This is what you wanted, isn't it? A race to the end. Well, here it is, folks, don't get out of your beach chair yet. For what Europe lacked in autumn in terms of wave quality, it's more than made up for in drama. After a convincing win in France, Mick Fanning came into the Billabong Pro Mundaka quite capable of finally bringing a world title back to the land down under. The only two standing between him and glory was Kelly Slater and Taj Burrow, but unfortunately for Fanning—and fortunately for everybody that wasn't ready to see a title race decided yet—both Slater and Burrow would deliver.
After struggling through two of the worst weeks in Mundaka, after relocating the contest everyday to the sub-par close-out of Bakio 20 minutes up the coast, by the last day of the contest waiting period, the only day that would actually be held in Mundaka proper, the field had been whittled down to the three surfers still in the title hunt, as well as last year's defending champ and 2006 rookie of the year Bobby Martinez. In the first semi Fanning squared off against Martinez. All week, like most other weeks on tour this year, Fanning was clearly the man to beat, and after a somewhat lackluster year compared to how he came out of the gates last year, one would have figured Martinez's bid for back-to-back Mundaka titles was about to end. Although, fickle conditions can be a great equalizer, and Martinez who more than rose to the challenge, clipped Fanning before he could run away a title.
And on the other side of the draw, Slater and Burrow were set to do battle, a battle that very much could have been a dog-fight for the ages, as things turned out, hardly a battle it was. Slater nary scored more than four points in the entire heat, while Burrow continued on a pace-setting tear. And while Slater was relegated to a third place finish, he'd done enough to keep himself in the hunt. And for Burrow, who stood to gain the most from a big result, he was bound for the finals.
With the opportunity to considerably close the gap on Fanning, a win would have been ideal for Burrow, but just because Martinez wasn't in world title contention didn't mean he was about to lie down, and after 30 minutes in the famed left-hand lineup, he edged Burrow out by less than half a point, winning his second consecutive Billabong Pro, and getting himself back to where he belongs in the ratings.
So, what does this mean for the 2007 title race? Mick Fanning's still very much in control. He sits in the top spot by almost 1,000 points, has proven all year to be the most focused, and therefore most likely title contender, and you can't dismiss momentum either. Think about this, he's finished first and third in the last two events, and besides a hiccup at Lowers, hasn't finished worse than third all year. He won in Brazil last year, and should things come down to Hawaii this year, those that point to heaving left-hand tubes as being the proverbial thorn in his paw, better check the results from both Tahiti and Chile.
Meanwhile, Kelly finally woke up and decided he wanted in on nine. After fence-sitting the entire year, perhaps empowered by a last-minute wake-up call against Tiago Pires in Round 3, perhaps finally just feeling the pressure enough to get interested, Slater has proven once again that as behind the eight ball as he is, in some ways he's still the man to beat. His chances in Brazil are as good as anybody's, maybe better if he's got the mojo going. And Hawaii, well, we all know what he can get 'er done at Pipe. He's a five time Pipe Master, an in fact, he could very well have won last year if Andy Irons hadn't gone into psycho wolfman-mode. So even if he has to come close to pulling off the impossible, you gotta like his chances.
And Taj? Isn't it ironic that throughout his career critics of Taj have pointed to the fact that "he only wins in Brazil," and now his bid for a long-over-due title comes down to Santa Catarina. There's redemption in that, but more than anything, for Taj there's hope. The simple fact is that he has to win everything from here on out, and where better to start than Brazil.
So for now folks, that's the ball game. Get your Fantasy Surfer teams dialed in and stand up and stretch your legs for a minute because you're not going to miss any of this race. See you in Brazil.
1. Bobby Martinez
2. Taj Burrow