VANS TRIPLE CROWN
SB FILE / 2006
South Africa's Jordy Smith can cruise through the rest of the season but wants to duplicate his outstanding Triple Crown performance from last year.
Stage set for Greatest Show in Surf
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Australia's Mick Fanning has all but wrapped up the ASP world championship with three events to go, but he still has work to do.
Fanning still has six weeks before his coronation, but there are four more championships he will have a chance at.
And those might be as important as the season championship.
The Vans Triple Crown of Surfing begins tomorrow with the Reef Hawaiian Pro at Alii Beach Park in Haleiwa.
The Triple Crown is kind of the Super Bowl and the World Series wrapped all into one for the surf crowd, and a champion certainly does not want to be shut out on his sport's biggest stage.
Unlike the men's, the women's series title will be won or lost in Hawaii's surf. Top-ranked Stephanie Gilmore of Australia leads Brazil's Silvana Lima by just 606 points.
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Last in a series
The spectacle known as the Greatest Show in Surf is set to make its 25th run on Oahu's North Shore -- the sport's version of Broadway.
Men's Triple Crown
» The Reef Hawaiian Pro, a $125,000, 6-star World Qualifying Series event, Nov. 12-24 at Haleiwa's Alii Beach Park.
» The O'Neill World Cup of Surfing, a $125,000, 6-star World Qualifying Series finale, Nov. 25-Dec. 6 at Sunset Beach.
» The Billabong Pipeline Masters, a $300,000 World Championship Tour finale, Dec. 8-20 at the Banzai Pipeline.
Women's Triple Crown
» The Reef Hawaiian Pro, a $30,000, 6-star World Qualifying Series finale, Nov. 12-24 at Haleiwa's Alii Beach Park.
» The Roxy Pro, an $80,000 World Championship Tour event, Nov. 25-Dec. 6 at Sunset Beach.
» The Billabong Pro Maui, an $80,000 World Championship Tour finale, Dec. 8-20 at Honolua Bay.
The official billing is the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. It's a series of three major contests that span six weeks each winter, with each contest offering its own championship trophy in addition to the series crowning the top overall performer in the three events as its Triple Crown champion.
The performances by the world's top surfers in last year's Triple Crown were hailed as some of the very biggest in the history of the series and also the competitive annals of the sport.
And all the leads from the cast are back, ready to hit the water as the waiting period for the series' first jewel -- the Reef Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa -- begins tomorrow.
"This should be good. I can't wait," said South Africa's Jordy Smith. "I'm gonna go out there, do my best, and hope I come out with similar results."
Smith is currently the top-ranked surfer on the World Qualifying Series and already assured of a spot on the elite World Championship Tour reserved for the world's top 45 surfers next year.
Now 19, Smith surprised everyone -- including himself -- last year when, in his very first North Shore campaign, he surfed his way to a runner-up result in the O'Neill World Cup of Surfing -- the Triple Crown's second jewel -- and the series' rookie of the year award.
The World Cup is held at Sunset Beach, a break with waves heralded as much for their complexity as their size that typically takes years to master.
"The Triple Crown (championship) is a big thing, next best thing to the world title," Smith said. "To have my name alongside Andy (Irons), Kelly (Slater), Sunny (Garcia) and everyone who has won the Triple Crown, I am gonna give it everything and hopefully I can have one of those titles one of these days."
Smith was one of only two surfers to actually defeat two-time defending Triple Crown champ Andy Irons of Kauai during the series last year. If not for Smith and winner Joel Parkinson (Australia) relegating Irons to third place at the World Cup, Irons would have become the first surfer to win all three jewels and the overall series championship in the same year.
A former three-time world champ, Irons still turned in the most dominant performance in series history in picking up his fourth career Triple Crown title. It included posting a near-perfect 19.87 (out of 20) points to take down arch rival and record eight-time world champ Slater (Florida) in the last 5 minutes of what many consider the most dramatic final ever at the Pipeline Masters -- the Triple Crown finale and the most prestigious and longest-running professional contest in the world.
With another win at the event this year, Irons would tie Slater's record of five Pipeline Masters titles and could earn a fifth Triple Crown championship -- one away from the record six crowns owned by Garcia, who is also back to try to earn more series hardware.
Irons is preparing to get married this month, and was away in Mexico last week. Commenting on the potential that Irons or anyone else could actually improve upon his 2006 Triple Crown performance this year, series executive director Randy Rarick said: "There are guys who will stand out at one spot, but the guys who tend to do the best are the ones who are versatile up and down the coast. I think it's feasible that someone could be that dominant that they win all three events, but it hasn't happened yet."
The Triple Crown also represents the end of the pro world circuit each year. While the men's world championship has been decided this season with Australia's Mick Fanning already having enough points to secure his first title, the women's world title is still up for grabs and will be determined during their Triple Crown.
Similar to Smith, Australia's Stephanie Gilmore surfed her first winter in Hawaii last year and grabbed everyone's attention with back-to-back runner-up finishes in the women's first two jewels. Peru's Sofia Mulanovich ended up winning the 2006 Triple Crown after Gilmore was knocked out of the trials in the Billabong Pro Maui at Honolua Bay -- the women's finale and the only series event not held on the North Shore.
But Gilmore was named the series' rookie of the year and was able to carry the momentum and experience into this season. She is currently the top-ranked women's surfer and poised to potentially win the world championship in her first year on the WCT.
"Hawaii is a place that is renowned for making or breaking a surfer's career," Gilmore, also 19, said. "I surprised myself with my (Triple Crown) results last year, and I think it definitely boosted my confidence a little bit going into the start of the (WCT) this year. But it's given me even more confidence for Hawaii this time, and it's so important to finish off the year strong, especially if you're currently sitting in the No. 1 spot."