The window for the final event of the ASP World Tour, the Billabong Pipeline Masters, begins on December 8. With a decent run of swell forecast to arrive from the north and northwest at the outset, look for the contest to get going early. Here are the top five threats to win the most prestigious competition in surfing.
John John Florence
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John John hasn't won the Billabong Pipeline Masters yet, but it's only a matter of time before he does. No one is more comfortable with the many moods of the Banzai than the 21-year-old phenom who literally grew up with the wave in his backyard. Florence has already won the Triple Crown and the Volcom Pipe event multiple times, but has so far been snake bit in his quest to win the trophy he wants the most—the warrior helmet worn by the Pipeline Masters champion. He lost early this season at tricky Haleiwa during the Reef Hawaiian Pro and was unlucky to fall in the semis over the weekend during a hard fought heat at the Vans World Cup of Surfing. So look for him to be highly motivated and eager for redemption at his home spot.
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Mick Fanning is another big-name surfer who doesn't have the Pipeline Masters trophy on his mantel, but this could be his year to add it. Fanning has been the mark of consistency throughout 2013, and his win at the Quiksilver Pro France in October put him in the driver's seat to win his third ASP World Title. If Fanning makes it to the semifinals at Pipe, he wins the world title no matter how Kelly Slater, who is currently ranked No. 2 going into the event, performs. And if Fanning makes it that far look for him to go all the way, just like his good friend Joel Parkinson did last year. The forecast also looks favorable to Fanning. The early to mid rounds of the event will likely run at small- to medium-size Backdoor, which suits him much more than if the contest was held in bombing second reef Pipeline, where anything can happen.
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Kelly Slater is always a threat to win the Pipeline Masters, especially with a world title on the line. He came from behind to wrest championships at the spot from Rob Machado in 1995 and Mick Campbell and Danny Wills in 1998. Last year Josh Kerr stopped his run and foiled his 12th world title aspirations, which is likely at the top of the famously competitive Slater's mind. Slater is an admitted long shot to win the title this year, but if Fanning slips up and goes down early, Slater will smell blood and go in for the kill.
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All of the pressure is off Joel Parkinson's shoulders this year at Pipeline, which makes him dangerous. Last year he won the world title there and won the contest, as well, so he literally has nothing to prove. For the uber-relaxed Parko, who is nearly without peer in hollow waves, back-to-back wins at the Pipeline Maters is a distinct possibility.
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Josh Kerr has always been one of the world's best aerialists, but he has quietly become an elite Pipe surfer as well. Kerr took down Kelly Slater in the heat of the year at the Pipeline Masters of 2012 and was a standout in the rifling tubes at Keramas during this year's Oakley Bali Pro. Some pundits might consider Kerr to be a dark horse threat, but he's a guy who has put in his time at the world's heaviest lineup and is now ready for his moment of glory.
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