A lot has happened this year. From Mick’s terrifying run-in with a great white at J-Bay to the ever-changing world title guard, 2015 has been nothing short of invigorating. But as we draw closer to December 8th, there are a few things we first must consider. Here are ten points you absolutely must acknowledge before the Pipe Masters begins:
1. Filipe Toledo can win a world title. The CT calendar is just balanced enough that someone like Filipe still has to do well once in heavy waves (we hope) to win a title. It would be horribly disappointing if we didn’t get to see proper Pipeline for the last event of the year. If it’s ramps at Off the Wall, Toledo could win a world title without doing anything in heavy waves. Thanks to El Niño, though, the chances of a legit Pipe Masters are pretty high, and last year’s surplus of sand will hopefully be gone. If all goes well with the waves, Joe Turpel will have very few opportunities to say the most redundant phrase in his arsenal: “straight-up vert!” (but I bet he will sneak it in anyway).
2. Of the four surfers with a realistic chance at the world title, Gabriel Medina should be considered the most likely to win the Pipe Masters. If we do get heavy, barreling lefts, Medina might be the most dangerous competitor in the field not named John John Florence. He’s far and away the best backsider at Backdoor, too. Considering last year’s performance under immense pressure at Pipeline, and his consistency at Teahupo’o, you would have to think that he has a better chance than Fanning, De Souza, or Toledo to win the event. Which leads me to my next point…
3. Being a favorite at Pipe doesn’t make Medina the favorite to win the world title. Simply by virtue of being so far behind the other three, Medina has to rely on poor performances by the rest of them to take home a second world title.
4. Mick Fanning is NOT over scored. If you think Mick gets scored too highly—or if you think there’s some conspiracy that is helping him win his fourth world title—watch his round three loss to Frederico Morais in Portugal. It’s pretty difficult to try and say that he got the better end of the judging in that heat. Morais’ two-move 9.13 was a brilliant wave, and the first turn was probably the move of the heat, but Mick’s 8.40 contained two comparable turns and two more clinical Fanning slices. I’m not trying to say it was a poorly judged heat. Rather I’m just trying to say that if the judges really wanted to over score Fanning, they missed a clear opportunity.
5. There’s a boring side to parity. No one has been transcendent this year. That is, not one surfer has been simply beautiful to watch. We’ve seen each and every gladiator stumble and look human. No matter who wins the world title, we’ll be able to think back to an event where he looked as lost as the water patrol in Rio. It’s all been so even, and that’s mostly a good thing. (Mostly).
6. Let’s give Italo Ferreira a hand. The dude has been the best rookie in a class of stellar rookies. He’s excelled everywhere. He’s been mostly humble, and he’s a very entertaining surfer to watch. He was doing airs on the end section of Teahupo’o, for crying out loud! Italo will be a threat at every event on tour next year, and no one should be surprised if he’s in the finals at Pipeline.
7. Portugal has at least a few spots with CT potential, but Supertubos’ brilliance is far too fickle. This marks the second year in a row that the media has blown up with reports of epic sessions while the competitors slog it out in marginal conditions. Sure, the waves looked fun, but not as fun as this. Supertubos clearly gets epic, but those days are few and far between. It just can’t be counted on to produce great waves during the waiting period. Portugal and Rio have the two best crowds on tour, but they’re also probably the two worst waves on tour.
8. The injury report going into Pipeline will be very important. Who would you rather face at Pipeline if you’re a top seed: Jamie O’Brien or Glenn Hall? If some of the World Tour crew can’t make the Pipe Masters, there will be more room for wildcards. Portugal proved that wildcards can’t be taken lightly, and if Morais and Ribeiro can take down Fanning and De Souza in an average-plus beach break, then a Pipe specialist can definitely turn the world title race upside down at his home break. This has been a heavy year for injuries, but it seems like many of the year’s injury casualties have recovered.
9. If Mick loses the title by 2,000 points or fewer, those points he left at Jeffrey’s Bay will look pretty huge. If he loses by less than 1,000, the J-Bay decision will have been MASSIVE—the de facto world title decision. Denied an opportunity to win 10,000 points by Big Whitey and the WSL, Mick Fanning could arguably be carrying a much larger lead into Hawaii. Even if he and Julian had split the difference and each taken 9,000 instead of getting equal second—which gave them 8,000 apiece—he would have a thousand more points than he does now.
10. Pipeline is going to be very juicy. There will be controversy. There will be nations at war. The judges will be hated upon. The WSL will be hated upon. Each round will have numerous moments of high intensity, and it’s the type of entertainment that a new professional sports league dreams of. As fans of professional surfing, we couldn’t ask for anything better. Except, maybe, for some American blood in the fight.