With 9 of the year's top 10 events completed, the tour has finally worked it's way to Hawaii for the final event of the year: The Billabong Pipeline Masters. Billabong takes over sponsorship of this event after the previous event sponsor (Rip Curl) declined to renew it's sponsorship of the event after 2006.
What does this mean for fans and viewers? Not much really. Billabong and Rip Curl are both known for their super high-quality event webcasts, and this event will undoubtedly be no different. The announcers might change a little, and Fantasy Surfer favorite Greg "GT" Tomlinson will likely be roaming the event site in search of interviewees for the online audience's delight. Other than that, don't expect too much to change when it comes to the webcast.
As for the event itself, things could get interesting here. Rumors have it that the ASP will implement the use of the new Kelly Slater format to run this event and see the majority of the match-ups become man-on-man instead of the previous 4 man heats. This means that we could finally see the world's best Pipeline specialists go one-on-one with the current Top 45 crew. Details have yet to be revealed, but Fantasy Surfer will bring you more when more information is known.
Wildcards for the event have always had great success at the Pipe Masters – and for good reason. Most of the surfers that earn themselves a wildcard spot into the event have honed their skills at Pipeline for the majority of their lives. They have learned every nook and cranny of the reef and have become experts at this extremely localized spot. Each one of them has a serious shot at taking out a high seed, and perhaps winning the event.
At this point, wildcards have not been announced, nor has the selection process for the wildcards been revealed. When named, all wildcards will have a Fantasy Surfer value of $1.5 million and should warrant serious consideration for your teams. STAY TUNED.
As for the Foster's ASP World Tour Top 45 regulars, Fantasy Surfer gives you it's top 10 picks for the Billabong Pipeline Masters (wildcards not included):
1 – Andy Irons (Current Fantasy Surfer Value:$9.5 million): With all the struggles that Andy has had throughout the year, everyone has been licking their chops to select him for Pipe. It's a well-known fact that Irons loves Pipe and will be giving everything he has left in the tank to assert his dominance. Perhaps and can put to rest those rumors of disinterest in the tour and prove yet again that he is the man at Pipeline. He's Fantasy Surfer's #1 pick for success at the Billabong Pipeline Masters.
2 – Kelly Slater (Current Fantasy Surfer Value:$12 million): Is there ever a time when rumors don't swirl around the 8-time world champ? The latest rumors are that Slater will retire after the first event of 2008 (he also said this in 2005 & 2006). So could this be the last time that we see Slater at the Pipe Masters? Probably not. He could score a wildcard there every year until he's 50 if he wanted to. Expect Slater to get a big laugh out of all the whispering that's swirling around him and to buckle down and make at least the semifinals.
3 – Pancho Sullivan (Current Fantasy Surfer Value:$5 million): Everyone has been waiting for Pancho to get his big result on the Foster's ASP World Tour, and he finally did: At 2-3 foot Trestles. Not exactly what we had expected. But hey, he made the final and sparked a great roll that saw him briefly ranked in the Top 10. He could still push himself back up into that realm with a solid result at Pipe, and seeing that he lives just down the street, why bet against the guy?
4 – Bruce Irons (Current Fantasy Surfer Value:$5.25 million): Uh-oh. Deja vu all over again. Currently ranked 28th, Bruce is on a serious bubble when it comes to requalification for the 2008 tour. In 2004, Bruce was faced with the serious possibility of failing to requalify for 2005. Well, he won the Eddie, made the final at Pipe and shut a lot of mouths in the process. He'll have to do it again this year, but expect his path to be a little bit easier; he's a low seed right now, which means he will likely face the lower seeded Top 45 members instead of the wildcards in the early rounds. This could serve as a serious springboard for Bruce to get himself back on track.
5 – Fred Patacchia (Current Fantasy Surfer Value:$5.75 million): Freddy P is riding the same bubble that Bruce Irons is on: win or go home. With a lot of experience at Pipe, Freddy P is a pretty good bet. As long as he keeps his focus and doesn't let the little things like interferences or paddle battles distract him, he could take out this whole event.
6 – Bobby Martinez (Current Fantasy Surfer Value:$8.75 million): Wait a second. Bobby?!? But he lost before the quarterfinals at Pipe last year. Correct, he did. But Bobby's weakness has always lied in the 4-man heats. They are his kryptonite. But since the event will be rolling along with the modified man-on-man heats, expect to see the Californian goofyfoot charge his way into the final day. And don't be surprised if he should happen to catch a few throaty bombs and win the whole damn thing.
7 – Mick Fanning (Current Fantasy Surfer Value:$12.5 million): Yeah, yeah, we hear you: World Champ favoritism, right? Not so fast. Did you know that Mick has made the finals at Pipe before? Yup, that's right. In 2005. And last year he made the quarterfinals. Here's the catch though; typically, he does it by going RIGHT. As in Backdoor. The past few years when he has made his push to the final day of the Pipe Masters, he has done so by going right at Backdoor about 75% of the time. But don't let that dissuade you for selecting him for your team. After all, he did make the final at meaty Teahupoo earlier this year.
8 – Dean Morrison (Current Fantasy Surfer Value:$7.25 million): Morrison falls into the same category as Fanning in that he charges Backdoor to get his results at the Pipe Masters. He just hasn't had as much luck as Mick. Check the photographic evidence: Morrison scores at least one of the waves of the event just about every year. But does that translate into success at this event? Sometimes. He's our darkhorse pick.
9 – Cory Lopez (Current Fantasy Surfer Value:$5.5 million): Was last year's finals appearance an aberration or signs of things to come? For Cory's sake, he'd better hope it's the latter, because without a REALLY good result at Pipe, his year could be sunk. He's currently ranked 35th, but that ranking is behind a lot of guys without a lot of success at Pipe. If he can leapfrog them, he's safe. If not, it's back to the WQS or to a life of freesurfing and making videos. We say Cory's got a few more years on tour and a couple victories left in him.
10 – Kai Otton (Current Fantasy Surfer Value:$4.75 million): Otton charges just about everywhere he's been this year. In Tahiti, he made the semifinals before losing out to an in-form Mick Fanning. In Chile, he lost out in Round 4 to eventual event winner Andy Irons. And recently in Brazil, he got his best result of his short career when he again lost to Mick Fanning in the final. Big moments are what this guy is all about, and with a serious shot at Rookie of the year with a great result at Pipe, we're inclined to think that this Aussie will come through.
Fantasy Surfer Alert: Keep you eyes and ears peeled for announcements about several members of the Top 45, as quite a few surfers have had some issues with injuries lately. Fantasy Surfer will have constant updates leading up to the start of the Billabong Pipeline Masters waiting period, December 8th.