Throughout the year, the various legs of the world tour schedule tend to exhibit slightly different vibes. The Australian leg is all about establishing early dominance—finding out who is carrying their form from the previous year, who is slipping, and who is looking to reinvent themselves with early brilliance. Then comes the Pacific leg, where the chargers on tour get a chance to show their sack and chuck themselves over the ledge for the sheer love of it, while others take flak for staying home and nursing sore ankles. High drama on the high seas!
But when it comes to world titles and requalification scenarios, it's the late season California/European leg that is most interesting, as this is when the picture really starts to come together. By the time the boys book their tickets to Oahu and Tokoro starts receiving last-minute orders for Pipe quivers, the situation is usually pretty clear—and this year is no exception. But we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves.
Finals day in Portugal was exactly what we’ve come to expect from Supertubos—a dawn ’til dusk barrel fest in sandy below-sea-level drainers, supercharged with the infinite scenarios and weighty implications that keep tour statistician Al Hunt awake at night. As has become the norm in the past few months, John John Florence established himself as the early favorite, scoring his (and the event’s) second 10 for a throaty round 4 barrel. With the heat tidily wrapped up, John John then put on an exhibition, boosting lofty airs that would destroy a lesser man’s tibial plateaus—and doing so in that _uber_-relaxed JJ style that makes the prodigy look half-asleep. Florence would go on to make the semifinals before losing to Jordy Smith, and is rated 4th coming into Pipeline, where he should be the odds-on favorite to win. Although his loss in Portugal means that John John can’t quite catch Medina for the title, it is altogether possible that he could be rated 2nd in the world at year’s end.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the draw, defending event champ Kai Otton was on a tear, looking to make it two in a row. He dispatched Kerrsy on his way to a 3rd place finish, but came up against an in-form Mick Fanning in the semifinals. Although not the result he was hoping for, Otton’s 3rd gives him a bit of cushion in the requalification race, bumping him up 18th on the ratings and all but ensuring that he’ll be back on tour next year.
Mick has more chance of a world title than Kelly Slater
With all of the hype surrounding the Slater/Medina title race and John John’s recent hot streak, the two surfers to make the final have been flying under the radar as of late—despite the fact that they have been steadily building momentum. Jordy Smith has turned his season around since Teahupoo, stringing together a number of results that see him making a last-minute charge up the ratings and well into the top 10. But despite moments of brilliance, Jordy couldn’t match Mick Fanning, who emerged from the shadows this afternoon as the primary threat to Brazil’s first world title. In all four of his heats today, Mick stuck to his game plan: Post big scores, and post them early. Finding 8s and 9s in the first 10 minutes of a heat is a great way to win, and Mick rode that strategy all the way to the podium, taking home his third trophy of the year. And this is where things get interesting, because with Medina bowing out early and Slater again failing to make a move, Mick suddenly finds himself right back in the thick of things. In fact, going into Pipe, he actually has much higher odds of winning his fourth world title than Slater does his twelfth.
While official stats should be forthcoming from the ASP in the next day or so, we have done our own number crunching, and by our calculations the world title race looks something like this:
- In order for Medina to clinch the title on his own, he needs to make the finals at Pipeline. Should he do that, the race is over and the cup goes to Brazil, no matter what Slater or Fanning do.
- For Slater to take home number 12, he needs to win Pipe, and needs Medina to lose before round 4 and Mick to lose in or before the semis.
- With Mick, the situation is more complicated:
If Medina gets a 5th or better, Mick needs to win the event to take the title.
If Medina gets a 9th, Mick needs a 2nd.
If Medina gets a 13th or a 25th, Mick needs to make the semis to win the title outright.
However (and this is a big however), if Medina were to lose in round 2 or 3 and Mick were to bow out in the quarters, the two surfers would actually end the year in an exact tie.
There could be a surf-off for the world title
Now while this might seem like a far-fetched scenario, it’s actually not as unlikely as it sounds. In fact, on last year’s IBA world tour (yes, we are now talking about boogs—surfing’s red-headed step-siblings who ride waves on their bellies), after a major sponsor pulled funding and cancelled half of the events on the schedule, Ben Player and Amaury Lavernhe found themselves dead even in the ratings. At this point, due to some strange mental deficiency that is probably related to a lifetime spent lying down, the lords of bodyboarding decided to award the world title to Ben Player. Not to take anything away from Ben, as he is a well-deserving champ and a total class act—incredibly humble, consummate style master, multiple world title winner, and refreshingly self-deprecatory (during a free surf in Chile, Ben once quipped to me that bodyboarding is for pussies who can’t stand up; he then spun and pulled into a mutant slab, got spat out of a barrel draining practically dry over urchin-infested reef, and then did some ridiculous flippy twitsy air thing straight into the rocks). No, the problem was HOW they decided to award the title to Ben. Based on some hair-brained, archaic rule in the IBA constitution, Player was crowned based on his ranking from the previous year, which was higher than Amaury’s (yes, this really happened!).
Thankfully, for all of our grumbling about its shortcomings, the ASP is a bit more sophisticated than that. According to the rulebook, should Medina and Fanning find themselves in a dead tie at the end of the season, the will have a surf-off for the title—ideally in pumping 12-foot Pipe. Wouldn’t that be grand?
And scrapping for their lives...
Meanwhile, around a dozen surfers come into Hawaii fighting for their professional futures. Sebastian Zietz is currently the man with the target on his back, as he holds the coveted 22nd place ranking, which is where the cutoff happens. CJ Hobgood and Matt Wilkinson are breathing down his neck, while bottom dwellers like Jeremy Flores, Brett Simpson, Mitch Crews, Travis Logie, Alejo Muniz, Tiago Pires, and Raoni Monteiro need to take a page from commissioner Kieren Perrow’s book if they are to requalify (Perrow scrapped his way back from a early retirement by winning maxed-out Pipe a few seasons ago, salvaging his competitive career and keeping himself in the mix for a couple more years before transitioning into his current position as tour boss man).
No matter what happens in Hawaii come mid-December, it is bound to be fraught with drama—which, after all, is the whole reason we end the tour there. Winter can’t come soon enough.