5 December, 2012 5 December, 2012

It All Comes Down to This! – Pipe Masters Preview

The title-deciding Billabong Pipeline Masters kicks off this Saturday 8 December at the Banzai Pipeline. Despite the disappointment of losing J-Bay from the tour, at least we’ve still got Pipe to end the season, hand out some punishment, and separate the men from the boys as the title gets decided. Anton Louw takes a look at what the top 34 could be in for.

IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS…

I remember a comment a few years back saying that if the great uncrowned of this generation want a world title, they’d better hurry up and do it in the small window left open by Slater as he fades into retirement and then shut by Jordy as he makes ascendency. Perhaps I was one who listened to that. Certainly none of the playmakers heard it.

Say what you want about recent politics on the tour, behind the scenes business deals and iffy location selections, the tour has been kept alive by the guys who are the core of it – the surfers.  We may be seeing a bit of a golden age,  where there’s both a generation of grizzled veterans who refuse to go quietly, and a bunch of rowdy youngsters who are eager to knock them from their perch. If you look at the top 10, it’s really only De Souza and Wilson that would traditionally be considered to be in their prime. The rest would all traditionally be considered too green or too wrinkled. As the circus enters its final crazy act for the year, we can look forward to a bright future in coming seasons. It would be great to see the likes of Mick, Slater, Taj and Parko stick around for many more years, but should they choose to bow out anytime soon, the sport will remain in good hands.

Not the traditional line at Pipe for Gabs Medina, but the young Brazilian along with John John are the two young guns leading the charge and looking to buck tradition, by knocking the veterans from atop the world rankings.

But, remaining in the present, what can we expect from the showdown about to take place in surfing’s ultimate theatre?  First, let’s consider the world title prospects. It could be a finish from a decade ago with Parkinson, Slater and Fanning all in contention. While the latter two all have multiple titles, Parko has always just not quite been there. He already has three runner-up finishes and is surely tired of being understudy.

The title race only counts the best 8 of 10 results. Joel will discard the 9th he got in Fiji and Slater the effective last place when he was injured for Rio. The question is whether their results at Pipe will be good enough to replace a 5th in Parko’s case, and a 13th in Kelly’s.  So, a 5th for Parko does him no favours.  But, a 5th for Kelly means he can shed one of those 13th’s he’s hanging on to – giving him an extra 3450 points and putting him on top. He can also finish equal third with Joel and still win the title. Curious sums that give the supposed underdog a mathematical advantage and punish Joel’s consistency.

Can Parko keep focussed under pressure and win his maiden world title after all these years? History suggests not, but he gets to decide his future.

Having just mentioned his consistency, remember although he’s been consistently up there, he’s also consistently not won an event since Bells in April last year. Had a victory been under his belt, it would have spared him the pressure of this event, and me the effort of working out how the hell the scenarios made sense. There’s been some criticism for him being able to win outright without a contest win. But, it’s the same as winning a heat but not getting the highest wave score. It’s a system that rewards consistency, not flashes of brilliance. Parko has shown that over the variety of waves that makes up the tour – lefts, rights, bowls and walls, he’s shown he has what it takes to surf everything with distinction.
As for his performances at Pipe, he’s got three good finishes over the last decade – a fourth as a finalist in 2007 and two 2nds – in 2003 and then just last year. His other finishes would all hand Slater the title under the present scenario. As Jon Coen, of ESPN says: “It’s Parkinson’s title to lose, but that’s somewhat the story of his career.”

This year is different though. Parko usually surfs and does very well in the Triple Crown – the Haleiwa and Sunset events being curtain raisers to Pipeline. This year he opted to stay at home and relax before the biggest event of his career. A shrewd move. Yet, the king of shrewd moves, King Kelly himself was waxing up for these events presumably to unsettle the usurper.

We’ve seen it play out before. Will Kelly come from behind and snatch another world title at Pipe?

The Parko vs Kelly showdown is what is capturing everyone’s attention, but don’t forget that Fanning is still in the running. And remember, this is Pipe – it’s a specialty wave, and it’s not impossible that a local wild card could shake up the whole situation. All the top seeds dread drawing a local wild card – with Jamie O’Brien’s name spoken with the most fear. Yet, Fanning basically needs to win, and hope that Slater can only manage a 5th place and Parko a 3rd or worse.

It’s also worth remembering that when you’re at the top, you have the furthest to fall, and so at the other end of surfing’s top flight, those in the drop zone are hungrier than ever. Travis’ out-of-bag 3rd at Santa Cruz put him comfortably in 17th and barring a catastrophe, he should remain with the elite. We can breathe easy, but for own entertainment, it would have been great to watch him put down another career-saving performance like his effort at Chopes last year. But, for guys like Heitor Alves, Yadin Nicol and perennial favourite Kieren Perrow, the stakes are high. Taylor Knox is also there, and may just call it the end of a long day.

Grab a seat, log in to the live webcast and watch the world-title decider unfold at Pipe. It could be a hell of a show.

As for Jordy, we could say he’s earned mid-table respectability, but then everyone, including himself, would expect more. The Pipe Masters will end a frustrating year on tour for him and a good result will be a positive boost before the off-season preparations for a big 2013. He’s still one of the most impressive surfers on tour, even without the results to back it up, so if he can get a win at Pipe to overcome this slump and the 50/50 judging calls, then you could be watching Jordy make a serious title run in 2013 – there’s enough positivity surrounding the man to make this happen.

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