The Fifth Wheel

Why Nat Young wasn’t granted a wildcard into the Pipe Masters.

Just two days away from the start of the Pipe Masters, it seems unlikely that Nat Young will have the opportunity to surf in the final stop on the 2011 Triple Crown series. Photo: Heff.. Photo: Heff

With the Pipe Masters looming, a strange sense of déjà vu is creeping over the North Shore—and specifically Twitter—after Nat Young was not granted a wildcard to compete at Pipeline.

Last year, Julian Wilson was denied a wildcard into the Pipe Masters. At the time, he was trailing Joel Parkinson by only 26 points in the 2010 Vans Triple Crown ratings. The decision meant he had to relinquish any hopes of winning of the Triple Crown. Fast-forward one year and you have a similar situation. The ASP and Vans Triple Crown officials are again dealing with a resembling and uncomfortable predicament.

The other Triple Crown contenders Florence, Bourez, Melling, and Burrow all have seeds into the Pipe Masters due to their World Tour and One World Ranking seed. Young, however, (ranked fifth on the Triple Crown ratings and 49th on the One World Ranking) doesn’t, which leaves him without a berth into Pipe. And without a chance to compete for the Triple Crown title.

“Randy Rarick [Triple Crown of Surfing Executive Director] came up to me and said, ‘Stick around ’cause you’re probably going to get the wildcard for the Pipe Masters,’” said Young. “They were going to text me later that evening to let me know for sure if I got it.”

Young never received a text that night, but he did the following morning informing him that he would not, in fact, be granted a wildcard. He received no further explanation.

Wanting to avoid a situation like last year, and with an extended Pipe Masters roster, the ASP reserved space for two additional Pipe wildcards in 2011, in addition to their standard two wildcards per contest. Although there is no set rule on how to distribute wildcards, the ASP and surfers’ union granted Kolohe Andino a wildcard, as the two sides agreed that it would go to whoever was next in line on the ASP World Rankings. This left one remaining wildcard.

“If a surfer was in a good position to win the Triple Crown,” said ASP International Media Manager, Dave Prodan, “we would consider awarding the remaining spot to them so we could avoid a situation like last season when Julian was second on VTCS [Vans Triple Crown Series] rankings after Sunset Beach but wasn’t seeded into Pipe. After discussion with the surfers’ union, we refined the Triple Crown criteria to state that if a surfer is not in the top three positions on the Vans Triple Crown ratings after Sunset Beach, then the wildcard would go to next in line on the ASP World Rankings. As Nat Young is in fifth place on the VTCS rankings at present, and falls outside that criteria, the second ASP wildcard will go to next in line on the ASP World Rankings.”

That next surfer in line is Brazilian Willian Cordoso. Along with Cardoso, Andino, C.J. Hobgood, and Adam Melling have been granted wildcards. However, they’re replacing an injured Jeremy Flores and Mick Fanning, as well as filling the two replacement spots the ASP normally allots at each World Title event.

If any more World Tour surfers withdraw, the wildcards will then go back to the brands [Billabong and Vans], and if the rumors circulating that Alejo Muniz, Miguel Pupo, Adriano de Souza, Patrick Gudauskas, and Heitor Alves are injured and cannot surf, the brands will then have five wildcards to allocate. No word yet on who those surfers may be, but it’s highly unlikely they would grant a non-teamrider a wildcard.

“It’s not Billabong and Vans’ problem at all,” said Young. “It’s their contest, they deserve to give their wildcards to guys they sponsor.”

While a Triple Crown win is a lifelong goal for Young, the odds aren’t in his favor, as he would have to place first or second and Florence would have to finish last. In spite of that, Young needs the World Tour points from Pipe to make qualification for next year’s “Dream Tour” a distant possibility.

“The surfers also agreed that both Kolohe and Willian would be awarded ASP World Rankings points for their forthcoming result at Pipeline,” said Prodan, “a huge gesture from the surfers considering that Kolohe’s and/or Willian’s performances could effectively knock one of the established surfers out of the Top 34 qualification.”

Whether the surfers’ union’s decision was indeed a kind gesture or a late rule change, the fact remains that inconsistency continues to haunt the ASP.

“If they reserved a spot and had a rule they were going to give a wildcard to the highest rated non-World Tour surfer,” says Young, “then I don’t get why they all of a sudden changed their minds.”