Assesing our new world title race heading into Portugal
By Nick Carroll
Ever hurt your ankle while surfing? Ligament tear or tangled tendons or the like?
It's a complete bastard of an injury. You can walk around on it feeling just fine. You can even jog, or run. Do weights. Whatever.
But stand up on a wobbly, tippy lil' high performance surfboard on a sloppy three-foot wave and try a quick on-edge top turn, and you'll feel like someone's inserted a knife under the ankle-bone. And it'll go on like that for months.
Joel Parkinson's been carrying just such an injury through the last three ASP World Tour events, all of which have been held in sloppy, flat-faced surf, and in each of which he hasn't made it past 17th.
As a result, his once seemingly impregnable lead on this year's title rankings has been eroded to a mere sliver - and a year which once looked like a sort of Parko Testimonial Title Run is suddenly, gapingly wide open.
Let's go to the math. On adjusted points, with their lowest two scores booted out of the totals, the top three look like this:
These three have won six of the eight events so far and barring a freak series of results in the Rip Curl Search Portugal next week, they'll carry the race to the hallowed temple of the Banzai Pipeline in December.
In realistic striking range are the next group of three: CJ Hobgood, Bede Durbidge and Kelly. All three need wins to close the gap; Kelly, with one win under his belt already, stands the best chance of covering the hard ground between the two packs.
But the world tour isn't just about math, it's about form. Mick Fanning is in deadly form. Various pint-sized Internet critics have been complaining that he's not throwing away heats with wacky low-percentage moves. Guess what, dopeys, Mick is doing something infinitely harder than a rodeo clown: he's controlling heats at WCT level. Heat after heat after heat. And he's not afraid of going all the way.
Adriano's on fire and still on a learning curve; he has the least to lose by not taking the title this year. Ceej and Bede have been stupidly close to a win for two events now. And Kelly? Injured or not, he conjures form at will.
That leaves the guy with the bum ankle. Despite how it must have felt for him around July this year, after he'd taken out J-Bay, world titles are never "gimmes"; Parko is being tested as never before. Two things may help his cause. One: the surf forecast for Portugal is pretty freaking splendid, and you can get away with a bum ankle in good surf a lot easier than you can in slop.
And two: after Portugal, there's a six-week break. Just enough time to clear a ligament tear - if indeed that's all it is.
You read it here first: Pipe will be epic.