Zeke can still eke in under right circumstances

We have a rather unlikely Triple Crown leader as we approach Thursday’s Billabong Pipe Masters, though there’s no telling who ends up on top of the Triple Crown ratings after the year’s final event.

With two runner-up showings through the first two legs, the leader in the clubhouse is currently Frederico Morais. But whether or not he gets to add to that total will rely squarely on his own ability to get himself into the final leg.

Not being a Championship Tour competitor, Morais will need to receive a wild card slot into the main Pipe Masters draw. His only chance to do so and pick up more points would be to earn one of two spots through the Pipe Masters Invitational. If that doesn’t happen, he’ll have to watch from the beach as John John Florence, Jordy Smith and others take direct aim at his current point total.

That left out feeling may end up being something Ezekiel Lau has to deal with if a few things don’t break his way. Lau has made huge strides this year in his qualification efforts and was within striking distance of earning his first world tour spot in 2017. He reached the semifinals at the World Cup of Surfing at Sunset Beach to improve upon his already impressive Qualifying Series season. He was part of a quartet all trying to qualify, and who all made it to the final eight.

Along with Lau, Tanner Gudauskas, Jack Freestone and Jadson Andre were also hoping to work their way into the QS top 10. All reached the semifinals, setting up some highly anticipated heats with major ramifications. Things could not have wound up any closer, as Freestone took third in the first semifinal, just ahead of Lau in fourth. The fifth-place overall result for Freestone propelled him into 10th place on the season, just 50 points ahead of Lau.

Gudauskas made the final but took fourth place, which kept the top 10 as it had been and gives Freestone a spot back on the 2017 world tour circuit.

But there are still ways Lau can qualify, despite not having another QS opportunity. Kanoa Igarashi, Jeremy Flores, Andre and Freestone are in the QS top 10, but are also full-time CT competitors. If any of the four can move into the top 22 via the Pipe Masters, that would make them double qualifiers and create a spot for Lau.

Igarashi is 24th on the season, just 800 points behind No. 22 Nat Young. Andre is right behind in 25th, 1,300 points back. Freestone sits in 29th and Flores in 33rd.

Combined with an early Young exit, Igarashi would need to reach at least round four to move in front. The same is true for Andre. Freestone would need a quarterfinal appearance and Flores, a former Pipe Master, has to reach at least the semifinals.

Other things would have to go Lau’s way, like fellow Hawaii surfers Keanu Asing and Dusty Payne going out early and not getting in the way of those he needs to do well. But in Lau’s best professional season, he still has a chance to achieve the dream tour next year. If it doesn’t happen, it will be by the narrowest margin possible. Taking on another full QS schedule next season after coming so close this time around would be difficult both mentally and physically.

But Lau isn’t the type to back down from a challenge or expect an easy path, so I’m sure he’d be up to that prospect once again.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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