While virtually every surfer alive has heard of the barrels at Pipeline, what many don’t realise is that the “Banzai” has dozens of different faces, and is often far from perfect – especially at the beginning of winter.
The reef at Pipe gets covered with a buildup of sand during the offseason, and that buildup changes the bathymetry – and subsequently the shape – of this most famous of surf spots. Despite the break’s reputation for perfection, early season Pipe can be a bit strange (to put it lightly), at least until a couple of big swells come through and clean the sand off the reef.
When the Pipe Masters trials kicked off last week, Pipe was its wonky, unreliable early season self, dishing out 10s and 1s without discrimination. Heats were won with combined scores of 4 – and these are the trials we’re talking about, peopled by the best Pipe specialists in the world. Fortunately, day three of the waiting period saw an XXL swell hitting Hawaii.
With every set the shape of the wave saw incremental improvement.While virtually every big wave surfer on the planet was on Maui enjoying picture-perfect Jaws (except for the boys on the Big Wave World Tour, of course…they were on their way to Spain for the Punta Galea Challenge), the sand on the reef at Pipe was slowly being washed away. With every set the shape of the wave saw incremental improvement, and by the time the event was called back on, Pipe had gone a long way toward regaining her mid-season form.
But just because the sand had cleared doesn’t mean that things were easy. With a world title at stake and the three contenders all facing dangerous wildcards (Triple Crown leader Dusty Payne had replaced an injured CJ Hobgood, and local Pipe specialists Reef McIntosh and Makai McNamara had earned their way in through the trials), the early rounds were full of consequential heats. And to further complicate matters, round 2 was about as gnarly is it gets, with the lineup suffering from brisk trade winds and an out-of-control swell. As with the trials, scores in round 2 ranged from excrement to excellent, and nearly every heat was won with single-digit two-wave totals – a testament to how difficult the conditions were.
Round 2 was about as gnarly is it gets, with the lineup suffering from brisk trade winds and an out-of-control swell.
Top seeds Gabriel Medina and Mick Fanning were fortunate enough to skip the death round, advancing directly to round 3. Meanwhile, Kelly 'the other title contender' Slater lost a squeaker to Adam Melling in round 1 and came up against Reef McIntosh in round 2, where he managed to find two gems amidst the chaos, putting together the only quality heat of the day. Michel Bourez also kept his title hopes alive (Triple Crown title, that is) by beating the other Mc-wildcard in their round 2 heat, albeit without the fanfare and double-digit brilliance of Kelly’s performance. And Jadson Andre silenced any remaining critics with a deep, high-scoring foamball ride, backed up by a massive drop on a bomb that looked like it belonged on the BWWT. (Spoiler alert: He didn’t do an air reverse).
Meanwhile, the other story from the elimination round was the plight of the requalification campaigners. Half a dozen surfers came into Pipe needing a result to move above the top 22 cutoff, but by the end of round 2 only Alejo Muniz remained – and he will face a very focused Kelly Slater in round 3.
Meanwhile, the best Pipe swell of the season is scheduled to hit on Sunday… 12 hours after the waiting period closes. Although a handful of bottom dwellers have requalified through the QS, CJ Hobgood, Aritz Aranburu, Tiago Pires, Dion Atkinson, Mitch Crews, Travis Logie and Raoni Monteiro will be notably absent on tour in 2015 after their failure to advance through round 2. Raoni in particular must be pretty bummed about his early elimination. The Brazilian has more heart that just about anyone, but he failed to advance out of round 2 even once this year, and joins Alana Blanchard in going the entire 2014 season without a single heat win – not exactly the swan song he was hoping for during his final year on tour.
With nearly all of the would-be qualifiers falling out early, only bubble boy Sebastian Zietz comes into round 3 with much to lose – well, him and Medina and Fanning and Slater, and the contenders for the Triple Crown (Payne, Bourez, and long shot Julian Wilson). The various situations are as follows:
Alejo Muniz can steal Sebastian Zietz’s spot on tour with a big result (assuming that Seabass falls out early). Seabass could also lose his spot if Matt Wilkinson or Adam Melling were to pass him in the WT ratings (both surfers have qualified via the QS, so if either were to double qualify, they would push Seabass out of the top 22, and Tomas Hermes would sneak in through the QS.
Triple Crown race:
If Dusty Payne makes it through round 3, then Julian Wilson is out and Michel Bourez needs to win Pipe and hope that Dusty loses before the quarters. If Michel and Julian both lose in round 3, Dusty clinches the Triple Crown title. If Dusty loses in round 3, Michel can take it with a 3rd, and Julian with a win.
World Title race:
If Medina loses in round 3, Slater still has a shot, but needs to win Pipe, whereas Mick needs only to make the semis. If Medina makes it through round 3, Slater is out but Fanning is still in the race. If both Slater and Fanning lose in round 3, Medina will clinch the title.
With the waiting period winding down and only minimal swell on the forecast, it looks like we’ll be forced to complete the event on Thursday and Friday. Meanwhile, the best Pipe swell of the season is scheduled to hit on Sunday… 12 hours after the waiting period closes. Someone get a petition drafted to the Hawaii state government and let’s get us an extension.
*We have a bit of a MSW Store x Billabong giveaway going through the comp. Hit us up HERE to get involved.