When most people hear “Triple Crown,” they think horses. When Hawaiians hear “Triple Crown,” they think Pipeline; they think Sunny Garcia; they think of the best surfers in the world converging on Oahu’s North Shore for three of the most epic competitions the sport has to offer.
Run in its current format since 1983, the Triple Crown of Surfing pits surfing’s top dogs against one another in three events over the course of six weeks. First up is the Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa (Nov. 12-23), followed by the World Cup of Surfing (WCS) at Sunset Beach (Nov. 24-Dec. 6), and lastly, the Pipe Masters at – where else? – Banzai Pipeline (Dec. 8-20).
Given the diverse range of waves that competitors have to deal with at the three beaches, the Triple Crown has long been thought of as one of the ultimate tests of a surfer’s mettle. Winning the title – which is based on combined points from all three events – cements a rider as arguably the best all-rounder in the game today.
Last year, Gabriel Medina (pictured at top) became the first Brazilian to win the coveted title. That capped off a big year for the country on the water, as Adriano de Souza won the World Championship Tour crown, as well, narrowly edging Australia’s Mick Fanning. In a microcosm of the 2015 tour as a whole, de Souza (first) edged Fanning (third) at Pipeline in 2015, which doubled as the last leg on the tour schedule.
What can we expect in 2016? I’m getting out my broceanography 8-ball and making some predictions for this year’s Triple Crown. I’ll wrap it up with my pick for champion, but don’t kick out and head to the end! Ride the wave and enjoy the green room.
2016 Triple Crown of Surfing Predictions
Gabriel Medina doesn’t repeat as champion
Once upon a time, it was common to see someone repeat in back-to-back years. (See Joel Parkinson from 2008-2010, Andy Irons (RIP) in 2002-03 and again in 2005-06, plus Garcia from 1992-94 and 1999-2000.) But none of the last five champs have been able to retain their title, and I don’t like Medina’s chances to break that streak.
In reality, Medina only captured the title because Fanning sat out of the first event. The guy can shred, no doubt. He wouldn’t have won otherwise. But he’s not the pre-eminent rider in the sport, by any means.
The winner is a first-time champ
Four of the last five winners – Medina, Julian Wilson (2014), Sebastian Zietz (2012), and John John Florence (2011) – have been first-timers. The sport is only growing, and the talent is more spread out than ever.
Guys like Felipe Toledo, Wade Carmichael, and Josh Kerr are chomping at the bit to get their first taste of Triple Crown glory.
What makes this all the more likely? Fanning, arguably the best in the world at the moment, has never won, and neither has the reigning world champ de Souza.
No Hawaiian finishes in the top-three
Last year, Florence was able to squeak out third-place, just ahead of de Souza. He’s Hawaii’s best hope for a title and/or top-three finish again. The only other islander to finish in the top-ten last year was Dusty Payne.
But all those guys I just mentioned as potential first-time winners have (at least) one thing in common: none of them are Hawaiian. The fact that Hawaiian natives see the Triple Crown as basically the Super Bowl – and non-Hawaiians tend to view the World Championship Tour as the ultimate prize – leads to Hawaiians doing better in the Triple Crown than the tour standings. That said, it’s somewhat telling that Florence was the only Hawaiian in the top-15 of the tour standings last year.
And the winner is …
Mick Fanning. Fanning won the second leg of the Triple Crown last year (the World Cup of Surfing). It was his first victory at the Triple Crown despite years and years of coming to Oahu. He followed it up with a third-place at Pipeline. If he’d competed at the Hawaiian Pro, he almost certainly would have won the title. I think his win at the WCS will be a huge monkey off his back and that he’ll come into this year highly motivated, yet completely at ease. That’s a recipe for success for Fanning, and a Neptune Cocktail for everyone else.
[UPDATE: Fanning isn’t participating in the Hawai’ian Pro, just like last year, which all-but eliminates him from winning the overall. In lieu thereof, it’s hard to bet against Hawai’ian native and 2016 World Surf League champion John John Florence. Florence scored a 16.30 in Round 3 of the event last week, the third-highest score of the round. Clearly the youngster isn’t easing off even though the WSL title is in the bag already.]
Photo credit: Jim Bahn, flickr (Gabriel Medina) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.