The three-event Hawaiian Triple Crown began this week on Oahu’s North Shore.

While the first two events — at Haleiwa and Sunset Beach respectively — are interesting because of their implications for surfers who are trying to qualify for next year’s world championship tour, all eyes will be fixed on the final event at the Banzai Pipeline.

That’s because the world title will be decided at the Billabong Pipe Masters, the last stop on this year’s World Surf League 11-event tour.

Still remaining in the hunt this year are 2014 world champ Gabriel Medina from Brazil, fellow Brazilian Filipe Toledo and Australian Julian Wilson.

Medina, who has won two of the last four events, is in the driver’s seat. If he wins or finishes runner-up at the Pipe Masters, he will capture his second world title. But if Medina finishes in third place, either Toledo or Wilson must win the event to claim their first championship. A fifth-place finish or worse for Medina would require either Toledo or Wilson to win or be runner-up to claim the title.

Up until the past few months, Toledo had been the in-form surfer in 2018. With defending two-time champ John John Florence and 11-time world champ Kelly Slater sidelined with injuries, Toledo started quickly and decisively, winning two competitions and finishing in the top 5 in seven of the first eight events.

But Toledo’s 13th places in the last two contests — in France and Portugal — allowed Medina to overtake the points lead and relegate Toledo to third behind a resurgent Wilson in the rankings.

At this point, the smart money for the title would have to be on Medina. A great barrel rider who has excelled at Teahupoo in Tahiti, Medina clearly is the odds-on favorite. But Wilson is a former Pipe Master who also has his eye on the prize and has been consistently good at the final stop in Hawaii.

In any event, this year’s Pipeline Master is sure to feature plenty of drama when the waiting period begins Dec. 8. In the meantime, the two World Qualifying Series events before that are also entertaining, as the future stars of surfing battle it out in big, burly Hawaiian conditions for their place on the elite tour.

You can watch all the action at www.worldsurfleague.com.

Stephen Hadley is a longtime surfer who lives and works in Galveston. If you have an idea for this column, email him at stephendhadley@gmail.com.

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