World Title race heats up at Pipeline

NORTH SHORE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Billabong Pipe Masters in Memory of Andy Irons completed Rounds 2 and 3 today in four-to-six foot (1.2 - 1.8 metre) conditions at the world famous Banzai Pipeline. The North Shore saw nail-biting match-ups as both requalification for the Championship Tour (CT) and the World Title are on the line at this event. Today's battle to say on tour was also accompanied by retiring athletes, Bede Durbidge (AUS) and Josh Kerr (AUS), surfing their last heats today as full-time CT competitors as well as Conner O'Leary (AUS) earning the Rookie of the Year title.

After a full day of competition at the Billabong Pipe Masters, the final stop on the 2017 World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour (CT) and the capstone event of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing (VTCS), there are now only two surfers in contention to win the WSL Title: John John Florence (HAW) and Gabriel Medina (BRA).

With Florence advancing out of Round 3 today, Australia's Julian Wilson will not be able to clinch the World Title this season. Despite not being able to take home the World Surfing crown at this event, the 2014 Pipe Master set the bar in Round 3 with the day's highest single-wave score, a near-perfect 9.93, to defeat rookie Ezekiel Lau (HAW). Wilson's 15.26 combined score forced Lau into a combination situation that he was not able to overcome. Lau will exit with an Equal 13th place result and is safe for a sophomore year on tour after ending within the top 10 on the Qualifying Series during the Vans World Cup at Sunset Beach.

In the final heat of the day, world title hopeful Jordy Smith (ZAF) went against 11x World Champion Kelly Slater (USA) and suffered a disappointing loss and early elimination to ultimately lose his chance for the world title. Smith scored a 7.00 on his opening ride for early domination, however Slater's positioning was on-point and he was able to score two rides, a 6.70 and 5.17, under priority and overtake Smith.

World Title scenarios after elimination Round 3 of the Billabong Pipe Masters:

If Florence gets 1st or 2nd at Pipe he will clinch the World Title;

If Florence gets a 3rd, Medina will need a1st at Pipe to win the World Title;

If Florence gets a 5th, Medina will need a1st at Pipe to win the World Title;

If Florence gets a 9th, Medina will need a 2nd

Current Jeep Frontrunner Florence barely escaped elimination Round 3 against 2017 CT rookie Ethan Ewing (AUS). The 2016 WSL Champion held the lead for most of the heat, but the rookie fought back to only need a 4.67 to advance through and end Florence's World Title hopes. Ewing needed a 4.67 on his final attempt, but earned a 4.60 for a Backdoor barrel and closeout maneuver, falling just short of the requirement. With the final scoring coming to 10.76 to 10.60, Florence will advance through the Round 4.

Medina also had a close match-up against CT veteran Josh Kerr (AUS) in Round 3 Heat 8. Medina wove his way out of tight barrels and threw up massive air attempts for a 10.00 two-wave score and managed to just escape elimination by Kerr, who garnered a 9.83 heat total.

The first heat of the day, Round 2 Heat 1, opened with Medina taking an early lead over Pipe Invitational winner Dusty Payne (HAW). Medina took advantage of the clean barrels with two 6.33 scores, his first for a Backdoor right, then a backup Pipe barrel on his forehand. Payne warmed up with a double barrel that earned him a 7.17 but was left looking for an excellent-range score after Medina lit up the North Shore with a near-perfect 9.00.

Wilson took down Benji Brand (HAW) earlier today before facing Lau in Round 3. The heated exchange started with Brand's two best waves, a 3.17 and 3.70, for in and out Backdoor barrels, but Wilson was not to be outdone by the local wildcard.With a combined two-wave total of 8.56, the Australian bested Brand after he found a backup 4.23 on the final ride of the heat.

Kolohe Andino (USA) had a commanding performance in Round 2 Heat 6 against Jack Freestone (AUS), who lost his chance for requalification onto the 2018 CT after bowing out of today's competition. Andino posted two excellent scores, an 8.50 and 8.60, for the highest combined heat total of the event, a 17.10, and a strong lead on the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing title.

Andino placed runner up in the Vans World Cup and fifth in the Hawaiian Pro, the two final QS10,000 of the year and start to the 35th annual Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. In 2016 he finished fourth on the CT and now currently sits within the world's top 10 after an outstanding performance at Margaret River and Semifinal finishes in Tahiti, France and Portugal earlier this year.

Earlier in the season, 2007 Pipe Master Bede Durbidge (AUS) announced that he will retire from the CT after the 2018 season to become the Elite Program Manager for team Australia heading into the 2020 Olympics. With a loss in Round 2 Heat 10 to good friend Fanning, today marked Durbidge's final run as a professional surfer after thirteen years on the world tour. The Australian veteran will now apply his experience to coach the next generation of surfers ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games.

Josh Kerr (AUS) also surfed his last heat today as he too planned to retire at the end of the Billabong Pipe Masters. In an extremely close heat, Kerr fell just 0.17 points short of the win against Medina in Round 3 Heat 8.

From 2011 to 2014, Kerr finished in the top 10 in each year and was 11th in 2015 and 13th in 2016. Throughout his career, Kerr has proven himself as one of surfing's great heavy-water chargers. The Australian made the Final of the Pipe Masters in 2012 and has been a standout at every Teahupo'o Code Red swell. Kerr further cemented his big-wave credentials when he won the Todos Santos Challenge in 2015 and remains the only CT surfer to have won a Big Wave Tour event.

Event organizers will reconvene tomorrow morning at 7:30 a.m. HST to reassess the conditions and make the next call.