December 8th kicks off one of the best title showdowns we’ve had in years, with Kelly Slater, Gabriel Medina and Mick Fanning all vying for the World Championship. The chips are stacked against Slater and Fanning, given Medina’s commanding lead, but the two former, multiple-time world champs are never out until the fat fish sings. So, given that both Slater and Fanning have had solid showings at Pipe (an understatement for Slater, I know), I say we toss the scenarios out the window and just look at these three as though they’re on a level playing field.
Gabriel Medina: Okay, I’ll admit that the kid showed some chops at Chopes. Nobody-and I mean nobody-thought he had it in him. But deep barrels and late drops cemented the victory and you couldn’t take anything away from his performance. However, let’s face it, Pipe ain’t Chopes. It’s a shifting field of peaks, depending on swell direction, sand on the reef and wind. Every Pipe charger’s got their own formula for where to sit and which bombs to grab and no one’s giving Medina the details. The kid hasn’t had the time in the line-up to suss it all out and with a bunch of Hawaiians vying for entry, no locals are going to lend a hand. He’s on his own. And while talent will take him part of the way, positioning could be his downfall. Also, we have to remember that he’s well and truly a kid. He’s handled the pressure through most of the year, but a few early losses and a bizarre exit at Portugal may be showing some chinks in the armor. And thank goodness Medina can’t win at Pipe with an air reverse. That’d be painful to watch, as much as it is boring.
Mick Fanning: How in the name of all things surf does this guy repeatedly float under the radar of title hype every single time? Not being flashy certainly helps, as does no air game. But he’s a 3x World Champ and each of his campaigns seemed like an afterthought to some other, more intense race. Fanning has always been focused and the epitome of the conditioned professional athlete. That focus will, once again, get him close, but he’s got to come out swinging with both Medina and Slater and position himself as a real threat to grab it all. Personally, I don’t think he got the winning waves last year to claim his 3rd, but the passion he showed when he came out of the barrel on both buzzer beaters is what he’s got to show early this year. He needs to beat Medina before Medina even catches a wave. A little Art of War thinking is key.
Kelly Slater: Slater, Slater, Slater…my oh my. 42 and he only seems to be getting better. 11 World Titles. 7 Pipe Masters. A recent 540 and a style that’s still emulated by those 20 years his junior. Frankly, he’s the classic ‘nothing to lose’ one in this race and it shows, given his early exits throughout the year. But Slater loves to win at Pipe and it’s to his advantage that the race always ends on its reef. But wait! What about the broken toes, you ask? Puuulease! Slater won back in the ‘90’s with like two broken legs or something! Got like 8 10pt rides, if I remember correctly. Duct tape was invented for situations like this and it’ll be Slater’s go-to when his first heat begins. You just can’t count him out. He knows the line-up, waves come to him virtually on command and he surfs maxing Pipe like it’s a 2ft. mushy beachbreak.
Of course, with John John in the hunt for Pipe redemption, there could be serious monkey wrenches to all the particulars above. He’s a walking Pipe Expression Session and he certainly broke some hearts last year. This one’s gonna be fun. Who are you rootin’ for?