Fanning the flames: Mick wins 3rd world title

Needing a semifinal appearance to clinch his third Association of Surfing Professionals world title, Mick Fanning began his Saturday just two heat victories away from that crown. Each time it looked like he’d have to sit and watch Kelly Slater rip the title from his clutches, but each time he came through with heroics in the final seconds to secure the top spot at the end of 2013.

Fanning entered the Billabong Pipe Masters knowing that an Equal Third would take all other scenarios out of the equation. Slater had a chance to win his 12th world title if he could win at Pipeline and if Fanning were to be eliminated earlier than the semifinals. Everyone on the beach thought, at one moment or another, that situation was about to present itself.

Needing an 8.00 with just over a minute left in the day’s opening heat in which Fanning had waited out a multitude of falls and spills, he whipped into a big pipe wave with a deep barrel, flying out with a strong claim. The score was well beyond what he needed at a 9.50 to give Fanning a 12.00 to 10.50 win over CJ Hobgood.

Into the quarterfinals, he was 30 minutes from a world title, but with almost all of those 30 minutes expired, Australian countryman Yadin Nicol had Fanning in an even more dire situation than Hobgood had. Nicol scored an early 9.33 and backed it up with a 7.57 for a 16.90 total. Fanning’s first wave netted him a 7.33, which had kept him in play and needing a 9.57 to move back in front and clinch the ASP crown.

Waves started appearing from third reef with two minutes left in the heat. Fanning knew he’d only have one shot at one of those monsters. With 100 seconds remaining, he took off on the first set wave, dropped low and rode back up into the barrel, staying in until its waning moments and flying out with the spit. It took a full three minutes for the scores to appear as Fanning walked the shoreline, but when they were finally read, Fanning had done it. A 9.73 was the result and that one ride secured Fanning the 2013 ASP championship.

He was lifted and carried up the beach by his friends and fans, all congratulating the year’s most consistent surfer on maybe his most dramatic performance to date.

With the world title determined and six heats to go on the day, the Triple Crown still hadn’t been claimed. Tahiti’s Michel Bourez entered the day with the Triple Crown ratings lead, but Bourez had long since been eliminated in the third round, so Jeremy Flores, John John Florence, Fanning and defending Triple Crown champion Sebastian Zietz were all in the running.

Zietz opened the day in the fifth round and surfed a dominant heat against Australia’s Kai Otton, with Seabass hitting the round’s best two-wave total at 16.60. He then saw Flores, the Frenchman, go down at the hands of Brazil’s Miguel Pupo, moving Zietz in position to repeat if he could outmaneuver Florence from the quarterfinals on. But the quarters saw Seabass paired with Slater, who showed no disappointment in knowing he couldn’t win the world title. If anything, it may have gotten him a tad angry. Not many would like Slater when he’s angry. Zietz got to witness true perfection from Slater this year at Fiji when he put up a pair of perfect rides for a 20 against the Kilauea rider. This time, the 11-time champion jumped on just about every possible wave and surfed a near-perfect heat to eliminate Zietz, 18.80 to 7.80.

With the Equal Fifth finish, Seabass finished with 8,200 points and was the only surfer to finish in the top 10 of all three jewels of the Triple Crown, taking Equal Ninth finishes at both Haleiwa and Sunset Beach. His title defense ended just short, finishing with the third-place spot in the Triple Crown ratings.

What looked unlikely just weeks ago then became reality Saturday as Florence clinched his second Triple Crown championship after his first in 2011. At just 21 years of age, Florence is widely considered the best Pipeline surfer in the world, having grown up just minutes from the wave. After a disappointing Equal 33rd finish at the Reef Hawaiian Pro, Florence marked an Equal Fifth at the Vans World Cup and was then untouchable Saturday.

He got past Julian Wilson in the quarters, then put up a pair of lightning quick nine-point rides in the opening minutes against Fanning in the semis to lock things up. Eliminating Fanning with an 18.30 total was enough for John John to take the Triple Crown.

But onlookers got the dream scenario in the final, with Florence and Slater going head to head. The yearly titles had already been determined and each was just out for the Pipe Master championship – Slater’s seventh or Florence’s first.

The waves didn’t give the competitors much for the first 25 minutes, but Florence set the tone with an 8.50 at the 10-minute mark before Slater immediately followed with a ridiculous air drop, flying out for a 9.87. Florence needed a 7.88 and took off on a backdoor wave with just 25 seconds remaining, getting deep in the barrel but coming shy of the necessary score. He came up just a half-point short, receiving a 7.40 total, which gave Slater the 2013 Pipe Masters championship with a 16.37 to 15.90 victory.

One of the best final days at Pipeline provided all the drama the ASP could have hoped for and was a fitting end to the 2013 season.

• ‘My Thoughts Exactly’ appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in The Garden Island. Email David Simon your comments or questions to dsimon@thegardenisland.com. Follow David on Twitter @SimonTGI

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