He’s been there before, teetering on the cusp of qualifying for a spot among the very best competitive surfers in the world. Yet, a few eyebrows were raised when the World Surf League (WSL) called Conner Coffin’s recent victory at the 2017 Vans World Cup, at Hawai‘i’s famed Sunset Beach, a “sneaky one” — because in reality there was nothing sly about it.
Conner and his younger brother, Parker — two in a long legacy of Santa Barbara’s upper echelon of surf — have been earning their chops along Hawai‘i’s North Shore for the past decade. Just two winters ago, during his rookie year, Conner Coffin needed to make the final of the World Cup to qualify for the WSL’s World Championship Tour. Coffin didn’t disappoint, surfing his way to the final and stepping onto surfing’s biggest world stage.
This year, Coffin arrived in Hawai‘i, ranked in the precarious 21st position. The cutoff is at 22. His entire 2017 campaign — 10 months of competitive surfing at 11 events worldwide — had been plagued by inconsistency. Though he had some standout heats, he had never advanced past round four. Coincidentally, at the final event of the year, the Billabong Pipe Masters, held at Hawai‘i’s famed Pipeline, Coffin needed at least a round-four finish to secure his spot for the 2018 season.
“[That victory at] Sunset was a kickstarter for me at Pipeline,” he said. “Getting in some heat time really got me going.”
In his round-one heat at Pipeline, Coffin benefited from an interference call against Australia’s Julian Wilson and advanced straight to round three. But things didn’t get easier — Coffin was pitted against three-time world champ Mick Fanning. However, as time was running out during the 30-minute exchange, Coffin picked off the wave of the heat, earning an 8.80 out of a possible perfect 10 to advance to round four. And just like that, he made the cut for next year’s world championship tour. Coffin would go on to finish a respectable ninth place at Pipeline.
“Going into Pipe, I knew I needed to get to the fourth round,” said a relieved Coffin, “but I wasn’t focusing on what heat I had to make; [I was] just focusing on my surfing and [winning] as many heats as I could. If I hadn’t advanced out of round three against Fanning, I wouldn’t have qualified [for next year], so that ended up being a really important heat.” Coffin ended 2017 ranked 20th in the world in a field of 45.
On the women’s side, Santa Barbara’s Lakey Peterson bounced back from 2016’s injury-riddled season to turn in one of her most consistent performances on the championship tour. Her 2017 season included two runner-up and two semi-final finishes on the 10-contest circuit, which starts each February in Australia and wraps up in Hawai‘i in December, with stops in Brazil, Fiji, California, and Europe along the way. Peterson finished 2017 ranked sixth in the world.