When Kelly Slater bowed out of the Rip Curl Pro Portugal uncharacteristically early after a sloppy Round Two loss to Portuguese wildcard Frederico Morais, the collective surfing world shrugged. Kelly had already lost once, in Round One, to another wildcard (trials winner Jacob Wilcox) no less. Ratings leader Mick Fanning had also stumbled in the opening salvo of the event, which started off on day one with barrels befitting the Supertubos name but quickly devolved over the next week into a morass of wonky sideshore thumpers, lackadaisical lay days, and maddening lulls plagued nearly every heat.
Mick survived his Round Two affair against Francisco Alves, however, and looked primed to claim his third World Title immediately thereafter. All he had to do was make the semifinals… which is exactly what he failed to do, falling in (you guessed it) a wave-starved heat against eventual champion Kai Otton, who, it should be noted, scraped his way to his first career ASP World Tour event win by beating John John Florence, Fanning, 2012 World Champ Joel Parkinson, and 2013 Rookie of the Year Nat Young in consecutive heats.
That means this year’s tight World Title race will go to Pipeline, with two clear outcomes: Kelly Slater must win the event, and Mick Fanning must finish lower than 3rd (i.e. not make the semifinals), for Kelly to take home his 12th world title. If either of those things don’t happen, Mick is the champion.
Now, call it East Coast bias — but our guts tell us that Kelly Slater will pull a rabbit out of his hat and make the unlikely happen. Find five of the best reasons below.
1) We’re talking about Kelly Slater here. Eleven ASP World Titles, 53 WCT event wins, the youngest and the oldest world champion in surfing history… if anybody can overcome one 25th and two 13th-place finishes this year to make an unlikely World Title happen, it’s Kelly.
2) Pipeline is one of Kelly’s strongest venues on tour. It’s hard to believe that, back in the early ‘90s, the surfing world snickered at the thought of Jimmy Slade manning up in Hawaii and truly proving himself as a world-class athlete. Since 1992, The Champ has won in Banzai’s big lefts and rights six times, and made the final 11 of 22 times. Those numbers put every other surfer in history to shame.
3) Pipeline is not one of Mick’s strongest venues on tour. Mick has never won a Pipe Masters event, the crown jewel of professional surfing. He finished runner up in 2005, 4th in 2002 — and that’s that. One man’s quest to make history will win out — and Kelly has a lot more at stake. If he does muster the magical mojo to pull off perhaps the most unlikely come-from-behind title push in surfing history, after one of the more up-and-down years he’s had since coming out of semi-retirement in the mid-2000s, what could possibly stand between Kelly and retiring on top?
4) Kelly will be ready. Kelly has been battling countless injuries this year, and the two months until Pipe will give him plenty of time to get his body and mind right. Also, on Instagram, Kelly sounded downright resigned after his early exit: “You ever have one of those days or weeks or months where it’s just not happening for you? Hard to take the sting out of a loss you know could have been averted with a couple of #BetterChoices.” But immediately thereafter, Kelly left himself a sliver of light: “Once the smoke clears at this event, I’ll know whether I have an outside shot at the title this year going into the #PipeMasters. Sometimes that’s all you need. #ThoughtsBecomeThings #GottaGetMyMojoBack.”
5) Everyone except the Aussies will be behind him. If Kelly were battling a young gun like John John Florence, Gabriel Medina, Nat Young, or even Julian Wilson for the 2013 ASP World Title, public sentiment would surely be against him. But since Mick Fanning already has two world titles and is the personification of everything gym-balled and laser-focused about elite-level professional surfing, Kelly will have an improbable emotional wind at his back — and, most likely, the help of every non-Australian surfer in the draw.
Will our bold claims hold up? Or will Kelly’s mere mortal-ness, which has been shockingly on display over the back half of 2013, come back to haunt him? Well, with nearly two months left until the season-ending Billabong Pipe Masters, everyone will probably forget what we said here. But if we are right, we’ll be sure to remind you of our clairvoyance.