Zeke’s World Cup win sets up exciting Pipeline finale

  • Keoki / WSL

    Oahu’s Ezekiel Lau won the Vans World Cup or Surfing on Thursday at Sunset Beach, propelling him to third place on the Vans Triple Crown leaderboard. Brazil’s Jesse Mendes currently leads the Triple Crown race after a fifth at the Hawaiian Pro and a second at the World Cup.

There’s a lot at stake during the year’s final event, which is ideally the way it should always be. The Billabong Pipe Masters opened its waiting period Saturday to determine the 2018 world champion and a Triple Crown champion, as well as the completion of the qualification puzzle. Three men still have world title aspirations, more than that are alive in the Triple Crown hunt and a few nervous surfers need some specific results to hop back on the world tour in 2019.

With his victory at the Vans World Cup on Thursday, Ezekiel Lau shot up to third place on the Triple Crown leaderboard with 12,100 points. Lau clearly has a knack for surfing big Sunset Beach conditions because he also took the title at last year’s HIC Pro.

Having taken the early lead with a win at the Hawaiian Pro, Joel Parkinson now sits in second place after a 17th-place result at the World Cup. Parkinson is surfing the final contest of his storied career and would love to punctuate it with a fourth Triple Crown title. He’s very much within striking distance and may still have to be considered the favorite at 12,300 points.

Topping the list is Brazil’s Jesse Mendes, who backed up a fifth-place at Haleiwa with a runner-up finish at Sunset. His 13,300 points lead the way and he’ll have every opportunity to add to it at Pipeline.

The top three are all in the main draw without needing to go through the trials, which will make catching them difficult for some others who are still in the hunt. Soli Bailey (9,100) is in fourth place after ninth and fifth-place results, respectively. He’ll need to make his way through the 32-man trial event just to get into the field and add anything significant to his total.

As the Triple Crown is being worked out, the world title has come down to three men — Gabriel Medina, Julian Wilson and Filipe Toledo. Medina maintains the edge with the other two tied for second place. To clinch his second career world championship by his own doing, Medina needs to reach the final heat. If he finishes in third place, either Wilson or Toledo can jump ahead by winning the event. A fifth or worse for Medina and either man can win it by making the final heat.

Wilson is the more serious threat, given his previous success at Pipeline. For that to be viewed differently, Toledo must continue to shake the stigma that he isn’t capable of big results on big waves. This is his golden opportunity to alter that perception.

Though not in the world title picture, France’s Joan Duru is facing a lot of pressure. Duru made a big leap in the rankings over the past two months, first taking second place at the Rip Curl Pro Portugal to move up to 23rd on the CT. He then took third at the World Cup, which was a great result but leaves him just short of a qualification spot on the QS leaderboard. Only one place higher would have gotten him an additional 1,300 points and put him above the cut line.

Duru will need to finish in ninth place or better to give himself a chance at bumping up into the top 22.

Sebastian Zietz appears fairly safe in 19th position, but a second-round loss would definitely make him sweat out the remaining results. He has some minimum scores to replace, so even just making it to round three will improve his season total.

Right now, Jack Freestone is the final qualifier, thanks to a 13th place at the World Cup that has him just edging out Ethan Ewing on the QS ladder. But he needs things to stay as they are. If Lau or Griffin Colapinto, who sit in 18th and 20th on the CT, respectively, were to lose early at Pipeline, each may get passed and need to use their QS ranking. That would knock Freestone back out and keep him off the 2019 CT.

There’s a lot to keep track of, in addition to just the prestige of someone winning the Pipe Masters. Notables still hoping to get into the main draw include Bruce Irons, Evan Valiere, Koa Smith, Mason Ho, Billy Kemper, Nathan Florence and plenty of others who will be in the trials when action gets underway. That could be as early as today if the winds cooperate. Surfline says that Off-the-Wall and Backdoor should be best, with another swell later this week looking good for proper Pipeline.

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

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