With today's victory at the Rip Curl Pro Portugal, Kelly Slater has all but wrapped up his 10th World Title. Jordy Smith may still have a chance mathematically, but with the performances Kelly has been giving this year, there is no way he isn't closing out the year by becoming the 2010 World Champion.
Now that I'm finished stating the obvious, let me say Portugal turned up and turned it on for this year's event. No matter which site--weekday or weekend--the crowds of surf fans gathered at the water's edge to see their favorite surfers up close and personal, showing a tremendous amount of appreciation for the excellent surfing on display. To me it appeared to be a grassroots U.S. Open with the huge crowds, but in a much more toned-down atmosphere where everyone at the beach was hanging on every tube-ride or massive air. Good call Rip Curl on planting the Search event there permanently after last year's success. The combination of excellent surf ranging from barreling Supertubos to the ultra launchable ramps of Belgas was a real treat again. This combination requires the winner to be ready for anything every day and able to excel at both disciplines if they hope to make it deep into the event.
So we know what's going on at the top of the rankings--Jordy needs a parting of the Red Sea caliber miracle to prevent Kelly from a 10th World Title--but what is still going to be a race to the finish is the battle for the Top 22 slots when the music stops after Pipeline. Here are a few surfers who made some headway in Portugal with fine surfing and a keeper result:
Matt Wilkinson: With an equal 9th-place finish in Portugal, Matt Wilkinson kept himself in the hunt. And with the surfing Wilko is capable of--as he demonstrated in an impressive upset of Taj Burrow at Belgas--I don't see why he shouldn't find a way to sneak up above the Top 22 mark.
Travis Logie: Travis also went home with a 9th, a very impressive 9th at that. In Round 2 he destroyed Dane Reynolds with superb tube-riding. Then up against Mick Fanning in Round 3, Travis put together one of the most impressive come-from-behind victories I've seen. With seven minutes remaining and needing a combination of scores totaling 15.28, Travis found his first 7.67. Then at the two-minute mark and needing a 7.61 he found another 7.67 that took him into the lead, He strengthened that 30 seconds later by scoring a very important 8.37. Just before the horn, Mick pulled out a 7.43, but Travis held on with a slim .11 heat win. For Mick, that pretty much crushed any hope of completing a World Title run like the one he had in '09. If Travis keeps that backhand whip going in Puerto Rico, we may see him up there with a chance at the Top 22 during Pipeline.
Pat Gudauskas: So close, yet so far away. Pat Gudauskas was so close to being in the semifinals of the Rip Curl Pro with only seconds remaining and holding priority. Unfortunately, Pat was just a little too far away from Jordy to see that he had lined up a nice little runner with a perfect ramp at the end. The rest is history: Jordy boosted to receive the score and the perpetually sunny Pat turned dark with disgust toward himself as he threw his board down. Before that moment though, Pat surfed an excellent event. His on-the-face surfing was critical and seamless, resulting in numerous high scores. The real highlights though, came when he was given the opportunity to get above the lip. Whether he rode out of them or not, Pat went full speed with 100 percent commitment at anything that would project him, to the delight of everyone watching. Puerto Rico should present numerous chances for duplicating the success he found in Portugal.
Jeremy Flores: It is quite interesting to see the evolution of Jeremy Flores since coming on Tour, especially this year. An extremely gifted surfer no matter the conditions, he has had to learn how to cope with defeat. Watching his post-heat interviews in Portugal, he came across very humbled and appreciative to be on Tour and winning a few heats--a far cry from earlier this year. Of particular note was the fine surfing he displayed through the changing conditions from Supertubos to Belgas. It was very reminiscent of the form he showed when he came on Tour in '07 to finish the year in 8th place as well as achieving Rookie-of-the-Year honors. His third place finish in Portugal will almost guarantee a spot in the Top 22.
Chris Davidson: Davo got the rematch he wanted with Kelly in the semis here, but with a 9.33 for one massive alley-oop, Kelly squashed any chance of an upset by him this time. When you look at the year Davo has had, it is no wonder he was once heralded as a future world-title contender. That time has passed. But if Davo was surfing heats then as he is now, he may have brought a World Title back home to Narrabeen earlier in his career. As it is now, thirds, fifths, and ninths are a very impressive feat from the one-time child prodigy.
Going into Puerto Rico you better believe Rip Curl will have their fingers crossed they continue their run of luck as previous Search events have experienced. And Quiksilver will have the champagne ready to bathe the exalted one in bubbly at the completion of an impossible lifetime accomplishment of 10 world titles. I plan on being there to see both events play out on the beautiful beaches of Puerto Rico. See you on the 30th.