The Hawaiian Pro and Vans World Cup of Surfing are in the rear view mirror, and we have just hit the accelerator, heading towards Pipeline, the last stop in the race for the 2018 Vans Triple Crown Title.
Each surfer brings something different to the hunt: One is a Brazilian, looking to bring only the second Triple Crown Title back to his nation, the other a veteran Australian competitor with three previous wins on his resume, and then there's the local, gunning for his first and the 23rd victory for Hawaiian surfing.
After the first two events in the Triple Crown, it is Brazil's Jesse Mendes fronting the Triple Crown rankings thanks to a fifth-place finish at Haleiwa and a second-place finish at Sunset.
Sitting in second, 1,000 points behind Mendes, is Australia's Joel Parkinson, who won the Hawaiian Pro and will retire at the end of this season after an 18-year run on the Championship Tour.
After winning Sunset, Hawaii's Ezekiel Lau is holding down third. "I was in elementary school still and my parents let me cut out of school for my birthday to go watch the Triple Crown. That's all I wanted back then," said Lau from Oahu. "I knew what a Triple Crown title was before a World Title because of guys like Sunny, Kaipo Jaquias and the Ho brothers."
Since its inception in 1983, Hawaiians have dominated the Triple Crown, winning 22 of the 35 titles. John John Florence is the last Hawaiian to win the Crown, capturing it in 2016, 2013 and 2011.
"My success on these events at home has given me the opportunities to get to that next level and for me these events are really special. For any Hawaiian that wants a career in surfing, these are the events that matter," continued Lau, who grew up idolizing surfers like Sunny Garcia, the winningest surfer in the history of the Triple Crown.
The statistics are not nearly as favorable for top-ranked Mendes. Brazil only owns one Triple Crown title via World No. 1 Gabriel Medina's 2015 victory. A rookie on the CT this year, Mendes has never surfed in the Pipe Masters. The first and only win for Brazil at the Pipe Masters came in 2015 when Adriano de Souza won both Pipe and the world title.
Parkinson already owns three Triple Crown titles and is the only current contender to have won the Pipe Masters, in 2012. The last Australian to win it was current CT-Title contender Julian Wilson in 2014. "To me, the Triple Crown is the next best thing to the World Title," said Parko after his Triple Crown title win in 2009.
2019 CT Rookie Soli Bailey is 4,200 points out of the lead. Because of his status as a QS surfer, he has earned himself a spot in the Pipeline Invitational, but will have to get through the trials to get into the Pipe Masters main event.
The top two finishers of the Pipe Invitational (trials) will get into the Pipe Masters. It is not going to be easy for Bailey, but it can be done. Last year Griffin Colapinto won the Triple Crown while still a QS surfer.
At this point there are still a lot of points on the board and a lot of different scenarios that could play out, but it's going to be a sprint to the finish line for the Triple Crown. There is no shortage of swell in the forecast for the North Shore as Pipeline looms at the forefront of the competitive field.
The waiting period for the Billabong Pipe Masters runs from Dec. 8-20. Watch live on Worldsurfleague.com, App and Facebook.