• Pressure Drop

Everybody's Got Something to Prove This Winter at the Billabong Pipe Masters. It's the Heaviest Drop on Earth, and No One is Free from Feeling the Pressure.

Just about nothing in the surfing repertoire is steeper than the drop at big Pipeline when the swell is up and the competition is on. This year the pressure on competitors will be rising like mercury in a typhoon as the boys descend on the reef there December 8th for the Billabong Pipe Masters contest, many of them fighting for their professional survival.

The ASP World Tour restructured the ratings system mid-season this year, trimming the number of ASP event competitors and adding huge weight to the remaining contests - which now have come down to Pipe. The elite competitor list dropped from 45 to 35 surfers in August, which means there's more pressure than ever to perform at the Pipe Masters.

Considering there are 5,000 measly points separating 35th from 25th, there's no shortage of scenarios that can play out at the final stop of the 2010 ASP circuit. And for the first 7 guys sitting behind the curve, less than 2,000 points separates Tom Whitiker at #34 from Willain Cardosa at #42. There will be some hard yards for veterans like Roy Powers, Luke Stedman and Kai Otton, as well as rookie sensations Dusty Payne, Julian Wilson and Adam Melling. At #37 Aritz Aranburu, the only Basque surfer in the high rankings and the only European besides Jeremy Flores and Tiago Pires, is just two slots away from the cutoff. If he breaks through at the Van's Triple Crown could he rack up enough points top squeeze in? Can South African Travis Logie hock up the 900 points to take Josh Kerr's position inside the clubhouse?  Brazilian Wiggollyis Dantas is on the bubble at #35; but a name like that should count for something.

There's no way around it now, this result matters for all of these guys. Qualifying for the 2011 tour is going to be a down-to-the-wire dogfight.

And who is the Rookie of the Year for 2010? It's a tough call. Patrick Gudauskas battled into the top ranks using high-risk rodeo flips and other previously unimagined aerial maneuvers.   Brett Simpson beat top seeds. Australian Owen Wright was absolutely brilliant in every category. The young goofy-footer is tack sharp, has all the tricks in the book, punts like place kicker, and is hardly afraid to stand tall when it's slabbing. Perhaps the outstanding rookie overall, his surfing is so volatile he could be a contender even at Pipe.

On the flipside is the high-flying Brazilian Jadson Andre. He won the Billabong Pro Brazil earlier in the year, and at #13 continues to battle through most every heat he's in. The rub on him is that Pipe may present a bit of a challenge for the air reverse-prone goofy-footer, who likes a wall to activate elevation. But he's a scrapper too, so it would be foolhardy to count him out.

One thing is for sure: Every wave of every heat in Billabong Pipe Masters could determine someone's future - maybe forever. That's pressure you can feel. And a Contest that is as exciting as it comes.