Oahu, Hawaii – The world title race is in a frenzy right now with top four surfers making rookie mistakes, getting ridiculously barreled, looking nervous as well looking as confident as hell. It’s a full mixed bag of dreams, desires, intent and wishes. What shall transpire no one knows, because despite what websites and trolls allude to, there isn't a script waiting to be played out. It’s a shit fight to the end, and out of the contenders, Jordy Smith appears the most malleable, while current Jeep Leaderboard front-runner John John seems most likely to.   

While all the drama is going on in the front of the queue, there’s a lot going on from alternate groupings on the Jeep Leader Board.

Current 29-rated surfer Kelly Slater has been quiet ever since he took off on that damned three-foot close-out at Boneyards back in July, forcing him to watch one of the best events of the decade with broken bones in his foot. That period of convalescence was only disturbed once, when Kelly hosted the Future Classic surf event at his surf ranch, where he cruised a few bombs, albeit gingerly. Otherwise the man has been quiet, repairing his body, taking it as easy as an injured surfer can.

Now that the last event of the year is on, Kelly is back at the helm. He made fairly quick work of his first round heat, defeating an in-form Joan Duru and Kolohe Andino with a clean backhand tube ride at Pipe and a bigger, deeper forehand barrel at Backdoor. His experience showed, his superior wave knowledge out there also shone through, and it is obvious that even though he might not be fighting fit, he has a few serious advantages over less experienced surfers.

Riding Pipe comes down to much more than skill on a surfboard. You need wave knowledge and experience of differing swell directions, of the ability to change, to morph, to flow with the tides so to speak.

Will Slater be on the Championship Tour for 2018? The obvious answer that jumps to the fore is hell yes, of course he will. He has his own event next year at Lemoore, and as displayed during that first round heat, he can still beat the younger guys when he needs to, when he finds his motivation. 

Kelly still has a trick or two when it comes to this year’s finish.

Firstly, it looks like the conditions are Pipe for the last swells of the waiting period are going to get really gnarly. It looks like it’s going to be rough, wind-affected and sweeping conditions, where all sorts of factors will come into play, like courage and lack thereof, as well as hunger. Kelly seems to be hungry. He’s surfing the event because he wants another Pipe Masters title.

Secondly, there’s the good old injury wild card. He might need to do something at Pipe, to get to a certain round or to the final, but let’s face it, the WSL want Kelly back next year, they own the rule book, and should he want to be back, they will make a plan.

As the WSL gears up for their previously announced monumental changes that are all set to kick in for the 2019 competitive season, Kelly is needed to help steer the ship, to keep the media rapt, to hold the new fans in the palm of his hands as he has done, admirably, for years.

The game is still on.

It’s not over, until the Lord says its over.