It was a short Saturday session, but round one has finally come to a close at the Pipe Masters. Now with the second round slate established, let’s take a look through the matchups and what they mean in the big picture.
The very first heat at Banzai Pipeline at Oahu has the most riding on it, when Gabriel Medina takes on Dusty Payne. Medina is chasing John John Florence, each hoping for their second career world title. Realistically, Medina needs to reach the final to have a chance at overtaking Florence. That’s a long way off, but it begins with this battle against the local wild card coming off a Pipe Invitational win.
This used to be a spot on tour that was questionable for Medina’s skills, but he’s put that criticism to bed over the past few seasons. Regardless of past results, he’ll have his hands full with Payne. The Maui native won’t be back on the world tour next year, but he can leave his mark on 2017 with what would be an upset with a major ripple effect.
Julian Wilson and Benji Brand in round three is a similar scenario to the Medina-Payne matchup. Wilson has kept himself mathematically alive with a late surge that has included a win at Teahupoo and a runner-up at Portugal. However, he’s still the longest shot of the four who can exit Pipeline as the 2017 champion.
Brand has been proving himself in Hawaii contests, plus some impressive Qualifying Series results. He showed through the Pipe Invitational that he has a good understanding of this wave and competes for the top spot in any lineup. That being said, he’s never gone head to head with someone like Wilson before. It’s going to take a special effort and some good fortune to steal the victory.
In heat six, Kolohe Andino will be taking on new dad Jack Freestone. Andino has the inside track to the 2017 Triple Crown victory. He came into the event trailing Griffin Colapinto, but the youngster from California didn’t make it through the Pipe Invitational to add a big number to his ledger. So Andino is now the favorite. Freestone would probably need to reach the final to re-qualify for next season, so this is probably the last CT event we’ll see him at for at least a year.
Heat eight pits Sebastian Zietz against Leonardo Fioravanti. Zietz comes into the contest ranked 10th for the season. He’s looking for his best CT season to date and he can probably achieve that with wins in the next two rounds. A top-10 ranking would be a fantastic accomplishment for Seabass. Fioravanti, currently in 26th, has an outside chance to jump back into the top 22, so he’ll be fighting for his CT life.
Wiggolly Dantas has had a fantastic Hawaii season, but he’ll need it to continue in heat nine against Joel Parkinson. Dantas comes in ranked 24th, desperately needing to win this heat. He’s far too talented to even be in this position, but it shows the depth and how competitive the world tour has become. Parkinson doesn’t have much at stake, but the man is a world champion, so needing a result against him is an unenviable task.
Frederico Morais will take on Kanoa Igarashi in heat 11. Both are safely in for next season, but Michael Rodrigues may be the biggest Igarashi fan on the beach. The Brazilian needs Igarashi to remain within the top 22 and double qualify. That would propel him onto the CT next season. A win over Morais may be enough to make that happen.
The winds seem to be back to what we’d expect for this time of year and hopefully the waves provide us with a memorable Pipe Masters. Round two has a lot at stake with many of the heavy hitters relaxing until round three. But the world title race, Triple Crown race and qualification battles are all on the line when action resumes.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.