine-tinglingly dangerous. But then on an average it “Margs” can serve up a playful left and right peak. With its green, rolling hills serving as a pastoral backdrop, the rest of the world seems to fall away when you’re in West Oz.

The pace of life slows down, the coast is raw, the seafood delicious and the wine tasting phenomenal. If it’s a walkabout you’re after, Margaret River is an epic place to take your first steps.

Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach

Location: Bells Beach, Australia
Dates: April 12 – 24, 2017

Formerly known as the Bells Beach Classic, the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach is the oldest contest on the schedule. In fact, it’s the longest running pro event in the world. Founded in 1973, they’ve been crowning champions at Bells for over 40 years. Every morning starts with AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” blaring over the sound system calling the competitors and spectators to the beach. The weather and ocean conditions can be temperamental, ranging from idyllic, six-foot bombs on the West Bowl to serious victory-at-sea storms.

The closest town is Torquay, which is considered the birthplace of Australia’s surfing industry. Both Rip Curl and Quiksilver got their start their back in the early ’70s. The Surf World Museum is located in Torquay and is Australia’s biggest biggest surf museum. And no trip to Bells would be complete without a jaunt down the always-impressive Great Ocean Road. As picturesque drive as you’re apt to find anywhere in the world, pull into coastal towns Anglesea, Aireys Inlet, and Lorne for a uniquely Aussie experience.

Rio Pro

Location: Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Dates: May 9 – 20, 2017

WSL Championship tour, A frame at Grumari, Rio Pro. Photo by Ivan Serpa

A frame at Grumari, Rio Pro. Photo by Ivan Serpa

After the conclusion of the Australian Leg of the tour, the WSL migrates across the globe to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, for the Rio Pro. Typically held in average beachbreak conditions, the contest is as close to an old ‘80s beach party as you’re going to find on tour today. The Brazilian crowds on the beach swell to hundreds of thousands of peoples, all frothing to take in the action. With world titles going to Gabriel Medina and Adriano De Souza the country has fallen in love with surfing.

If you’re thinking of traveling there to take in the contest, get ready for a heady dose of South American beach culture. Hang at the world-famous Copacabana Beach or Ipanema to soak in the culture, or make the trek to the top of a nearby mountain to visit the 100-foot tall Christ the Redeemer statue and get a crazy panoramic view of the area. If you’re feeling frisky, there’s no shortage of nightlife in Rio, but remember to keep your wits about you as petty crime is common.

Fiji Pro

Location: Tavarua, Fiji
Dates: June 4 – 16, 2017

If you’re going to watch the show at Cloudbreak when the WSL is in town you’re going to have to stay on the main island of Fiji. The Fiji Pro is held at the private island of Tavarua. Competitors fill up the on-island accommodations and spill over onto the neighboring island of Namotu.

The surf breaks at Tavarua, Cloudbreak and Restaurants, used to be closed to the general public, but some years back the Fijian government issued a decree that opened up surfing throughout the island nation. Just the same, it’s still not a cheap trip.

There are a variety of accommodations available to fit most budgets. Plantation Island is one of the most practically located resort. Factor in that you’ll still have to hire a boat to take you out to Cloudbreak every day, which typically runs between $40-$50 per day.

Corona Open J-Bay

Location: Jeffreys Bay, South Africa
Dates: July 12 – 23, 2017

WSL CHAMPIONSHIP TOUR, J-Bay dream lines. J-Bay 2017. Photo by WSL. jpg

J-Bay dream lines. J-Bay 2017. Photo by WSL

The world tour stop at Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, has the dubious distinction of being the site where Mick Fanning was attacked by a Great White Shark during the final. The incident landed on the front pages of websites and newspapers around the world. Toothy friends aside, J-Bay is considered the best right-hand point break on the planet—period. Kelly Slater lists it as one of his favorite waves in the world, and thanks to its multitude of moods it has a lot to offer.

When the swell’s pumping and the winds are whipping offshore it’s an impressive sight to see, but there’s other stuff to check out to. A number of nearby animal sanctuaries offer guests the chance to experience a slice of the African safari life. And if you’re just can’t get sharks off your mind, there are a handful of shark cage diving operations that’ll take you out and throw you in the water with some really, really big fish.

As far as where you’ll be staying, the J-Bay area’s grown up considerbly the last few years and there are number of hotels that offer bookings, but the bread and butter the tourism business there is still with vacation home rentals. If you’re thinking about heading down to check out the contest, just remember to bring a thick wetsuit and some warm clothes as July on the southern tip of Africa can be a bit chilly.

Billabong Pro Teahupoo

Location: Teahupoo, Tahiti
Dates: August 11 – 22, 2017

If it’s a slice of paradise you’re after, few places compare to Tahiti. An event unique unto itself, the Billabong Pro Teahupoo harkens back to the “Dream Tour” ethos that former tour president Rabbit Bartholomew instilled in pro surfing. Putting the best surfers in the best waves, the break at Teahupoo is just that. A shallow reef that’s taken its fair share of skin over the years, Teahupoo translated means “Wall of Skulls.”

Located at the proverbial end of the road, there literally isn’t anywhere else to go once you arrive at “Chopes.” There’s one restaurant and no hotels. All of the surfers and WSL staff typically stay with local families and depend on them to feed them. Thanks to the country’s embrace and hospitality, it’s one of the most popular stops on tour. And when the wave turns on, there’s really nothing like a huge Teahupoo barrel.

Hurley Pro at Trestles

Location: San Clemente, California, U.S.A.
Dates: September 6 – 17, 2017

WSL championship tour, The Line up. Hurley Pro at Trestles, San Clemente, California. Photo by Morris

Very contestable conditions at the 2015 Hurley Pro at Lower Trestles, San Clemente Ca. Photo © Morris

The only tour stop on the U.S. mainland, the Hurley Pro at Trestles is a complete 180 degree turn from the Pacific paradise and blue tubes of Tahiti. Lower Trestles, site of the Hurley Pro, is considered to be one of the highest performance waves in North America and its full tilt boogie when the WSL comes to town.

An A-frame peak breaking over a cobblestone point, the right is a long, lined up wave that invites the surfer to test their imagination. The left is a more vertical wall, ideal for powerful blasts off the top. “Lowers,” as it’s usually referred, is located in San Clemente, a California original surf town. With over a dozen surf shops in the city limits and more taco stands than you can shake a bar of wax at, it’s the finest Orange County has to offer.

Quiksilver Pro France

Location: Hossegor, France
Dates: October 3 – 14, 2017

The Quiksilver Pro France signifies the homestretch of the WSL Championship Tour. For those with world title aspirations, the final push starts in the world-class A-frames of Hossegor in the southwest of France. Big tide swings, long days, amazing food and culture, it’s easy to see why the tour keeps coming back here every year.

From the amazing variety of surf scapes from Biarritz, to Anglet, to Capbreton, to Hossegor serves as the heart and soul of the European surf scene. Mundaka and the waves the Spanish Basque country are only a couple hour drive away as well. And whether its a big night out at the famous Rock Food bar in Hossegor or enjoying a healthy serving of muscle at a local bistro, there’s a reason the French are so famous for their culinary experiences.

Meo Rip Curl Pro Portugal

Location: Peniche, Portugal
Dates: October 17 – 28, 2017

WSL Championship tour, Crowd watching on at Rip Curl Pro Portugal, Praia dos Supertubos, Portugal. Photo by Kirstin Scholtz

Meo Rip Curl Pro, praia dos Supertubos, Portugal. Photo by Kirstin Scholtz

The government in Portugal has played a huge role in elevating surfing as a serious contributor to the country’s tourism industry. For awhile they were offering a deal where they guaranteed that you’d score or your next trip was free. Unfortunately that deal’s not longer floating around out there, but there are still plenty of reasons to go tromping around Peniche. First, there seems to be limitless swell thanks to the Atlantic wave machine. With a plethora of nooks and crannies to explore, if one spot is flat chances are good you’ll find somewhere to surf if you just keep driving.

The wave at Supertubos is an ever-changing sandbar that can serve up some seriously heavy barrels (as its name indicates). For those that reckon themselves big-wave hellmen, Nazare is as big and scary as waves get. With all the surf, be sure to slow yourself down and enjoy the Old World culture. Coastal Portugal rules. Sardines and fresh seafood are everywhere, and so is the locally crafted wine. When the Meo Rip Curl Pro comes to town it’s starting to get to be a little late in the fall, and the weather can be a bit dodgy at times, but that’s all part of the adventure.

Billabong Pipeline Masters

Location: Pipeline, Hawaii, U.S.A.
Dates: December 8 – 20, 2017

Description: The final event of the 2017 season, if the WSL has their way a world champion will be crowned at the Billabong Pipeline Masters. Statistically speaking, Pipeline is the most deadly wave in the world. With its shallow reef and massive Pacific swells, every year surfers are seriously injured surfing there. But when it comes to spectating, there aren’t many waves better suited. The wave breaks very close to shore and all you have to do is pull up some sand and take a seat to see some of the most breath-taking wave riding you’ll ever see.

The North Shore is considered the “Mecca” of surfing. Thanks to Pipeline, Sunset Beach and Waimea it certainly lives up to its reputation. In November and December every year the Triple Crown of Surfing comes to the North Shore and attracts surf talent from around the world. The only hotel on the North Shore is The Turtle Bay Resort, which can be a bit costly, so look to a source like Airbnb.com to find an affortable room or house to rent. There are plenty of good places to eat and shot in Haleiwa, and if you want to go explore the island a trip to Waikiki on the South Shore is a must. When it comes to a surf trip to Hawaii, everyone has to do it at least once.

Check out the drone footage highlights from Fiji Pro 2016 below for what’s in store:

For more information on the WSL Championship tour head to Rad’s surfing events page.

Feature image: Billabong Pro Teahupoo. Photo by WSL

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Jake Howard

Jake Howard writes about surfing for a living, and after 15-plus years on the job is still baffled that he's been able keep the hustle going this long.

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