Taj Burrow and Jordy Smith join ASP world title race

Taj Burrow’s Hurley Pro win over Julian Wilson last week was understandably cathartic. To this day, Burrow is still venomous when discussing his last-second loss to Kelly Slater in the 2008 final at Lower Trestles in San Onofre, California.

Taj Burrow tapped his deep aerial arsenal to get past Julian Wilson in this year's Hurley Pro. It was Burrow's first win in three finals appearances at Trestles.

Taj Burrow tapped his deep aerial arsenal to get past Julian Wilson in this year’s Hurley Pro. It was Burrow’s first win in three finals appearances at Trestles.

Burrow only lost by three tenths of a point that year, which was especially painful given that Slater’s winning wave came at the buzzer, and the two were smack dab in the middle of a world title race. What’s more, the debate over whether or not Slater deserved the score is still being waged in fantasy chat rooms to this day.

What’s more, a win at Trestles has become a serious harbinger of who wins the overall world title. In the realm of world title momentum, a solid Trestles performance is now essential. Because if a surfer is not in the race after Trestles, there’s little chance he ever will be.
To that end, Kelly Slater has won at Trestles five times since it became a tour stop. Three of those years he went on to win the title. When Mick Fanning won the Hurley Pro in 2009, it not only ignited a hot streak that carried him to wins in France and Portugal, but also to his second world title. And even Joel Parkinson has felt the Trestles traction. Parko’s 2004 win helped propel him into the title race, where he became Andy Irons’ final obstacle. And even though Parkinson fell to Slater in last year’s final, his solid finish proved pivotal in securing his first world championship.

Fortunately for surf fans, what looked like another two-way race between Slater and Fanning got blown apart at Trestles. When Slater, Fanning, and third-ranked Parkinson lost early, Taj Burrow and Jordy Smith, who finished in the semifinals, crashed the contenders’ club party. Both looked impressive. Both have good boards under their feet. And now both have serious confidence heading into Europe.

So it is safe to invest any emotion or fantasy picks on Burrow? Let’s be honest, the 15-year veteran has a long history of staying in the hunt only to collapse at the end. But then again, a lot has changed for Taj. The rub on him used to be his inability to close the deal at the Billabong Pipeline Masters. But in 2009, he did just that, and he did it by beating Kelly Slater in the final.

Jordy Smith's semifinals finish at Lower's puts him right back in the world title mix for the first time since 2010.

Jordy Smith’s semifinals finish at Lowers puts him right back in the world title mix for the first time since 2010.

The bigger problem for Burrow right this moment is he’s never won in Europe.

Fanning, meanwhile, has won three times in France and once in Portugal.

While Slater has six career wins in Europe, he’s won only twice there in the last dozen years.

Parko has one win in France.

Jordy Smith, meanwhile, fell short in his only European finals appearance back in 2010, which was the last time he was in title contention.

On paper, Mick Fanning looks hard to catch. He’s got a lead, and some added cushion on the adjusted ratings. But if he so much as sneezes in France this race will get hot in a hurry. And now’s as good as time as any to remember that Fanning has never won at Pipeline. Chances are this will get interesting.