The Showdown: Consecutive victories by Kelly Slater make for a thrilling title race finale in Hawai’i.

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Who would’ve thought three of the most looked-over events on the twelve-stop World Championship Tour would become so crucial in what has become one of the most exciting title races in World Tour history? The Quiksilver Pro France, the Billabong Pro at Mundaka, and the Brazilian Nova Schin Festival had become the center of another Kelly Slater miracle.

Less than a week before the Mundaka WCT, Andy Irons struck a devastating blow to his competition in this year’s race for the ASP World Title by winning the Quiksilver Pro in France—his fourth WCT victory for the season, equaling the number of events he won in 2002 and gaining what seemed like a knockout blow to his nearest ratings contenders.

Irons built momentum throughout the event in hollow beachbreak surf at La Graviere, gaining plenty of confidence as he emerged though the earlier wild-card rounds and approached the business end of the draw.

Once in the final, the 25 year old stamped his authority from the outset, and after the win, was more than 700 points ahead of his nearest rivals—including Kelly Slater, who’d made it to the semis. “All I really wanted to do when the year began was be able to defend my title well and stay in the race,” said Irons after the final. “I’m just having such a good year, so hopefully it goes through to Hawai’i where the title will be crowned. I’ve got a 700-point lead now going into Mundaka, (Spain) and Brazil will be crucial. I’ve just got to do as well as the guys near me (in the ratings) each event so the lead doesn’t change.”

Five days later, Irons was eliminated in the first round from the Billabong Pro at Mundaka, an event he was the defending champion of, and in the finest tradition of all things horrific, the wolves (Slater, Taj Burrow, and Mick Fanning) were back.

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Andy must have sensed them coming: “Taj or Kelly is going to win this thing. I guarantee it.” He unwillingly picked the eventual finals winner the night after his shocking first-round elimination to yet another event-sponsor wild card in Nate Yeomans and a determined Phil MacDonald, who he’d only just defeated in the final of the Quiksilver Pro France. It was his third loss to a wild card this year including being beaten by his little brother Bruce at Lower Trestles and his J-Bay nemesis Sean Holmes in South Africa.

There were the inevitable traces of controversy in Andy’s loss. Mundaka, the long-grinding, often-fickle sand-bottom left in the heart of the Basque country, is one of the moodiest waves on tour. Even on its most perfect day, Mundaka can scream eight-foot, stand-up barrels at low tide, then not even whisper a trace of rideable swell when it’s high. Because of the conditions, it had been agreed to scratch the losers’ round, meaning no second chance for third place. Andy was livid that the decision had been made without his knowledge, but the verdict had long been out of his hands. The vote didn’t take place on the morning of the first round, as many believed, but back at the start of the year through the administrators, the sponsors, and the surfers.

To score Mundaka at its best there had to be sacrifices—but no one knew the World Champion would be one of them. Andy finished his heat that day with a four-foot backside air that snapped his board on impact. Later, when the fury of the loss left his veins, he ventured down to the small bar Txopos and bought the house a round of drinks, made his doomsday prediction, and then he was gone.

The final day of the contest, held in messy three- to four-foot, low-tide, mid-morning rivermouth closeouts saw Andy’s nightmare come to life: Kelly beat Taj Burrow in a final that had a close start and a lopsided finish. “It puts me and Andy and Taj right there together, and I think it’s exciting for the tour and for each of us,” said a stoked Slater after accepting the 30,000 dollars and a 180-point lead over Irons. “Andy seemed like he was going to pull away fr us all after that last event, but this one went perfectly our way.”

A week and a half later at the Brazilian WCT, tens of thousands of Brazilians watched as Slater took advantage of the long, six-foot right-handers to post the only perfect ten of the tournament. The six-time world champ then easily disposed of Renan Rocha (the lone Brazilian in the semis) and moved onto the final against Mick Fanning. Irons exited in the quarters with a respectable equal fifth.

In the final, Slater fell behind early as Fanning made a charge, but Kelly soon regained the lead and never looked back. “I couldn’t hear the scores, but I knew Mick got the score he was needing halfway,” said Slater after the final. “So I needed a good wave, basically, and I guess I pulled it off.”

With four wins apiece and two contests left, Slater finds himself with a 600-point lead over Irons, whose inconsistent finishes have hurt his overall total score. Irons, who was stopped by Taylor Knox in a close quarterfinal clash, showed his frustration afterward by leaving the beach immediately with hopes of catching a flight home. Nonetheless, he retained his runner-up position in the ratings heading into the final two events in Hawai’i. “Andy was really running away there (on the ratings),” said Slater, “and we were all trying to play catch-up, so to match him with four wins feels amazing.”

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Both Andy and Kelly are Triple Crown champs and Pipe Masters, and you can bet they’ll be ready for Hawai’i, “I’m excited,” added Slater of the coming events on the North Shore. “For me personally, it was real important to try and win this contest after Andy fell out and Taj lost yesterday. Right now everyone is there together at the top.”—Adam Blakey, Jesse Faen/aspworldtour.com

Interesting Fact

Kelly Slater took home 90,000 Billabong dollars this year winning all three Billabong CTs held at (Teahupo’o, Jeffreys Bay, and Mundaka). Andy made a good effort to get most of it back from Kelly’s major sponsor by taking out two of the three Quiksilver Pros (Fiji and Hossegor) as well reaching round four of the Gold Coast Quik Pro for a net total of 65,000 dollars. Maybe they should just swap stickers and be done with it.

Current WCT Ratings And Point Totals After Brazil:

1. Kelly Slater 8,340

2. Andy Irons 7,692

3. Mick Fanning 7,080

4. Taj Burrow 7,020

5. Kieren Perrow 6,480

6. Joel Parkinson 6,420

7. Taylor Knox 6,000

8. Mick Lowe 5,700

9. Dean Morrison 5,340

10. Shea Lopez 5,256

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Nova Schin Festival/WCT Brazil Final Results:

1. Kelly Slater $30,000

2. Mick Fanning $16,000

=3. Taylor Knox $10,000

=3. Renan Rocha $10,000

=5. Richie Lovett $8,000

=5. Andy Irons $8,000

=5. Lee Winkler $8,000

=5. Kieren Perrow $8,000

Quiksilver Pro France Final Results:

1. Andy Irons $30,000

2. Phil MacDonald $16,000

=3. Taj Burrow $10,000

=3. Kelly Slater $10,000

=5. Daniel Wills $8,000

=5. Taylor Knox $8,000

=5. Trent Munro $8,000

=5. Shea Lopez $8,000

Billabong Pro Mundaka Final Results:

1. Kelly Slater $30,000

2. Taj Burrow $16,000

=3. Mick Fanning $10,000

=3. Nathan Hedge $10,000

=5. Kieren Perrow $8,000

=5. Mick Lowe $8,000

=5. Joel Parkinson $8,000

=5. Flavio Padaratz $8,000

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Twenty Years Ago:

The 1983 WCT Top Sixteen

1. Tom Carroll

2. Wayne Bartholomew

3. Cheyne Horan

4. Hans Hedemann

5. Martin Potter

6. Shaun Tomson

7. Joey Buran

8. Tom Curren

9. Wes Laine

10. Greg Day

11. Michael Ho

12. Glen Winton

13. Barton Lynch

14. Dane Kealoha

15. Richard Cram

16. Mark Occhilupo

Closest World Title Finish:

1995, Kelly Slater defeated Rob Machado by 80 points.

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9. Wes Laine

10. Greg Day

11. Michael Ho

12. Glen Winton

13. Barton Lynch

14. Dane Kealoha

15. Richard Cram

16. Mark Occhilupo

Closest World Title Finish:

1995, Kelly Slater defeated Rob Machado by 80 points.