Kelly Slater at the Quiksilver Pro in France Quiksilver

"It's a long season," Mick Fanning prophetically said at the start of the ASP World Tour season. He'd just been tripped up on his home turf at Snapper Rocks, Australia. It wasn't the way he envisioned starting the year.

But, indeed, it is a long season, and after 10 months on the road spent chasing waves and circumnavigating the globe, the final stop of the World Tour, the Billabong Pipe Masters, looms upon us like a bomb third reef set. Coming to the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, December 8-20, a world title chase hangs in the balance.

Fanning's Early Lead

As the year began to unfold, Fanning wouldn't stay down for long. He battled back, winning the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach, Australia, and then the Billabong Pro Tahiti. By the middle of the season he was riding in first place on the ASP ratings and tracking his third world title.

nullMick Fanning/ASP/Kirstin

“There's still a lot of surfing left,” Fanning somberly said after his win at in Tahiti.

He was right. The world title race was just heating up. Fanning's childhood sparring partner Joel Parkinson had designs on finally fulfilling his own destiny and winning that elusive first title.

"It's a long year, you have to take it one heat at a time," Parko said after finishing runner-up in back-to-back events in Tahiti and California. He then made the semifinals in France and Portugal to lock in the top spot in the ratings.

Slater Stakes His Claim

If winning a world title is a battle to see who can say the least and put on monumental performances, look no further than Kelly Slater. Much like the start of every season, Slater's intentions were unknown. Coming off of his 11th world title, some pundits assumed this was his swan song, others figured him to be all in for yet another campaign. Slater wasn't saying much, except for pointing out how long the year can be, of course.

nullKelly Slater/hurley.com

A mediocre showing at the Quiksilver Pro Australia at the start of the year did little to convince anybody one way or the other. Then came Bells, where he and Fanning traded blows rail for rail in what would be one of the most exciting and defining finals of the year.

After the Australian leg ended, the tour migrated to Brazil. Slater opted not to join them, preferring instead to spend his time on the island of Tavarua in Fiji. Had Slater given up? Was this the start of him riding off into the sunset? Hardly. By the time the Volcom Fiji Pro rolled around a month later, Slater was in rare form. With a swell for the ages bombarding the tiny heart-shaped island in the Pacific, Slater went to work.

“That's the best I've ever surfed in a contest,” he surmised after winning the event.

“It's up for grabs and will probably go the distance all the way to Hawaii, which is a really good thing for the sport. It makes it interesting.” -- Mick Fanning

Dangerous when he has momentum, Slater slightly stumbled in Tahiti, then topped the podium at the Hurley Pro at Lower Trestles, winning his 50th ASP World Tour event in the process. He backed that up with a win at the Quiksilver Pro in France.

By the time champagne stopped flowing in France, Slater, Fanning, and Parkinson, along with Hawaii's John John Florence, who won in Brazil earlier in the year, and consummate competitor Adriano De Souza were all intertwined in what was quickly evolving into the best world title race in years.

Cards Stacked in Parko's Favor

“It's amazing to have it this tight,” said Fanning. “It's up for grabs and will probably go the distance all the way to Hawaii, which is a really good thing for the sport. It makes it interesting.” 

nullJoel Parkinson/D. Bahn

Julian Wilson and Gabriel Medina went first and second at the Rip Curl Pro Portugal, respectively, which had little bearing on the race. After that attention turned back to California and the O'Neill Coldwater Classic, but again, early round loses from all of those in the title hunt ensured that the race would continue. De Souza and Florence were numerically eliminated from the race, putting the focus squarely on Slater, Fanning and Parkinson.

And so, with the Pipe Masters coming up quickly, the ASP breaks down the title race as follows:

If Parkinson finishes 13th, ninth or fifth at the Billabong Pipe Masters, then Slater needs a fifth or higher to take the world title; Fanning needs to win at Pipeline to take the title (contingent upon Slater finishing fifth or lower at Pipeline).

If Parkinson finishes equal third at the Billabong Pipe Masters, then Slater needs a third or higher to take the title; Fanning needs to win at Pipeline to take the title (contingent upon Slater finishing fifth or Lower at Pipeline).

If Parkinson finishes second at the Billabong Pipe Masters, then Slater needs to win at Pipeline to take the title; Fanning cannot win the title.

If Parkinson wins the Billabong Pipe Masters, he will take the 2012 ASP World Tour title.

The deck is obviously stacked in Parkinson's favor, but Slater and Fanning have a very real chance at breaking his heart. Fanning swooped up his second world title when Parkinson lost at Pipe in 2009, and Slater has six Pipe Masters trophies on his mantle at home, so as they say, we're just going to have to take this one heat at a time.

 

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