The 2012 ASP Men’s World Title trophy was ready to be lifted in Santa Cruz this week.
But the results that followed at the O’Neill Cold Water Classic made the title equation that much more complicated.
Joel Parkinson, the points leader heading into Stop 9 of 10, needed his rivals to stumble early in order to take the title. When Mick Fanning and John John Florence, world No. 3 and 4 respectively, were eliminated in Round 2, Parko’s ideal was becoming a reality.
However, there was still one more crucial result standing in the way of the Australian’s dream. It just so happened to fall in the hands of good friend Dusty Payne, who had to defeat world No. 2 Kelly Slater in Round 3.
With the world title hanging in the balance and only seconds left, Payne needed a 9.4 to upset the competition. He caught the wave that could win it and landed a frontside air reverse.
But it only scored an 8.27, sending the trophy to Hawaii and leaving Joel and Kelly to fight for valuable ranking positions before the Pipeline Masters.
All week, Slater lacked the comfort and confidence that has seen him win 11 world titles. But his talent alone could only carry him through to Round 5, where he lost to rival Adriano de Souza.
Despite Slater’s early exit, he gained valuable points on Parkinson, who slipped up in the quarterfinals. In this case, Parko’s consistency was ironically his enemy. A further equal-fifth, although a solid result, was not a significant improvement on previous results.
As hoped, the title race will culminate at the iconic Pipeline break in the final stop of the 2012 World Tour. Mick Fanning has a long shot at stealing the title, but it will likely be decided by the better finish between Slater and Parkinson.
The title race took precedence over the first few days of the competition, but it did not overshadow the last heat of the event.
The final came down to a battle of the Australians in 6'0" waves at the right-hand point break. Taj Burrow, 34, was victorious in the final over the younger Matt Wilkinson, 24.
Both surfers were unable to be split early, with strong seven-point rides apiece. But the fight for a solid backup score was not as quick.
Burrow’s formidable forehand surfing, combined with the right wave, eventually scored him a respectable 5.93. With just a minute left, Matty Wilkinson had the wave to win it but could not stick the final maneuver.
“I really wanted to win another event this year, especially since I’m out of the race for the title,” Burrow said. “That’s pretty depressing, but I’m really happy that it just fell into place here in Santa Cruz. To get two wins in a year, I’ve only done that once before so I’m really happy with that.” [Source: ASPWorldTour.com]
Wilkinson’s first Elite Tour Final came at the perfect time. Sitting 30th in the world heading into this event, the young Australian is still fighting to secure his spot on the WCT next year.
Sadly, the Coldwater Classic coincides with the two-year anniversary of the death of surfing legend Andy Irons.
It will be at one of his favourite breaks, starting December 8th, where the 2012 champion will be crowned.
Watch the entire event on demand here.