Kaua‘i’s Gillette shows mettle at Banzai Pipeline

Kaua‘i surfer Gavin Gillette pulled off a fourth-place finish in the Monster Energy Pro at the Banzai Pipeline on O‘ahu Friday.

Gillette came in fourth behind first-place finisher and North Shore O‘ahu resident Jamie O’Brien, Australian darkhorse Mark Mathews in second, and third-place finisher and defending champion Rob Machado of Cardiff, Calif.

O’brien’s win Friday was his second in this event organized by Billabong. Finding form in the toughest conditions of the event, the 23-year-old bolted out of the gates to establish a lead that served him well the duration of the 30-minute final, earning $10,000, a Makita Power Tools pack, a Kicker stereo and a set of KMC wheels. Runner-up Mathews earned $5,000, with Machado earning $3,000. while Kaua‘i’s Gillette earned $2,400 for his day’s work.

For Gillette, Friday was his first taste of Pipeline stardom, reaching the final there for the first time in his career. He had an incredible run to the final eliminating a host of far more experienced local riders. Along with fourth place, he also received the Todd Chesser Sportsmanship Award. His performance also earned him a place in the Billabong Pipeline Masters — the ultimate event in the world that rounds out the annual Vans Triple Crown of Surfing in Hawai‘i each year.

Conditions ranged throughout the day from clean 6 to 8 foot in the morning, to a ravaging 10-foot mix of swell directions by the semi-finals and final.

“I thought I might have peaked too early after the quarters,” said O’Brien. “Today was an amazing day. I knew it was going to be tough. Rob’s beaten me a lot out here and I thought he had my number. Mark’s an absolute mad-man and insane at going right at the Backdoor, and Gavin was surfing great.”

For those who back the underdog, the fact that Australian Mark Mathews didn’t win was almost inconsequential. Mathews forged a name for himself during his first appearance in the event earlier this week, scoring a perfect 10-point ride on a solid 15-foot wave that was still being talked about Friday. As far as his supporters were concerned, the guy was already a winner. The fact that he surfed through five rounds Friday and eliminated household surfing names the likes of Shane Dorian, Dane Reynolds, and Fred Patacchia proved beyond any doubt that he wasn’t just a “flash in the pan.”

Had there been an award for valor, it would have been his. Catching more waves than any other surfer in the final, Mark put it all on the line with a display of totally committed tube-riding on the two biggest waves that came through at Backdoor Pipeline. Prepared to gamble on the knife-edge between a perfect 10 or disaster, he survived late take-offs, pulled deep into the tube and rode for yards, each time coming within mere inches of what were almost epic scores. His best two rides earned 6.25 and 4.0 points.

Leading up to the final, Machado was a picture of calm amid a growing sea of chaos, holding onto his trademark cool and collected tube riding while the ocean began to rise and seethe around him. Unfortunately, the tide turned during the final. His most memorable ride was a tube that earned him 6.0 points. But he came under the axe edge of a cascading wall of water on his third ride and broke his board and his momentum. Machado’s surfboard was the 25th to be snapped in the event.

Perhaps the most esteemed prize up for grabs in the event for local Hawai‘i surfers were the 13 wildcards on offer into the prestigious Billabong Pipeline Masters that rounds out the annual Vans Triple Crown of Surfing in Hawai‘i each year.

As of Friday, the following 13 local riders have qualified through an intricate selection process during the Monster Energy Pro for spots in the Billabong Pipeline Masters: Jamie O’Brien, Gavin Gillette, Danny Fuller, Flynn Novak, Gavin Beschen, Mikala Jones, Shane Dorian, Tory Barron, Myles Padaca, Makua Rothman, Ian Walsh, Dave Wassell, and Kainoa McGee.

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