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As we prepare for the Quiksilver Pro France, let's take a moment to reflect on this past summer, when the glass-half-empty crowd was bemoaning the ASP Tour season. Average waves and an above-average floater left a funny taste after Brazil. Bobby Martinez, Dane Reynolds and Kelly Slater were no shows in South Africa. Then J-Bay did its impression of a weak windswell at Malibu.
But since then, Tahiti looked like another planet. Martinez decided it would be better to go down in a blaze of questionable glory than to fade away. Surf fans have decided life goes on even without Reynolds. And Slater has won two of the past three finals, creating a competitive rivalry with Aussie sophomore stud Owen Wright that has had webcast junkies refreshing their browsers like Pavlovian experimental subjects.
Plus we've seen aerial dark horses, new Hawaiian blood, Brazzos jawing at Slater and all sorts of other back stories emerge. On top of all that, we have a legitimate world title race on our hands.
After Teahupoo, Floridians stopped waving their Gators and Seminoles football flags long enough to come up with the very clever "Ke11y" to signify his eleventh world title. Although the 39-year-old has won three events, he cannot clinch No. 11 at the Quik Pro France.
"Even if Kelly wins France and both Owen and Joel Parkinson get a 25th in the event, the title race will be still open," says ASP Tour manager Renato Hickel.
Mick Fanning can never be counted out. This is the time of year when he comes up big. He's won in France the past two years, even dousing (momentarily) the Slater flame in 2010. But if Kelly wins in France (something he has yet to do, strangely enough), it would dash Fanning's chances of collecting a third world title.
A Slater victory also would eliminate Josh Kerr's chances. Outside of Wright, Kerr has been the story of the year, proving himself in every wave the tour has thrown at him. And a Slater win would take Jordy Smith out of the running. Smith won the Billabong Pro J-Bay to take the No. 2 slot in the world but has been out for two events since injuring his ribs in a Tahitian meat grinder. He's in France, but he's questionable. Hawaiian Dusty Payne is ready to go, though. And after withdrawing from the Billabong Azores Island Pro with a knee injury Friday, Heitor Alves looks to be ready to surf this week, too.
Parkinson has been the perennial bridesmaid the past few years. With Wright's rise, Kerr's realizing his potential and surfers such as Alejo Muniz starting to put up more consistent results, Parkinson is in danger of losing even that title, which means a world title slips farther away. He's in the No. 3 slot now and still in the hunt, but he's going to have to start turning those fifths and thirds into finals berths if he's ever going to win the big one -- and he has to start now.
|Joel Parkinson has his work cut out for him. He currently is in the No. 3 spot and has been chasing a world title for some time now. He has to turn those fifths and thirds to finals at this point.|
France will mean a lot to two surfers in particular: Adriano de Souza and Taj Burrow. De Souza won the Billabong Pro Rio in his home country of Brazil earlier this year but has failed to make a semifinal since and currently holds the No. 4 spot. He needs to make the semis to keep even a shred of hope of a world title. Burrow, on tour since 1998, is a very feasible world champ who has never quite fulfilled that potential. He's currently in the No. 6 slot. Anything less than a finals berth, and Burrow can forget the 2011 title.
So here we are with basically back-to-back Euro events and then the great paddle battle in San Fran before Hawaii. And let's remember that this season has seen more progressive surfing than we used to see in five seasons. The champ is in the lead, but there are some damn hungry Aussies. Let the doubters doubt. It's going to be a good ride, and it starts now.