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Playing with Fire: 6 CT Surfers Who Need To Perform at Pipe

Few scenarios are more stressful for Championship Tour surfers than fighting for their elite tour lives at Pipeline, one of the heaviest waves on the planet. Unfortunately, that's exactly the case for the following six surfers, all of whom need at least a Quarterfinal finish or better to insure requalification at the elite tour level in 2017.

The wave at the 2015 Billabong Pipe Masters. The Pipeline arena. WSL / Kirstin Scholtz

While their CT counterparts like Ryan Callinan, Kanoa Igarashi, Jack Freestone and Stuart Kennedy are still hedging their bets on the Qualifying Series, these six CT players are all sitting outside the Top 50 on the QS, way outside the cutoff. All that really means is the Billabong Pipe Masters is the key to their CT survival.

Six surfers who need a huge result at Pipe:

Wiggolly Dantas
1:52
Dantas has a powerful approach, which will serve him well at Pipe.

Wiggolly Dantas
CT Rank: 20 Points: 22,400
Needs: 13th or better to gain any ground (dropping 25th), but without a 9th at Pipe he's vulnerable.

Despite a recent bout of early-round exits, Wiggolly's pair of fifth-place finishes at the Rip Curl Pro Bells and Fiji Pro, as well as a solid 9th at J-Bay, are making all the difference heading into Hawaii. His performance at Cloudbreak earlier this year showed signs of promise in shallow left-hand barrels. But Pipeline is a pressure cooker, and Wiggolly will need to rise to the occasion if he wants to keep his Top 22 spot. Last year, his 25th-place result in the Pipe Masters was irrelevant, as the No. 15-ranked rookie finished his first season in a much more comfortable spot. This year, he's technically safe sitting at No. 20, but another Round Two exit may not cut it as he fights for requalification.

Miguel Pupo
1:30
Miguel Pupo earned a crucial Round Four win while fighting for his CT tour life.

Miguel Pupo
CT Rank: 21 Points: 21,400
Needs: 13th to gain any ground (dropping 25th), but without a 9th he's vulnerable.

Miguel Pupo's breakout performance in Portugal couldn't have come at a better time. The Brazilian thrust himself into the spotlight, taking down Kelly Slater and a host of other big names on his way to a huge Quarterfinal result at the MEO Rip Curl Pro. Pupo jumped two spots in the rankings, and pushed himself back into the requalification picture. The 150-pound goofy-foot looked dangerously confident in pumping surf at Supertubos, and can carry his heavy-water momentum into the Pipe Masters. But If he really wants to be safe for 2017, Miguel will need a 9th or better at Pipe to improve his rank.

Nat Young
0:31
The Californian scores a cool nine points against Taj Burrow in Round Three of the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro.

Nat Young
CT Rank: 22 Points: 18,900
Needs: 13th to gain any ground (dropping 25th), but without a 9th at Pipe he's vulnerable.

For a guy who normally finds himself within the Top 10 picture by the end of the CT season, Nat Yong is in unfamiliar territory sitting at No. 22 on the Jeep leaderboard. His back-to-back 5th-place finishes earlier in the year at Margarets and Bells have been his saving grace, as he's been plagued by a handful of tight early-Round losses. Now, Nat needs to put everything on the line in the final CT event at Pipe. Luckily, the goofyfoot thrives in heavy lefthand barrels, but sitting 2,500 points behind Pupo, he needs at least a 9th in the Pipe Masters to improve his situation. Also consider that No. 23-ranked Keanu Asing is nipping at Young's heels, just 150 points behind him.

Keanu Asing winning the Quiksilver Pro France. Keanu Asing. WSL / Kelly Cestari

Keanu Asing
CT Rank: 23 Points: 18,750
Needs: 13th or better to gain any ground (dropping 25th), but without a 5th place finish he's vulnerable.

Keanu Asing recently came off the biggest win of his career, earning top honors at the Quiksilver Pro France. The scrappy Hawaiian took down 2016 World Champ John John Florence and World No. 2 Gabriel Medina en route to his first CT victory. Unfortunately, the last event in Portugal didn't go according to plan (he bowed out in Round Two). Now sitting at No. 23 in the rankings, Asing is in a fragile spot heading into Hawaii. However, he only needs to fill a small, 150-point gap to overtake Nat Young and break into the Top 22, which would guarantee him a CT slot in 2017. Even a 13th-place finish at Pipe would improve his rankings situation. While the Hawaiian will be right at home in heavy surf on the North Shore, his low seed on the Qualifying Series means his CT future will ultimately be decided at Pipe.

Jadson Andre
4:59
It was a tense situation as the final scores came in for the Australian and the Brazilian.

Jadson Andre
CT Rank: 25 Points: 17,500
Needs: 13th to gain any ground (dropping 25th), but without a 3rd place or better he's vulnerable.

Watching a glassy-eyed Andre trudge up the sand at the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal after his tight Round Three loss was a tender moment for competitors and fans alike. But the CT veteran's childhood taught him how to fight for survival; he's not about give up in 2016. Even after battling injury and early-round losses, he still holds the No. 25 spot on the Jeep leaderboard, thanks to three 9th place results. However, Jadson needs a critical final effort at Pipe if he wants to crack the Top 22. Currently, he's 1,400 points behind No. 22 Nat Young, and a handful of 25th-place results are weighing him down. Technically, anything above Round Two in the Pipe Masters will help his cause. Ideally though, he'll want to crack the Semis to get in the mix for requalification.

Dusty Payne (HAW) was eliminated in Round 3. Payne is no stranger to Pipeline's infamous tubes. WSL / KC

Dusty Payne
CT Rank: 26 Points: 15,950
Needs: A 13th to gain any ground (dropping 25th), but without a Finals appearance at Pipe he's vulnerable.

Simply put, the Maui native needs a miracle at the Pipe Masters. Luckily, Dusty has pulled a Hail Mary in Hawaii before. He saved his season at Pipe in 2014, when he earned a last-minute spot in the event thanks to huge performances in the first two events of the Triple Crown. Sitting at No. 67 on the QS, he could technically pull some last-minute heroics at Sunset and Haleiwa (QS10000s), and qualify with his QS ranking. But he would have to be near-perfect in both events. At this point, he's better off playing his cards at Pipe.

As it does every year, the North Pacific's heart has started to beat after a long summer slumber, and the first pulses of swell have begun sweeping sand off the jagged reef at Pipe. Although the Pipe Masters is more than a month away, preparation starts now.

Watch the Billabong Pipe Masters live daily on the WSL website and app from Dec. 8 - 20.

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