Taking a closer look at the four World Title contenders. How they got there, what they need to do and where they will end up.
Oh, how that 25th in France still must sting. Julian had dragged himself back into the ratings race with a series of clutch performances in Fiji and J-Bay and a particularly impressive battling display in Tahiti. A 9th in Trestles, had slightly slowed, but not derailed his campaign. He was fit, focused, working harder and surfing better than ever. More crucially, he was enjoying himself. That’s why the Round 2 loss in Hossegor was the killer blow. Even a quarterfinal finish would have netted him an extra 4500 (unadjusted) points, which would have made him a very dangerous grenade in the Pipe mix. As it stands he has to not only win Pipeline, but hope Florence gets a 25th and Medina worse than 5th. Wilson has won Pipeline before and by virtue of his backhand tuberiding is easily Australia’s best performer out there. He’s also been underrated as one of the tour’s hardest chargers for years. Winning Pipe is achievable, winning the World Title, sadly, isn’t.
Even more than Wilson, Smith imploded in Europe and the two 13ths in the Atlantic Ocean were a death knell to his ambitions of winning a World Title. Smith has a poor record at Pipe in the last five years (13th, 13th, INJ, 25th, 13th, 5th) and has never really gained any type of foothold in Banzai’s freesurfing pecking order. Along with his own questionable pedigree at the break, he also needs two of the best guys out there to lose early. Florence will have to do no better than a 9th and Medina not make the Final, and even then Smith has to win it. That’s a chance if the forecast is for smallish Backdoor, but if the lefts come into play, Smith will go into next year, his 11th on tour, without a World Title.
“Now I’m thinking about the Title,” said Medina after winning in Portugal. His back-to-back wins in Europe, added to his second at Tahiti, had seen the 2014 champ rise from outside the top 10 in June in to be the only surfer now with a chance of stopping the Florence juggernaut. Unlike Florence he has been in this position before, and no one seems to enjoy the high pressure competitive environment than Medina. He has also made the Pipeline Masters finals twice in the last three years and as his performances at Teahupoo has shown, he is one of the best technical tuberiders in the world, no matter what the size. So there’s the positives. On the flipside, he is still shelling points to the Hawaiian and will probably need to finish at least two rounds ahead of Florence to take the title. It’s Florence’s to lose, but there is no more gnarly or willing competitor waiting to feed on a mistake.
John John Florence
Going into the final day in Portugal, John was two heats away from clinching his second World Title and making all this subsequent chat irrelevant. For the surf fan, most are stoked he couldn’t get over the line in Peniche. And while it must have been a disappointment for Florence, it does open up for him the dream scenario of capturing his first Pipeline Masters and second World Title in his backyard. Of course, that comes with added pressure. How he deals with it that is the only real unknown. What we do know is that there is no better surfer at Pipeline and that a place in the final will secure victory no matter what everyone else does. If Medina falls early, Florence job becomes significantly easier It’s worth noting that Florence has been consistent all year and mostly mistake free. If he continues that form, and there is no reason to think why he shouldn’t, he’ll be a two-times World Champion. And there won’t be a single person who would be able to argue with that.