Handicapping the 2016 Vans Triple Crown of SurfingNov 17, 2016
The Vans Triple Crown of Surfing is one of the sport's most revered titles. Its three legendary venues demand a wide variety of big-wave skills, making it as true a test of big-wave performance mettle that exists today.
Over the past few decades, the Triple Crown has forged a legacy for icons like Andy Irons (4x), Sunny Garcia (6x), Kelly Slater (2x) and Gary "Kong" Elkerton (2x), and there are six title trophies perched up on the Ho Family mantle (4x for Derek, 2x for Michael).
With one day of competition remaining in the Hawaiian Pro, we now know who's definitely in the hunt (JJF, Slater, Smith) and who's glaringly absent (Wilson, Medina, Bourez). Traditionally, the winner of the Hawaiian Pro carries significant momentum going into the second event of the Triple Crown, the Vans World Cup at Sunset Beach. In recent times, both Julian Wilson (2nd in 2014) and Sebastian Zietz (1st in 2012) have used a great result at Haleiwa to propel themselves toward the title.
Using a very unscientific approach (read: five hot-headed pundits at a breakfast table) we calculated the odds. Here's a look at where the favorites ended up, along with some of the other notables.
2016 WSL World Champion John John Florence. Photo: WSL / Masurel
John John Florence
Triple Crown Titles: 2 (2011, 2013)
Another Triple Crown win for JJF would certainly be the cherry on top of a landmark season. With a WSL World Title trophy under one arm and an Eddie Aikau/Waimea trophy under the other, Florence is definitely on a roll in 2016. Recently unburdened of the oppressive weight of great expectations, John John is free to let his freak-flag fly, which is bad news for his fellow competitors. If he does not win the Triple Crown this winter, it will be an upset. If he does win, it will be a coronation.
Kelly Slater at the Hawaiian Pro. Photo: WSL / Heff
Triple Crown Titles: 2 (1995, 1998)
It's been years since Kelly Slater went all in on the Triple Crown chase. He's always been laser focused on his favorite wave -- Pipeline. But his Achilles heel could be Sunset; it's just not a wave that he's ever showed much interest in conquering, despite good results. He's certainly got the chops: deep, fading bottom turns, wicked-quick, under-the-lip snaps, swooping cutbacks, perfect pocket positioning… It will be fun watching him chase down big west peaks at Sunset, weaving his magic. If Slater gets on a roll, it's a dead sprint to the crown between him and Florence.
Jordy Smith in Haleiwa. Photo: WSL / Cestari
Triple Crown Titles: 0
This has been a benchmark season for the big "bru" from South Africa. He is currently ranked No. 3 on the Championship Tour (CT) and, as they say in his homeland, "cooking with gas." After big results late in the season (1st at Trestles, 3rd in Portugal ), now is not the time to take the foot off the pedal. Years of high expectations, disappointing results and chronic injuries appear to finally be fading away like a sunset over Kaena Point. Jordy's got the act, now it's time to make a mark. Anything outside of a Top 5 finish will be underwhelming.
Seabass. Photo: WSL / Heff
Titles: 1 (2012)
There's little doubt Zietz has the skill set to win another Triple Crown. His legendary run in 2012 launched him from relative obscurity to the World Tour in a matter of weeks (just slightly less legendary was his "crowd surf" arrival at that year's Triple Crown awards ceremony). Growing up on Kauai's north shore is like a finishing school for aspiring pro surfers: "Cough, cough... Excuse me, students, Intro to Pipeline 101 starts at 9:00am on the beach at Pinetrees. Thank you." His comfort factor in all three lineups is off the charts, and if Seabass can carry his momentum from a solid run through Europe, a Top 5 finish is a near lock.
Ace Buchan at last year's Pipe Masters. Photo: WSL / Masurel
Ace flies under the radar, but he's hardly an underdog. He might be the most tactically adept surfer on tour, and he absolutely rips at all three Triple Crown venues. But in order to really make a charge at the crown, Buchan needs a BIG result from at least two of the events. One of those big results will likely come at Pipe, where his masterful tube-riding skills will be showcased. But what about the other? If he can channel his inner Occy out at Sunset Beach, he could match the feat accomplished by World Tour battler Mike Rommelse, who was the last Aussie goofyfoot to take down a Triple Crown title back in 1997.
Crowd's favorite Mason Ho. Photo: WSL / Cestari
Mason Ho is North Shore royalty and his ascendance to the Triple Crown throne seems an inevitable birthright. Fresh off back-to-back wins at the annual winter kickoff event -- the HIC Pro at Sunset Beach -- the table is set for Mason to add a 7th trophy to the Ho legacy. But with a Round One exit at Haleiwa, Mason has placed himself firmly behind the eight ball and it'll take a heroic effort to make it happen this year. If anyone can do it, it's Mase. He's the one having the most fun, after all, and you know what happens to the person having the most fun... they win.
Zeke Lau at the Hawaiian Pro. Photo: WSL / Heff
Expectations in Hawaii run high for Lau, whose island heritage raises the stakes and invites both praise and criticism. After a Round Three exit from the Hawaiian Pro (he's currently ranked No. 13 on the Qualifying Series, but will probably fall a few spots), Zeke needs outstanding results at both Pipe and Sunset to solidify a late charge onto the WSL dream tour. Ultimately, pressure can motivate or paralyze, look for him to raise his game chasing both the Triple Crown and the Big Show.
Australia's Jack Robinson at Pipe. Photo: WSL / Kirstin
Sure, you've seen all the web edits of young Jacko charging huge slabs around the globe, but did you know he's already got a win at Pipe (2015 Pipe Invitational) and made three finals at Sunset Beach (World Cup '15, HIC Pro '15 &'16)? Despite a poor showing at the Hawaiian Pro (Round One loss), look for Robinson to bounce back at Sunset Beach. The kid is primed for greatness and poised to become a Triple Crown threat for the next decade.