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Friday, November 9, 2012
Updated: December 4, 10:57 PM ET
Three jewels, one crown

By Jon Coen
ESPN.com

Kelly Slater
Sure the young guys are starting to bust huge airs at more critical breaks like Pipe. But Slater is right there with them.

Yes. It's time for Hawaii. It's time for three of the most coveted ASP events of the year. It's time for wild freesurfs at Rocky Point, ballistic buoy readings, chocolate Haupia pie, big sets swallowing tourists' cameras, backups on Kam Highway, and the celebration of our sport's storied roots.

It's been 30 years of the Vans Triple Crown and this stuff never gets old.

With Taj Burrow acing the O'Neill Coldwater Classic last week, there's a real title race on the line going into Hawaii. For the World Tour, 2012 has been something of a banner year and, let's face it, when Kelly Slater clinches in early November, December's pu-pus aren't quite as no kai oi. We're pretty much guaranteed to have more drama than an entire season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Here we've got Slater looking for his 12th ASP World Title and Joel Parkinson, who would give his left eye for a shot at his first. Mick Fanning still has a statistical hope, but he pretty much has to win the Pipe Masters. That would make for some good webcasting. It's Parkinson's title to lose, but that's somewhat the story of his career. And while the Reef Hawaiian Pro and the Vans World Cup of Surfing will have no actual bearing on this year's actual world title, a little bit of Hawaiian momentum never hurt.

On Monday, the Triple Crown officially starts with the Reef Hawaiian Pro. Nestled into Alii Beach Park on the edge of the Seven Mile Miracle, Haliewa is the most suited for aerial gymnastics, which have played a role in the 2012 season more than ever.

"Haleiwa is a high performance wave regardless of its size and it's the perfect stage for launching our 2012 Hawaiian Air Show that will showcase all of the technical and progressive aerial maneuvers of leading athletes like John Florence, Dane Reynolds, Gabriel Medina, Josh Kerr, and last year's Air Show winner Nat Young," said Triple Crown director Randy Rarick.

The Air Show is somewhat of a side bet of the Triple Crown, 250,000 Hawaiian Airline miles to the surfer who nails the most impressive boost in any of the three jewels. And of course, Haliewa has the ramps that the boys will be looking for. But will it be the only determining venue for the air show winner? Three years ago, the answer would have been yes, but watching a few boosts at the most critical waves on tour this year, that might not be a foregone conclusion.

John John Florence
This is what the future looks like. John John Florence won his first Vans Triple Crown in 2011 and is the odds-on favorite this season.

The Triple Crown has its own unprecedented $1 million purse this year. As for the actual title, the smart money is on John John Florence. He's been the most dominant surfer in all the Pipeline events of the past two years, won the Triple Crown last year, and (aside from a solitary stumble in Santa Cruz) has great momentum.

Don't forget that Parkinson has three Triple Crown titles. Those are primarily because of his performances at Haleiwa and Sunset. He doesn't usually win it coming out of a second reef drainer at Pipe, but rather watching his competition lose a heat from the deck at the Billabong house.

Mick Fanning isn't in the heat draw for Haliewa. Remember that he sat out 2011, recovering from a neck injury.

Slater has a pair Triple Crown titles, but the last one was in '98. He's hasn't been much for surfing the first two jewels in recent years. But then again … he's not going to compete forever (how many times have we said that?) He's listed for the Reef Hawaiian Pro this year. And one more Triple Crown title wouldn't be a bad way to raise his stock in Quiksilver for his twilight years.

And speaking of being listed to compete, Reynolds is throwing on the old jersey to end the year. He's everyone's favorite dark horse, but can we really call him a dark horse after the show he put on in France last month? Good lord. The only one who wouldn't see him as a Triple Crown favorite is Reynolds.

Sunny Garcia
Hawaiian vet Sunny Garcia just won the 4-star HIC Pro at Sunset. Can't count him out of the Triple Crown.

If you had to pick another contender, it might not be a World Tour surfer at all. There's Jamie O'Brien, but his records at Haliewa and Sunset aren't what it is at Pipe. Could be someone else altogether. Perhaps a Brazo? Remember that the Triple Crown rules changed after 2010 when Julian Wilson surfed so well in the first two events, but was denied entry into the Pipe Masters because there were no wild card slots left. Now anyone with a good shot at that championship gets into the 44-man field at Pipe.

And, much to the delight of surf fans everywhere, Mark Occhilupo, 46, will get a slot at Haliewa and Sunset. He will be surfing the "Clash of the Legends" again at Haliewa against Sunny Garcia, who has six Triple Crown titles to his name (the first being 1992, the last being 2004.) But Garcia just won the HIC Pro at Sunset, proving the sun has not set on his competitive career. I'm sure that's just what some of the younger guys want to hear. As long as we're talking about younger guys, Florida's Evan Geiselman was Triple Crown Rookie of the year last December and worth keeping an eye on.

And with that, the 30th Annual Vans Hawaiian Triple Crown gets under way. There's a modest swell on the horizon, enough to hopefully get through the first round. No one wants to relive the nine consecutive lay days of last year.