John John, Seabass out; Smith, Valiere survive upset-filled Saturday

  • Heff / WSL

    Ezekiel Lau stands tall as he advances into round five of the Volcom Pipe Pro Saturday on Oahu. Upsets highlighted the big and difficult conditions with John John Florence and Sebastian Zietz each losing in round four. Kauai’s Evan Valiere and Koa Smith each advanced to round five. Finals day is likely to run today with sizable and more manageable waves.

Big waves began to rip through the Volcom Pipe Pro, leaving big scores and big upsets in their wake, Saturday on Oahu.

Among the fallen was defending world champion John John Florence, who won’t be taking his fifth Volcom Pipe Pro title as he was limited to just a 3.47 heat total. It wouldn’t have taken much for Florence to remain on a winning track, since Noa Deane won the heat with just a 6.50 total. But nothing came through at the right moments and Florence made a very surprising exit in round four.

Sebastian Zietz met a similar fate in the very next heat as his 4.23 total wasn’t enough in the tough conditions. Zietz and Florence were each event wild cards who had received byes into the fourth round but the advantage didn’t benefit either this time around.

With the field now down to 32 surfers, two Kauai competitors still remain as the fifth round gets under way in what will likely still be large, but more manageable conditions today at Pipeline. Both Koa Smith and Evan Valiere came through with heat victories in round four to progress through this stacked field. Smith had one of the best performances of the contest to this point as he put himself in very safe position with a pair of stellar rides on his only two attempts. The Kilauea native opened things up with an 8.87 as the waves were firing for he and his heat mates, each rolling through with loads up scoring potential. Despite the big number to start, Smith still needed a good backup to keep up with the conditions. He achieved far more than that on his very next attempt when he bettered himself with a 9.27 for an 18.14 total to easily head into round five.

Smith has a tough lineup in his next heat when he’ll go up against Billy Kemper, Aritz Aranburu and Noa Mizuno. Kemper is coming off a victory at the Sunset Open and has been a force to be reckoned with in any wave of consequence.

With Smith already through, Valiere earned Kauai’s second heat win of the round with a 10.10 total for a spot in the final 32. That made three heats and three wins for Valiere as he gets set for what appears to be the toughest heat of round five. Valiere will be taking on Jack Robinson, Mason Ho and Robson Santos. Robinson is always a favorite at Pipeline and he was in top form Saturday, earning a near-perfect 9.93 wave score during his fourth-round win.

But Valiere is in good shape for his best ever Pipe Pro finish. His previous best was a 17th place in 2012. Moving beyond round five would eclipse that peak and getting through this foursome is certainly a worthy test for achieving that goal.

In addition to Smith, Valiere and Kemper, the best Hawaii surfers remaining include Finn McGill, Ezekiel Lau, Ian Walsh and Josh Moniz. McGill hasn’t yet had a chance to show off some of the brilliance we’ve become used to seeing from him at Pipeline, but he’s still alive and a major threat to reach the final heat.

Two former event winners remain in the field as defending champ Soli Bailey and inaugural champ Jamie O’Brien are the only names other than Florence and Slater to have been etched on the Pipe Pro pinnacle. Both seem to have good chances at another deep run in 2018 and with Florence out of the event, each has to be considered one of the heavy favorites.

Today is likely going to be a full day of action with a champion crowned, so since there aren’t any other major sporting events of note on this run-of-the-mill Sunday, tune in to the stream to see who claims the QS 3,000 title at the world’s most iconic wave.

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

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