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Thursday, December 6, 2012
Pipe possibilities

By Jon Coen
ESPN.com

Mick Fanning
Mick Fanning has an outside shot at the ASP World Title as the race comes down to the last event of the season, at the iconic venue Pipeline.

Last year, the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing drew an impressive number of eyeballs. At the end of the three iconic events, all held on the breathtaking North Shore of Oahu, an estimated 4 million unique viewers had tuned in to watch Haleiwa, Sunset and Pipe.

Those are big numbers for an "alternative" sport like surfing, which has traditionally had trouble attracting landlocked American sports fans. You have to keep in mind that 10 million people would tune in to watch a second-string NFL kicker wash his car.

Even if surfing is still something of a fringe sport, everyone knows about Pipe. Because of its occasional reference in pop culture, it's possible your Great Aunt Beatrice has heard of it, even if she calls it "The Bonzai Pipeline." She probably thinks Kelly Slater is cute and would totally have a crush on Joel Parkinson too … if she knew who he was.

Unlike Australia or even Brazil, our sports fans don't know much about surfing beyond Slater, Pipe and some guy in Huntington Beach who can barely speak English. The Billabong Pipeline Pro runs from Dec. 8-20 and unlike the past few years, the 2012 ASP World Title is still up for grabs. For the past decade, it's usually Kelly Slater or Mick Fanning celebrating in October or November. No matter how beautifully terrifying the North Pacific swell folds onto the shallow reef, the Pipe Masters has been an anticlimactic ending to the event season. It would be the equivalent of declaring a Super Bowl winner this week and running the playoffs just to appease the potato chip industry.

So with a legitimate title race, healthy swell predicted to roll in for the start of the waiting period, and the momentum of a fantastic year of waves and action, the Pipe Masters could be a fireworks finale that'll keep Aunt Bee Bee tuned to the webcast while she makes holiday rum balls.

Joel Parkinson
Joel Parkinson is in the No. 1 slot right now and has never won a title. He's been the most consistent surfer all year.

There are three surfers who could potentially fly out of Honolulu in late December as world champion: Slater, the 11-time world champ, freak of nature, who could have dominated anything he had put his complex mind to; Fanning, who won world titles in 2007 and 2009; and Parkinson, a man of consistency whose worst finish this year was a ninth place.

Slater won the Quiksilver Pro France, the Hurley Trestles Pro and the Volcom Fiji Pro, three of the most dramatic contests of the year. Fanning won the Billabong Pro Tahiti and the Rip Curl Pro Bells. Parkinson, who has owned the No. 1 slot for the entire second half of the year, has made three finals with a whopping 15.04 heat average -- though he hasn't won any of those events. In fact, for all his success, Parko hasn't sealed an event victory since the first contest of 2011.

The ASP has laid out the possible scenarios and they're watching the numbers closely after last year's early crowning debacle. Listen up, Beatrice.

Kelly Slater, 2008
Despite surfing's status as a fringe sport, everyone knows Pipeline and Kelly Slater. The last time he won here was 2008.

If Fanning, who has 47,000 points, wins the Pipe Masters final against anyone besides Parkinson, he wins the title. That's a long shot, but it's all that Fanning is thinking about. Keep in mind that the Pipe event has a bunch of wild-card surfers each year, so all of these title hopefuls skip the first round.

If Slater, with his 50,700 points, wins the Pipe Masters (which he has done five times before), he will be crowned world champ. And if Parkinson, with 53,900 points, goes out in the quarters or earlier, Slater can win by simply making the quarterfinals.

Slater has hinted toward a second and final retirement for the past four seasons, and at 40 years old, holding nearly every ASP World Record, is there anything left for him to prove?

In an ideal scenario, Slater and Parkinson could meet in the finals and the world title would be decided in a single-heat, barrel-riding shootout between the two best surfers in the world. And ol' Bees Wax will never get those reindeer stockings crocheted in time.