Here we are going into event No. 5 out of 10 on the ASP World Tour, with Jordy Smith winning event No. 4 for his first world tour victory.
This after Kelly Slater had gone on a mini two-event hot streak of his own, winning one and placing second before a shocking Round 3 defeat at the hands of local and wild-card entry Sean Holmes at the Billabong Pro in South Africa and placing equal 17th.
The defeat for Slater was so bad that Smith, who went on to win the event, also overtook Slater as the No. 1-ranked surfer in the world. The last time I can remember Slater relinquishing his lead in the world rankings was back in 2003. That resulted in a devastating world title loss to Andy Irons and Slater finishing No. 2 in the world that year.
This year, the contest between Slater and Smith is shaping up to be a showdown just like it was in 2003 between these two surfers. However, the next two events head into Slater's comfort zone, with backside tube riding being the dominant theme at the Billabong Pro at Teahupoo, Tahiti, and then Lower Trestles, both of which Slater has won more times than anybody else in the history of competitive surfing.
The advantage for now swings to Slater, but I wouldn't sleep on him, and I imagine Smith is cut out of the same competitive mold as that of Slater and Irons. Which means, sit back surfing fans and enjoy what is sure to be a great world title race this year — perhaps right down to the last event of the year, the Pipeline Masters, which, incidentally, was won by the current No. 2 surfer in the world, Taj Burrow, who figures to be in the mix right up until the end.
My pick to win the Billabong Pro at Teahupoo, Tahiti, is none other than Slater, with dark horses being Irons and C.J. Hobgood.
JAMES PRIBRAM is a professional surfer and John Kelly Environmental Award winner. His websites include AlohaSchoolofSurfing.com and ECOWarriorSurf.com. He can be reached at Jamo@AlohaSchoolofSurfing.com.