2 spots still open as Pipe Masters ready to barrel forward

Four surfers remain for just two open spots at the Men’s Pipe Masters Invitational. ASP commissioner and former Pipe Master Kieren Perrow called a lay day on Thursday for the second consecutive morning, awaiting a better forecast today. Those four will lead off the schedule when action does resume to start the final World Championship Tour event of the year, the Billabong Pipe Masters.

Hoping to still get themselves into that main draw of 36 competitors are Jamie O’Brien, Makai McNamara, Hank Gaskell and Kauai’s Reef McIntosh. It’s an all-Hawaii final after three rounds of competition, which featured a mostly Hawaii contingent of 32 hopefuls. The two who move on will get a spot in round one heats against the top two seeds – current points leader Gabriel Medina and defending world champ Mick Fanning.

O’Brien was Tuesday’s overall standout, showing his Pipeline knowledge and commitment. He won the Pipe Masters back in 2004 and would definitely be a major obstacle for the world title contenders if he were to get into the main draw.

Joel Centeio came out with Tuesday’s only perfect score, dropping into a Backdoor tube and getting covered up before being spit out still atop his board. He came right into the beach after that display, either knowing that his two-wave total would now be good enough to get through or figuring he might as well end his session with perfection.

Kauai’s Danny Fuller had one of the day’s better waves early in the morning, getting into a pipe barrel and somehow remaining upright through a pretty heavy pit. The force of the spit actually slightly dislodged Fuller’s jersey, but he remained his understated self and calmly emerged for the 8.83 score.

Once the Invitational is complete, action will move right into the Pipe Masters, which will determine this year’s world champion. Medina, Fanning and Kelly Slater all have a chance to take the ASP title, but Medina controls his own destiny. If he reaches the final, he’ll clinch the title and be the first ever Brazilian world champion. Fanning has a myriad scenarios, but Slater knows that only a Pipe Master victory can get him his 12th world title.

Injuries have been an issue after a long season. Slater and John John Florence have each sat out the first two legs of the Triple Crown, hoping to be healthy for the Pipe Masters. Slater has been battling a turf toe ailment, but said during a Wednesday ASP interview that he’s been surfing the past few days and it feels a bit better than he expected. Taj Burrow, Adriano De Souza and CJ Hobgood have already pulled out of the Pipe Masters with various ailments.

The Hobgood departure assured current Triple Crown leader Dusty Payne a spot in the main draw. Payne has been almost unstoppable through two events, winning the Reef Hawaiian Pro and finishing runner-up at the Vans World Cup. But he’ll be trying to hold off a few contenders, including Sebastian Zietz, who sits in fifth place. Zietz won the Triple Crown back in 2012 but he’ll need a major result to pick up his second title.

The more pressing issue for Zietz will be re-qualification. He is directly on the cut line at No. 22 in the WCT rankings and an early exit at Pipe would make for some very anxious moments. Making it to at least round three seems to be the bare minimum for what he’ll need to stay in that qualifying position and he can assure that result with a first-round win. Seabass will take on Tahiti’s Michel Bourez and Brazil’s Raoni Monteiro in the second heat of round one. Bourez is soaring at the moment, having just won the World Cup at Sunset Beach.

Some other interesting first-round heats should include Kolohe Andino, Freddy Patacchia and Travis Logie in heat eight, as well as Slater, Payne and Adam Melling in heat four. Plus, if O’Brien can get into the main draw and take on Medina, it could make the world title race even that much more volatile.

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

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