The Triple Crown has meant a lot to the surfing world for the last 35 years.
"It would be all-time to take out the Triple Crown," said Smith, who would be a first-time winner, after today's competition. "I just have to keep making heats and we'll see where I go at the end of the day."
Back in its formative years, Sunny Garcia - the 2000 World Champion - first competed in the Vans Triple Crown as a 16-year-old in 1986 and had an instant impact when he made the Final at Sunset. Thirty years later he surfed his last having accumulating a record six Triple Crown Titles.
"For me the Triple Crown has and always will be the biggest trophy in surfing after the World Title," Garcia told the WSL. "It has so much history, and to win it means you have beaten the world's best surfers at three of Hawaii's most powerful waves. The Triple Crown pretty much gave me everything I have."
Sunny's commitment to the Triple Crown no doubt has helped maintain its prestigious place in surfing. The first Triple Crown was held in 1983 initially to set apart the three Hawaii events; the Pipe Masters, the World Cup of Surfing and the Hawaiian Pro, and honor the best male surfer in Hawaii's best waves. The North Shore of Oahu had always been the unofficial proving ground for the sport, but the Triple Crown both formalized and legitimized the process.
The winner's list in its 35-year history shows just how effective that process has been. World Champions Derek Ho, Tom Carroll, Garcia, Kelly Slater, Andy Irons, Joel Parkinson, Gabriel Medina and John John Florence have all claimed the crown at least once. While surfers like Gary Elkerton and Mike Ho, who both claimed two Triple Crown Titles, credit those victories as the pinnacle of their celebrated careers.
"It always was and remains a huge deal for me going into Hawaii," says Joel Parkinson, who won three consecutive Vans Triple Crown Titles from 2008 to 2010. "We grew up watching our heroes like Kong (Elkerton) and Tom Carroll come to Hawaii and prove themselves at Pipeline and Sunset. To win one meant you'd done your time at the waves and had gained a level of respect."
Having announced his competitive retirement Parkinson is surfing in his last Triple Crown this year and came into the Billabong Pipe Masters in second place on the ratings. If can win he would join the great Hawaiian Derek Ho with four crowns. Only Sunny has won more.
"It would be the absolute icing on the cake," Parko said. "It's been a while since I won and to finish my career in Hawaii, a place that has given me so much, with a last Triple Crown Title would mean so much."
While the Triple Crown has, more often that not, been won by the sport's very highest achievers, it does also provide a platform for lesser known surfers with a particular affinity with Hawaii's waves to be thrust into the limelight. In 2007 the largely unsung and underrated Bede Durbidge won the Pipeline Masters to seal the Triple Crown Title, a just reward for a surfer who had been one of Australia's best and most committed performers in the Islands.
In 2014 Dusty Payne came from nowhere, rankings wise, to claim the Triple Crown and CT status. In 2012 Sebastian "Seabass" Zeitz also vaulted from obscurity to clinch the Triple Crown and CT qualification in a life-changing six weeks. Last year it was 19-year-old Griffin Colapinto who claimed his first Vans Triple Crown Title.
"It's the best feeling ever, but it felt weird," Colapinto said at the time. "I just watched all the guys who could pass me drop out. It's an honor, it means a lot, even I'm slightly overwhelmed by it all just now." Colapinto was the first-ever Triple Crown Title for a surfer from California, and the first for Mainland USA since Kelly Slater did it in 1998. You sense it also may not be the last.
With the Triple Crown meaning as much to Colapinto as it always did to Sunny Garcia, its singular place in surfing is assured. For 35-years the Triple Crown has meant a lot. And that's not about to change.
2018 Vans Triple Crown Title Scenarios:
- If Mendes gets 9th Smith needs 1st, Duru needs 1st, Parkinson needs a 5th to win.
- If Mendes gets 5th Parkinson needs a 3rd, Smith and Duru out.
- If Mendes gets 3rd Parkinson needs a 2nd to win.
- If Mendes gets 2nd Parkinson needs a 1st to win.