It has been an up-and-down rookie Men’s Championship Tour campaign for Seth Moniz in 2019, with lately more downs than ups. But Moniz put back-to-back 17th-place finishes behind him Wednesday as he scored a career-best third place at the Tahiti Pro Teahupo’o and moved up significantly in his quest for a spot on the 2020 U.S. Olympic Surfing Team. Tahiti marked the seventh of 11 stops on tour.
The third-place finish carries with it a valuable 6,085 points, moving Moniz up five spots in the rankings from 14th to ninth place. He surpasses 11-time world champion and surfing legend Kelly Slater, who went out in the second round to tie for 17th in Tahiti and drop two spots in the rankings to 10th.
Ten top athletes – with no more than two per country – from this season’s rankings will qualify for surfing’s Olympic debut at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Moniz is now the third-highest American in line for that with Kolohe Andino third and John John Florence fifth. Andino was first in the world entering the week but, like Slater, tied for 17th. Florence was injured in the fifth event of the season and hopes to return in time for the season-ending contest in December.
This is Moniz’s first year on tour – having made it to the big leagues after placing third in last season’s Qualifying Series – and his previous best finish was fifth place, which he accomplished this year in Queensland and in Margaret River in Australia.
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The 22-year-old native of Honolulu upset No. 2 Filipe Toledo in the Round of 16, 16.40-6.17, before knocking off another Brazilian, Caio Ibelli, in the quarterfinals. He had also taken down Brazil’s Peterson Crisanto 14.67-9.66 in the Round of 32. Fourth time was the charm for Brazil as No. 7 Gabriel Medina outlasted Moniz in the semis, 11.17-7.43. Medina fell to Australia’s Owen Wright in the final, 17.07-14.93.
Toledo is now first in the rankings, followed by South Africa’s Jordy Smith, who like Moniz was third this week.
The breakthrough finish for Moniz was perhaps inspired by the kind words of his friend and fellow Championship Tour surfer Griffin Colapinto. Colapinto — currently ranked No. 26 — posted on Instagram earlier in the day a message of good luck.
“It isn’t always easy to sit on the side and root your friend on because it’s just the competitive nature,” Colapinto wrote. “But with Seth and I, it feels like we are a team and when we are in the water competing you don’t feel alone because you have that little extra support that makes things feel like it’s going to go your way.”
Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.