Words by Morgan Williamson
The swell started to stack last evening and Pipe, Backdoor and OTW absorbed the swell, growing larger and heavier with each oncoming set. The boys were all out, warming up, and it was all over the place. Backdoor was doubling up; nowhere near ideal conditions. At first look in the morning Pipe’s big, it’s straight, it’s ugly. There’s a big rip running through it. We’re thinking that it could be a day of two’s and anticlimax.
Then Gabriel Medina paddled out and started picking the eyes out of the unruly conditions. It’s comical how Gabby’s gone from supposedly not being able to surf big waves to, “Jordy’s not going to beat Gabs at big pipe.” Oh how eager we are to find faults in our Portuguese speaking comrades. Gabs finds two good waves and Jordy’s out of luck. Attempts to cut down Medina’s title dreams are thwarted and the Brazilian carries on his late season run with a 15.84 heat total compared to Jordy’s 4.5.
Sets are consistent and feathering off the third reef. It’s hectic, a ski driver takes a tumble and gets washed in. What was once a channel is now a wash out and Bede Durbidge scraps into a hopeful one. He takes a beating, the water patrol can barely get him onto the ski, it’s reminiscent of Evan Geilselman a week ago. He’s disoriented, and screaming. Immediate response is necessary and the water patrol does their job. Bede’s carried up the beach on a stretcher with someone at his head keeping his neck in place, proper C-spine position. He ended up fracturing his pelvis in two places, which next to a broken femur is one of the most painful injuries on offer. A harrowing reminder of just how serious the conditions are.
Mick Fanning’s got the toughest draw out of all the title contenders. He’s got Jamie O’Brien. Jamie runs down the beach the crowd goes bananas, he throws a shaka, I look around and see a cardboard sign the reads ‘Jamie is King!’ Local status goes far at Pipe. After JOB, Mick’s got JJF and King Kelly, in the end he takes out all three of pipeline’s greatest ever surfers. “I feel like Mick’s always in good position, but he’s got the hardest road compared to the other guys. Mick is Mick, you never know what can happen,” Michel Bourez tells me after his loss to Slater. “I’m rooting for Mick for the title. The waves turned on an hour ago, it’s sick out there. There’s a lot of good Pipe waves.”
John paddles out against Taj and looks right at home, because he is. He puts up a 19.26 heat total. He’s lightyears ahead of anyone in the previous heats. “There’s some fun waves out there,” John tells me after his heat. “It’s kind of weird and gnarly right now. But I’m feeling super good, going to go home and rest, but I can’t wait to surf some more.”
Julian Wilson’s an obvious crowd favourite. Girls scream as he runs down the beach like he’s Paul McCartney arriving in America. He’s surfing against Adam Melling and Jules puts up a huge score after disappearing behind Backdoor’s vicious curtain early in the heat for a 9.23. Then Melling steals it with a Backdoor bomb over the foam ball toward the heat’s end. Jules’ back-up score’s just not enough and his title dreams come to a halt in round three, somehow.
Round four was as good as Pipe gets. “It started off as a pretty average day and it’s turned into an incredible one,” Jamie O’Brien tells me. “Watching all these heats…I just want to surf, now I’m just waiting for the contest to be over so I can paddle out.” An anxious energy radiates while Medina breezes through his round four heat, he’ll face Cj Hobgood in the quarters for Cj’s last ever year on the tour. But what’s on everybody’s mind at this point is the ‘Superheat.’
The words buzzing around the sand, bike path and the growing lines at the food trucks are: “When’s Slater, John and Mick?” The heat doesn’t disappoint. Mick wins, but Slater nearly takes it with a death-drop in the final ten seconds. The score he receives is debatable, the judges scores are conflicting, but the airdrop he took was one only the King could’ve pull off. The beach erupts, the sand shakes and the wave explodes. Hoots and howls for Kelly continue to echo long after the wave returns to sea. Kelly loves the occasion, you can see it on his face in the post heat interview.
The next heat’s just as exciting as the ‘super’ one, and we have Mason Ho to thank for that. He extinguished Filipe’s title chances – somewhat debatably – in the previous round. Surfing’s subjective and the heat was less than exciting, Mase won with a 6.93 v Filipe’s 6.67. Filipe dropped a 2 with a shallow tunnel and made it out in the dying minutes. Mason’s opening score was a 1.97, the result of a packed closeout. If Filipe would have taken off anywhere between he and Kai on the below featured wave it would’ve been a different story. Regardless fate laid in the hands of the judges and it went Mason’s way. It’s worth noting the absolute class that Filipe showed in his post heat interview. The levelheadedness and humility of the twenty year-old, after being pipped in a close one in the most important heat of his career, is a true testament to his character.
A little deeper and there’s no debate. Photo: WSL
But let’s get back to round four and the show Mr Ho put on. He racked up one of the only two ten’s of the day then gave a little impromptu ejaculation to the judges and crowd in celebration. “Noooo,” Mason says to me when I ask him about it, “dude that was an accident! I didn’t mean to do that, right when I did I was like ‘oh no, they’re not going to score me now!’ It turned out all good though.” He paddles back out he pulls into the next one switch, “It’s a good thing it wasn’t a good one, I would’ve had to pack it switch,” he laughs.
In the final heat of round four it’s apparent that Adriano de Souza really fucking wants it. He’s dropping in as deep as possible, packing hopeful closeouts and getting right back after it. “It’s crazy out there,” Josh Kerr tells me after their heat. “I wish I could have gotten it done and made de Souza’s title run a bit more difficult. He’s tuned himself pretty well into the break out there, he’s done his homework more than anyone else.”
In round five the waves are still pumping. Cj takes out Mr Florence, who always seems to dazzle in the early rounds at his home break, but can never fully pull it together. Kelly went out against Keanu Asing. Poor Keanu. The King’s alive and he’s hunting for his first event win in two years.
Heading into the quarter finals tomorrow, three title contenders remain: Mick Fanning, Adriano De Souza, and Gabriel Medina. Uhh, you can’t script this… or something overplayed like that.