Australian surfer Ethan Ewing.
Australia's Ethan Ewing has finished runner-up in the World Surf League finals in California. Image by AP PHOTO
  • surfing

Ewing’s epic WSL title fight falls at final hurdle

Murray Wenzel September 10, 2023

A slice of Brazilian brilliance has ended Ethan Ewing’s incredible world surfing title push, the Australian finishing runner-up to Filipe Toledo at the WSL finals a month after breaking his back.

Ewing showed no signs of the multiple vertebrae fractures suffered in a Tahiti wipeout in early August, carving up California’s favourable Lower Trestles break on a whirlwind finals day.

The third seed began by sweeping aside another Brazilian, Joao Chianca, his nine and 8.6 scores laying down a marker to the competition.

Ewing then silenced the masses on the sand who’d gathered to cheer home San Clemente product and No.2 seed Griffin Colapinto, winning 17.10 to 15.96.

Ewing threw everything into his first heat against the reigning champion Toledo; precise slides, slashes and carves earning him a pair of 8.73 and 8.50-point efforts.

But the Brazilian had him covered, Toledo wringing every drop out of his waves in a high-performance assault that netted him nine and 8.97-point rides to win a heat worthy of the occasion. 

The sets dried up in their second heat, Ewing’s decision not to complete an earlier ride costing him when a late 7.67 points left him needing only a five-point score to send the final into a deciding third rubber.

But the 25-year-old couldn’t find another wave, losing the heat 14.27 to 12.37 to ensure Mick Fanning’s 2013 triumph remains the most recent Australian men’s success.

“A lot of physio, a lot of good people around me keeping me positive,” Ewing said earlier in the day of his recovery.

“Their support’s been huge; a lot of people were writing me off and saying I’d be done this year but here I am.

“I love it, keep it coming. I’ve been the underdog my whole career, so keep it going.”

Florida’s Caroline Marks won her first world title, upsetting five-time champion and top seed Carissa Moore in the final after earlier beating Australian second seed Tyler Wright.

Fourth-ranked Picklum’s world surfing title dream had been dashed in the morning’s first heat by another local favourite, Caitlin Simmers.

Bidding to become the youngest ever world champion, Californian 17-year-old Simmers was patient and then unleashed the shackles with a late 8.17-point wave to pinch the win, 15.17 to 12.17.

Jack Robinson fell at the same stage in the men’s event, the fifth seed beaten 15.33 to 11.87 by Chianca.

Wright’s quest for a third world title never got into gear either.

The Australian second seed surfed with confidence but an on-song Marks abruptly smothered it, nailing 9.07 and 8.33-point rides to put the match out of her reach and then take out Moore in straight sets.

All four Australians have provisionally qualified for next year’s Olympics, to be surfed in Tahiti, as their country’s top-two men’s and women’s finishers.