As challenging as Pipeline can be on an average day — if there is such a thing — Saturday was a far more difficult and dangerous one for everyone at the Billabong Pipe Masters. Association of Surfing Professionals Commissioner Kieren Perrow had originally planned to run two full rounds but the rising swell made things so tough on all the surfers that action was halted after one.
The 12 heats that did run eliminated a dozen from the field with no real upsets or changes to the world title race. But there were some heavy wipeouts, some great barrels and at least one unfortunate injury that could impact the Triple Crown leaderboard.
Maui’s Dusty Payne, who sits atop the Triple Crown standings, had a second-round meeting with South African powerhouse Jordy Smith. Most of the rides on Saturday were at Pipe, but Smith found a hollow Backdoor tube and went for it. He made the drop and got deep but was pummeled on the exit. Smith was able to paddle to shore on his own, but he came out of the water clutching his right shoulder with 20 minutes still on the clock and holding a narrow lead. He was heard on the beach saying that he’d try to return to the water if he needed a small score, but he would ultimately remain with the medical staff.
Payne now had unlimited priority and needed just a 3.03 to move on. That seemed like a very doable task but it took quite a while. With six minutes remaining, Payne got into a Backdoor wave and got a very quick cover-up before catching most of the lip on his head and exiting through the back. The judges took a while to post their numbers, but it turned out to be exactly what was needed, to the hundredth. It earned a 3.03 to tie Smith at 4.30 and give Payne the win with the high wave score.
Payne will now hope to continue adding points to his Triple Crown lead in a round three matchup with Gabriel Medina. Medina can clinch his first world championship if he makes the Pipe Masters final, or with some earlier exits for Mick Fanning or Kelly Slater.
Slater started off Saturday’s action by taking out Kauai wild card Reef McIntosh. The 11-time champ struggled early and McIntosh, who was a very tough draw with his experience at Pipeline, held a narrow lead for much of the heat. But Slater got comfortable and improved on every wave, showing steely commitment on his drops and finishing his account with a beautiful Pipe barrel for a 9.57 and the day’s first excellent score. He finished with a 17.00 to 7.00 win and will now take on Alejo Muniz in round three.
Vans World Cup champ Michel Bourez took out the other local wild card, Makai McNamara. Bourez is in second place for the Triple Crown ratings after his win at Sunset Beach. The Tahitian said in a post-heat interview that he would not have chosen to free surf Saturday at Pipeline because the dangers were too severe.
It’s an important event for Sebastian Zietz and he has begun it in fine fashion. Zietz was able to skip Saturday after winning his opening round Friday heat. He had a tough draw with Bourez and Raoni Monteiro, but Seabass was the only one to score and his 14.13 two-wave total gave him the runaway win. He’s now guaranteed at least an Equal 13th result, which could be all he needs to stay at or above his current No. 22 ranking. He’s also fifth in the Triple Crown race and would like to improve his standing on both leaderboards by beating Joel Parkinson in round three. Parkinson was also off Saturday after winning his Friday heat.
Kauai’s Bethany Hamilton participated in Friday’s Women’s Pipe Invitational, a one-heat contest along with WCT champion Stephanie Gilmore, two-time world champ Carissa Moore and back-to-back runner up Tyler Wright. Moore took home the title on her home island with Wright in second, Hamilton in third and Gilmore in fourth.
The intention to run two rounds Saturday and then finish the Pipe Masters today was due to diminishing swell for the rest of the week with no great opportunities before the waiting period closes on Dec. 20. The ocean was pumping but unruly on Saturday and four heat winners were able to move on with two-wave totals of less than five points. The final four heats of the day saw six of the eight competitors total less than five points and only one reach double digits. With such limited scoring opportunity, the decision was made to hold off on round three and hope for the best today.
Round three matchups: John John Florence vs. Adam Melling; Owen Wright vs. Freddy Patacchia, Jr.; Bourez vs. Matt Wilkinson; Josh Kerr vs. Jadson Andre; Miguel Pupo vs. Filipe Toledo; Medina vs. Payne; Kolohe Andino vs. Julian Wilson; Bede Durbidge vs. Adrian Buchan; Fanning vs. Jeremy Flores; Parkinson vs. Zietz; Nat Young vs. Kai Otton; Slater vs. Muniz.
Action can be seen live on Oceanic Surf Channels 250 and 1250.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.