Words by Jed Smith
With a reigning world champion and three out of the four title contenders in their midst, the Brazilian Storm is threatening a World Tour takeover at the season-ending Pipe Masters. The man standing in their way comes into the event off the back of one of the most surreal seasons in sporting history, capped, as you’d be aware, by defeating a great white shark in the final of the J-Bay Pro earlier this year. With three world titles to his name, a win for Mick Fanning will take him to equal with Australia’s greatest of all time, four-time world title winner Mark ‘the wounded gul’ Richards. Here is everything you need to know about the contenders…
The six-way world title pressure at Pipe is certain to play into Mick’s hands. No one handles the heat better than the three time world champ: His miraculous back-to-back buzzer-beater wins in 2013 to claim the title prove that.
“That kind of experience teaches you it’s largely out of your control, you’re just along for the ride,” says 1988 World Champ, Barton Lynch, pointing to the 2013 World Title win. “Mick’s just got so much experience and knowledge and confidence, and that confidence, you can’t fake it, you can’t buy it, you gotta earn it. He’s the only guy in the race that has that confidence and can go into these situations on auto-pilot and have the confidence that (the ocean) will do the right thing by him. Everyone else is uncertain and they’ll have that doubt in their mind that creates hiccoughs when you least need them.”
Mick’s stats at Pipe tell a less convincing story, however. Since 2009 he’s made it past round four only twice – a semi in 2013, and a round five finish last year. He holds an average heat total of 13.73 across those events, though it plunged to 8.03 in his last start at Pipe, a round five loss that handed the title to Gabriel Medina in 2014. The contest average that year was 12.65.
Should Mick equal his best finish at Pipe and make the semis, the door will be left wide open for Adriano De Souza and Filipe Toledo. Toledo would only need to equal Fanning’s result to claim victory. While De souza would need only make the final. Should Mick perform more in line with his past results and bow out before round five, it’s on for real.
Gabriel could then scoop the crown with a win. Filipe would again need only equal Fanning to to claim the title. While Adriano would still need to do better than he’s ever done at Pipe since 2009, and make round four. Complicating Mick’s run will be a Pipe specialist in the opening round, via the trials.
Don’t let his perfect zeros at the Billabong Pro, Tahiti earlier this year fool you. Filipe can mix it in the juice. His quarterfinal finish at last year’s Pipe Masters – featuring the above 9.23 for a Backdoor slab – proves as much.
With an average heat total of 11.13 in his two starts at Pipe, he’s more than a point off the average heat winning total of last year, and more than two points behind Fanning’s average. As the youngest surfer on tour, he’s obviously got youth on his side and you know the little Brazzo metal head is gonna be right up for this. Having won the last world World Tour event in Portugal, Filipe’s maintained the rage throughout November, travelling back to Brazil to sharpen the axe at a QS, and again at the Hawaiian Pro QS event at Haleiwa. To claim the title, he needs only finish equal with Mick anywhere from round three onwards; maintain the 250 point gap between he and third placed Adriano; and kill of Gabriel’s chances by making the semis.
Adriano at the Reef Hawaiian Pro. Based on his performance at this event, he’s now lacking any kinda momentum heading into Pipe. Photo: WSL
Adriano De Souza
While very much in the hunt on the ratings board, Adriano will need something special to arrest the form slump at Pipe he’s endured over the years. Since 2009 the Brazilian world number three has never done better than the third round at Pipe. He holds the lowest heat average of the contenders with a 10.22 and must finish in front of Filipe and Mick to claim the title. He can end Gabriel’s title hopes with a semis finish.
“His biggest problem is the massive amount of desire creating pressure in his own mind,” says 1988 world champ, Barton Lynch. “You only learn how to manage that through a few failures where you can figure out how to control it and it eventually comes together for you. For Adriano, (a title) means too much to him and when it means so much to you it creates pressure and it can create problems in your head and make things more difficult than they need to be.”
Without a doubt the best performer at Pipe of the contenders. He became the first Brazilian since the late, great Pepe Lopez in 1976 to make the Pipe Masters final last year, and what a performance it was from the 20 year old, overcoming a form slump through his favoured European leg to hold off 14 world titles worth of experience in Kelly and Mick. Gabriel has been there and done that, all before his 21st birthday. He takes the highest heat average of the contenders into Pipe, a 14.73. And with all eyes on the Mick-Filipe-Adriano joust, Gabs can hover and swoop. To claim the title he needs the top three to lose before the semis – a distinct possibility since of the three, only Mick has made a semi – in which case Gabs will no doubt be backing himself to go one better than his runner-up to Julian Wilson last year.
And the forecast, courtesy of Magic Seaweed: There are hints of a less organised and more southerly system bringing pulses of mid size North West swell that could kick off the early rounds. Interestingly there are hints of size that could tip things in favour of those with a track record at proper Pipe: A six to seven foot swell at 15-second periods that would push into the double-overhead range if it came in as called at this relatively long range.
And below is how the trials round looks. Some of these guys could be serious spoilers…
Pipe Trials Round 1 Match-Ups:
Heat 1: Jack Freestone (AUS), Sunny Garcia (HAW), Griffin Colapinto (USA), Nathan Fletcher (USA)
Heat 2: Mason Ho (HAW), Dane Reynolds (USA), Gavin Gillette (HAW), Makai McNamara (HAW)
Heat 3: Ian Walsh (HAW), Joel Centeio (HAW), Kaimana Jaquias (HAW), Mikey Bruneau (HAW)
Heat 4: Jack Robinson (AUS), Kalani David (HAW), Hank Gaskell (HAW), Isaiah Moniz (HAW)
Heat 5: Ezekiel Lau (HAW), Seth Moniz (HAW), Alex Smith (HAW), Nathan Florence (HAW)
Heat 6: Josh Moniz (HAW), Kiron Jabour (HAW), Jamie O’Brien (HAW), Myles Padaca (HAW)
Heat 7: Granger Larsen (HAW), Kaito Kino (HAW), Kekoa Cazimero (HAW), Evan Valiere (HAW)
Heat 8: Tanner Hendrickson (HAW), Billy Kemper (HAW), Olamana Eleogram (HAW), Luke Shepardson (HAW)
*This article has been amended to correct a factual inaccuracy regarding the World Title Scenarios.
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