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Thursday, April 23, 2009
Updated: April 28, 2:47 PM ET
Big Boardshorts to Fill

By Max Klinger
ESPN The Magazine

From L to R: Dane, Adriano, Jordy, Julian, and Jeremy

This story appeared in the May 4, 2009 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

Kelly Slater is the greatest competitive surfer in history. He joined the World Championship Tour in 1991 and has since won a record nine titles. Now 37, Slater may retire after this season whether or not he wins No. 10. That possibility raises the monster question: Who will replace the legend? These fresh-faced five are poised to rip.


THE WIZARD


DANE REYNOLDS, 23, UNITED STATES

YEARS ON TOUR Two

COMFORT ZONE Inventing moves on the fly

PIPELINE Widely considered the sport's best freesurfer, Reynolds is doing more to advance the art of wave-riding than any other pro. He's an aggressive, rail-to-rail surfer who also pulls off dazzling aerials. At the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast in Australia this March, he nailed two airs on the same wave, scoring the first 10 of 2009. "Everybody else is playing catch-up to his technique, style and lines," says Quiksilver manager Strider Wasilewski. To put it another way: "If you were forced to watch 10 hours of surfing, you'd wanna watch Dane," says Surfline editor in chief Marcus Sanders.

MAKING WAVES If pro surfing ever changes its scoring format to give bigger numbers for riskier tricks, thank Reynolds and other creative riders.

VIDEO PART THAT WILL CONVINCE YOU First Chapter



THE FAVORITE SON


ADRIANO "MINEIRINHO" DE SOUZA, 22, BRAZIL

YEARS ON TOUR Four

COMFORT ZONE Master of strategy; piles up points in heats

PIPELINE His nickname means Little One, but de Souza leads a pack of young Brazilians—including Jihad Khodr and Heitor Alves—who are doing big things on Tour. "They're talented, and they're just starting to learn the ropes of the system," says WCT head judge Perry Hatchett. Brazil might not be famous for quality surf, but de Souza has honed his chops in Hawaii and California. He made the semis at Fiji in 2008 and was second at Gold Coast in March. "He can beat almost anyone anywhere," Slater says.

MAKING WAVES Since finishing seventh on Tour in '08, de Souza is gunning to be the first Brazilian since 1999 to crack the Top 5.

VIDEO PART THAT WILL CONVINCE YOU A Separate Volume



THE APPRENTICE


JULIAN WILSON, 20, AUSTRALIA

YEARS ON TOUR None. He'll likely enter the World Qualifying Series in 2010 in hopes of ­making the 2011 Tour.

COMFORT ZONE Fluid, above-the-lip surfing

PIPELINE Riding a wild-card bid (compliments of sponsor Quiksilver) into Gold Coast, Wilson offered a glimpse of his potential when he bounced Slater from a third-round heat. "He's got this flow and chemistry with the ocean that very few guys have," Wasilewski says. Wilson is postponing his entry into the WQS to finish a yet-to-be-titled surf film. When he does qualify, watch out. He's explosive, technically sound and quietly confident—a lot like a younger version of you-know-who.

MAKING WAVES Wilson appears with Slater, Reynolds and other big-name riders in volumes 2 and 3 of the prestigious Young Guns video series.

VIDEO PART THAT WILL CONVINCE YOU Young Guns III



THE SUPERFREAK


JORDY SMITH, 21, SOUTH AFRICA

YEARS ON TOUR Two

COMFORT ZONE Filthy aerial attacks

PIPELINE What does Smith do best? Take down stars. He has already ousted perennial Top 10ers Andy Irons, Joel ­Parkinson and Mick Fanning from Tour events. "Unlike other talented young guys, Jordy always has a plan and knows what he needs to do to get the score," Sanders says. The biggest surfer on Tour, at 6'2", 190 pounds, Smith is an aggressive rider who has surprising control in the air. "As judges, we love to see that approach," Hatchett says. Adds Slater,

"He's one of the guys who surfs to his potential. He's a great freesurfer who charges."

MAKING WAVES Smith won the 2006 ASP world juniors and 2007 WQS.

VIDEO PART THAT WILL CONVINCE YOU Frothing



THE SPOILER


JEREMY FLORES, 21, FRANCE

YEARS ON TOUR Three

COMFORT ZONE Precision barrel-riding

PIPELINE Born on Réunion, an island in the Indian Ocean, and raised near beaches in Australia and France, Flores learned to surf on a variety of waves. Now he's one of surfing's most versatile competitors. In 2006, at age 18, he became the youngest surfer ever to qualify for the WCT, beating Slater by a few months. A year later, Flores upstaged the legend again, knocking him out of a fourth-round heat at Teahupoo, Tahiti. "Of all the young guys I've seen come to the North Shore, Jeremy is the most focused," says big-wave surfer and Oahu local Mark Healey. Flores has also achieved megastar status in France. "He's on Evian bottles and drives a super nice car," Sanders says. "He's a total rock star."

MAKING WAVES Flores owns two Top 10 Tour finishes: eighth in 2007 and 10th in 2008.

VIDEO PART THAT WILL CONVINCE YOU Young Guns III