Now that the Billabong Pipeline Masters is underway, there is no spectator watching the event more closely than Zeke Lau. Having missed out on a Top 10 spot on the Qualifying Series by just 50 points, Lau will now need results to go his way at Pipe to have a chance of being a permanent member of the Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour in 2017.
As it stands, Lau will be the first injury replacement at any Championship Tour event next year. If 2016 is anything to go by, he should get plenty of opportunities. He might look to Stuart Kennedy and Sebastian Zietz who were in his position at the end of 2015. Both surfers received opportunities to replace injured CT surfers at the very first event and went on to secure their CT spots for 2017.
However Lau, as well as the next three surfers on the Qualifying Series ratings, Bino Lopes, Jesse Mendes and Tanner Gudauskas, still have a mathematical chance of making the CT cut. There are four surfers from the CT who qualified in the top 10 on the QS; Jack Freestone, Jeremy Flores, Jadson Andre and Kanoa Igarashi. If any one of those surfers manage to place in the top 22 on the CT rankings after the Pipeline Masters, they would double qualify. This means they wouldn't require their QS qualification spot, and effectively hand it to the next surfer on the QS rankings.
In another twist, the chances of those double qualifiers rest mainly on how Nat Young, currently in 22nd place on the CT, performs at Pipe. He's their target at 18,900 points. Jeremy Flores has 13,000 and Jack Freestone 14,500, so those two have the most ground to make up. Basically if Nat gets a 5th, he'd qualify, even if Jack or Jeremy win the event. That said, anything less and he's still vulnerable, should one of those guys blow up. At this point it's worth remembering Flores is a past Pipe Master and probably the best equipped to blow up.
Igarashi and Andre are much closer to Young and provide Lau and the others with their best shots. Kanoa sits on 18,000 and Jadson at 17,500. So both can pass Nat with a 9th, if Nat gets a 13th. It's all so tight, and a clearer picture of who needs what probably won't appear until at least Round Three.
Igarashi, who has had a remarkable run of nine consecutive 13th places, and has failed to lose a second round CT heat all year, will have perhaps the most incentive to do well. He has travelled with Lau for the last few seasons, and been by his side throughout the ups and downs of life on the QS. Knowing that a solid result at Pipe will get his good mate by his side on the CT should provide extra incentive for the rookie at Pipe.
Jadson Andre is also currently sitting at fourth in the Triple Crown Ratings, and Lau and company will be hoping he brings his Hawaiian form and confidence to Pipe.
Either way the CT dreams of these four surfers remain alive for now, even if they can't do anything but sit and watch. And even if they fall short, given the trajectory of injury frequency these days, replacement opportunities are high. But if the cards fall in their favor at Pipe, next year will be a very different story.