Picture by Ryan Pierse

Olympic champs Carissa Moore and Italo Ferreira seek World Surf League titles at inaugural WSL Finals

Tokyo 2020 gold medallists, Moore and Ferreira are aiming to add to their recent success as the first-ever WSL Finals take place at Lower Trestles, California.
By ZK Goh

Olympic surfing champions Carissa Moore and Italo Ferreira are back in action today (Tuesday 14 September) as the inaugural World Surf League (WSL) Finals has been called on at Lower Trestles in San Clemente, California.

A solid swell has created 6-10’ foot surf at the venue this morning and encouraged event organisers to start the competition at 8:00 PDT / 16:00 CET - meaning the two world titles will be decided today.

For the first time ever, the WSL title will be decided by a single one-day winner-take-all finals event, rather than accumulated standings throughout the WSL Championship Tour season.

And in 2021, both Olympic champions – fresh off the back of winning the sport's first ever Olympic gold medals at Tsurigasaki Beach in Chiba – have qualified for the final, with USA's Moore the women's top seed and Brazil's Ferreira the men's second seed. Both surfers are also the defending WSL world champions from 2019, the last time a full WSL Championship Tour season was held.

While the event will be held on a single day, there is a nine-day window from 9–17 September 2021 for competition to actually take place.

Here's what to look forward to at the 2021 WSL Finals.

WSL stars to watch at 2021 Finals

A total of ten surfers – the top five women and top five men in the WSL Championship Tour standings after seven regular-season events with each surfer's best five scores counting – have qualified as the "WSL Final 5" for the Finals.

Moore and Ferreira, the defending WSL champions and also Tokyo 2020 Olympic gold medallists, are standout names, with Ferreira's Brazilian compatriots Gabriel Medina – the fourth-placed Olympic finisher – and Felipe Toledo also among the men's Final 5.

Meanwhile, Moore faces competition from her fellow Olympians Tatiana Weston-Webb of Brazil, Sally Fitzgibbons and seven-time world champ Steph Gilmore of Australia, and France's Johanne Defay.

The men's field is completed by Californian home hope Conner Coffin and Australian rookie Morgan Cibilic who comes as the biggest surprise to make the finals in his first year on tour. But certainly not one to be underestimated.

Storylines at 2021 WSL Finals

The women's Finals will be contested between five Olympic surfers with Moore, representing Hawaii in the WSL, the favourite as the top seed.

However, attention will be on Gilmore, who could win a record eighth world title. The Aussie's seven current titles is tied with her fellow countrywoman Layne Beachley, who won her titles in a span from 1998 through 2006.

For fourth seed Gilmore, it has been 14 years since she won her first title the year after Beachley won her last. To win her eighth, she would need to win five heats, starting with an opening clash against fifth seed Defay.

Gilmore is also the winner of the most recent WSL event, having claimed the win at the last stop of the regular season at Barra de la Cruz in Mexico.

For her part, Defay could become the first European women's WSL champion. She has fond memories of Lower Trestles, having finished third on that beach in her Rookie of the Year campaign in 2014.

Moore, meanwhile, is arguably the hottest and most consistent women's surfer in the world at the moment, and is looking for a fifth WSL title to add to her Olympic gold. As the top seed, she has a bye into the final round and needs to only win two heats to be crowned champion again.

On the men's side, while a lot of the attention will be on the three Brazilian favourites, both Coffin and Cibilic will be hoping to upset the apple cart.

Cibilic – a 21-year-old from Merewether, New South Wales – has taken the senior tour by storm in his debut year, shocking John John Florence and eventually finishing third at his home Newcastle Cup event before finishing second behind Medina at Rottnest Island.

Coffin, meanwhile, could become the first Californian champion for 31 years since Tom Curren in 1990. The 28-year-old recorded his best finish this year at the Narrabeen Classic, finishing runner-up to Medina, who is the men's top seed.

Brazil's big three, however, will be hard to displace. Third seed Toledo won the last WSL Tour event held at Lower Trestles in 2017, while Medina and Ferreira both have their strong Olympic performances behind them.

2021 WSL Finals competition format and schedule

With a new competition comes a new format.

The Top 5 surfers in the rankings in each event have qualified for the WSL Finals, and each one of them will get a colour-specific jersey to wear for the competition, which will be held in a ladder format, with each higher seed receiving a certain number of byes into later rounds.

What that means is the fifth seeds – Defay and Cibilic, wearing orange – will face the green-jersey fourth seeds Gilmore and Coffin in the first match, a head-to-head traditional heat.

The winners of the first match then take on the third seeds, Fitzgibbons and Toledo – who will wear pink – in the second match, again held in the same head-to-head heat format.

Again, the victors move on to Match 3 with the same format against second seeds Weston-Webb and Ferreira who will be in blue.

Finally, the Tour leaders, with their signature yellow jerseys, enter in the title match against the winners of Match 3. This decider will be held in a best-of-three-heat format, with the first to two becoming the 2021 WSL World Champion.

The waiting period for the competition is from 9–17 September, although competition will be held over a single day, beginning with the women's Match 1 and the men following, alternating through to the championship decider match.

How to watch WSL Finals

The World Surf League Finals are available to watch on the WSL's partner broadcasters in specific regions, as well as on the WSL website at www.worldsurfleague.com.