Pipe Masters off today, but already into dangerous territory

  • Poullenot / WSL

    Kelly Slater doesn’t wear the white jersey very often, but he made it work during his first-round heat Monday at the Pipe Masters on Oahu. Slater won his opening heat to advance directly into round three. Having missed five events this season, Slater’s low seeding could set up some electric early head-to-head heats.

The first round hasn’t even been completed, but there are a lot of interesting heats lined up and ready to go when the Pipe Masters resumes — whenever that may be.

There won’t be any action today as the winds and pulsing swell have kept surfers on standby since Monday afternoon. Next call could come Thursday morning if the weather and ocean deem it appropriate. At that time, Sebastian Zietz will be first into the water to get his opening heat going against Ace Buchan and Ian Gouveia.

But a few second-round matchups are already lined up, some with world title implications.

Gabriel Medina is hoping to come from behind for a second world title, chasing down John John Florence in this final contest. The road has gotten a bit longer as he wasn’t able to get the job done in his first heat, coming up short against Miguel Pupo. So Medina now moves into an elimination heat against wild card Dusty Payne in round two.

Having won the Pipe Invitational and always a threat in Hawaiian waters, Payne will be a major obstacle for Medina’s ultimate quest. This is the downside to being a top seed. Wild cards are the lowest-ranked opponents in round two, but often times they have a specific knowledge of the contest wave. Medina has a lot at stake and has put himself in position to pull off a stunning comeback late in the season. The challenge of maintaining that possibility starts now and Payne sits in his path.

In fourth place for the season is Julian Wilson, who also lost his opening heat to Conner Coffin. An interference call kept Wilson from holding the top spot, sending him into an elimination matchup with the second wild card, Benji Brand. Wilson needs a lot to happen for any chance at an unlikely world title, but winning the Pipe Masters is the main step. Brand, who took second in the Pipe Invitational, will be looking to pull the upset and remove Wilson from the championship picture.

Florence did his job in round one, coming away with the win against Payne and Wiggolly Dantas. Often spectacular, Florence was merely solid in victory on a 13.50 heat total. He’ll be jumping directly into round three with a chance to watch a pair of his dwindling rivals fight to even maintain a mathematical chance in round two.

Jordy Smith also has a chance to unseat John John and he took care of business, topping Bede Durbidge and Ethan Ewing to move into the third round. Smith needs a win and for John John to lose prior to the quarterfinals.

Making a welcomed return in round one was Kelly Slater, who showed very little rust as he picked up a victory against Joan Duru and Kolohe Andino. It’s odd to see Slater in the white jersey, but he made it look pristine by picking a pair of good waves to notch the win.

Slater’s presence from the bottom of the draw could very well be one of the determining factors in the world title race. Having missed five of 10 contests to this point, he’s ranked 29th on the year. His low seeding could put him into a head-to-head heat with Florence in round three. We’ve seen some epic matchups between the two in the past, but nothing so early in such an important event. It would be interesting to see how Slater performs when it’s not his own world title chances on the line, but his opponent’s, as well as a few others in the field.

If one of the wild cards pulls off a win in round two, not only would that remove a Slater-Florence possible round three heat, but it would also mean that one of the championship hopefuls is out. So John John has some huge reasons to cheer both his fellow Hawaii surfers, Payne and Brand, when the contest resumes.

Keep an eye on the early call Thursday to see if the ocean has calmed enough for the green light. We won’t have to wait long for the major developments brewing at the Pipe Masters.


David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.


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