As the northwest swell filled in and the surf improved throughout the day at Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz, the O'Neill Cold Water Classic charged ever forward, deciding the fate of the 2012 ASP World Title in the process.
In the first heat of the day Kelly Slater, sitting second in the world title hunt, faced scrappy wildcard Jason "Ratboy" Collins, who Slater later admitted could have had him. Making note of the value of local knowledge he remarked "I don't know if I've figured the wave out yet, but I've figured out where to be in the water at least."
Then in back-to-back loses, both to goofy-footers, Mick Fanning and John Florence made their untimely round two departures. At that point in the day Joel Parkinson stood the very real chance of clinching the title in Santa Cruz. Should Slater lose to Dusty Payne in round three and Parkinson go on to win the contest that most elusive title was his ... proving the ASP did their math right this time.
In round three Parkinson made short work of wildcard Nat Young, who's had a good run at the Lane and proved his worth as a would-be world tour competitor.
"It's cool having the whole cliff cheering against you," smirked Parkinson afterwards. "I usually get the opposite reaction when we surf Snapper, so it was kinda fun, fired me up a little."
And then, with his record 12th world title in the balance, Slater paddled out against Payne. The heat was made all the more interesting by the fact that Parkinson and Payne are good mates, staying together in Tahiti and working with trainer Wes Berg together.
Slater maintained control throughout, but with a last minute hail mary frontside punt Payne looked for a moment to have done his part to aid Parkinson's campaign.
"When you hear that many people freak out that hard, I was stoked for him, I thought he got it," said Slater, after hearing that he'd advanced through to round four. "If I'd lost to Dusty right there I would have been happy for him. He knew he had to do something huge, he stuck it and it was in the hands of the judges."
Conspiracy theorists may say that Slater got pushed, that the ASP wants to see the title come down to Pipeline so they can sell more t-shirts and such. Payne needed about a 9.4 to overtake Slater, he got an 8.4. But when going back and comparing Payne's air to Gabriel Medina's 9.5 frontside 360 from earlier in the day, the judges got it right. And so the title race migrates across the Pacific, to the Pipe Masters.
"I think I've made about 3,500 point up now, that tightens things up. It'll be tricky to see ... but you always want to be the guy in front," said Slater. "As of right now there are four of us still in it, and that's the way it is until it changes."
But before we get ahead of ourselves, there's still the matter of crowning a champion here in Santa Cruz. Organizers are keen to get underway and are calling for a potential 6:30 a.m. start, so this very could be rapped up on Monday. Slater's claims to finally be figuring the wave out, which is always dangerous, and Parko, who's last win came at Bells last year, smiled and said, "I really need a win, I really want a win." No doubt, this is going to get good.
O'NEILL COLDWATER CLASSIC ROUND 3 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Taj Burrow (AUS) 14.83 def. Jadson Andre (BRA) 12.17
Heat 2: Travis Logie (ZAF) 14.67 def. Adrian Buchan (AUS) 11.13
Heat 3: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 16.53 def. Taylor Knox (USA) 14.77
Heat 4: Raoni Monteiro (BRA) 11.10 def. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 10.23
Heat 5: Alejo Muniz (BRA) 13.33 def. Bede Durbidge (AUS) 11.30
Heat 6: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 15.63 def. Nat Young (USA) 12.43
Heat 7: Kelly Slater (USA) 15.84 def. Dusty Payne (HAW) 14.77
Heat 8: Michel Bourez (PYF) 12.40 def. Kai Otton (AUS) 5.27
O'NEILL COLDWATER CLASSIC ROUND 2 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Kelly Slater (USA) 11.20 def. Jason Collins (USA) 9.40
Heat 2: Jadson Andre (BRA) 14.10 def. Mick Fanning (AUS) 14.06
Heat 3: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 14.50 def. John John Florence (HAW) 8.66
Heat 4: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 13.43 def. Adam Melling (AUS) 11.50
Heat 5: Raoni Monteiro (BRA) 14.44 def. Julian Wilson (AUS) 13.67
Heat 6: Owen Wright (AUS) 10.63 def. Tiago Pires (PRT) 8.27
Heat 7: Damien Hobgood (USA) 15.50 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 12.94
Heat 8: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 13.47 def. Kolohe Andino (USA) 12.53
Heat 9: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 18.33 def. Kieren Perrow (AUS) 12.60
Heat 10: C.J. Hobgood (USA) 12.17 def. Heitor Alves (BRA) 10.53
Heat 11: Alejo Muniz (BRA) 15.10 def. Miguel Pupo (BRA) 15.06
Heat 12: Bede Durbidge (AUS) 13.40 def. Brett Simpson (USA) 9.07