Dramatic day at Pipe features first Brazilian champ and a thrilling Triple Crown finale

Uncertainty was the predominant emotion for the entire event with so many lay days and an increasingly suffocating window. Friday, the uncertainty shifted to excitement. Needing to complete the remainder of the contest in one day, the Association of Surfing Professionals prepared for the final session of the 2014 season and asked its competitors to put on their big-boy pants for six full rounds of the Billabong Pipe Masters. A world title, a Triple Crown championship, a Pipe Masters championship and crucial re-qualification positions would all be determined in one 27-heat session.

With the unenviable task of holding off 11-time world champ Kelly Slater and three-time world title holder Mick Fanning, 20-year-old Gabriel Medina completed his season-long quest and became Brazil’s first-ever ASP world champion. When his fellow countryman Alejo Muniz knocked out both Slater (third round) and Fanning (fifth round), that clinched the 2014 title for Medina. He did bask in the glory, but he didn’t simply pack it in there. Medina pushed himself all the way to the final heat where he put on one more phenomenal performance.

But one man kept Medina from winning his fourth contest of the season. Australia’s Julian Wilson captured his first Triple Crown championship by pulling out the Pipe Masters victory. Wilson managed to move past Maui’s Dusty Payne, who had been knocked out by Medina in round three. Coming into the event third in the Triple Crown standings, Wilson took home the $100,000 event prize, plus another $50,000 for the prestigious Triple Crown trophy. He did so in an action-packed final that capped off the long, thrilling day.

Wilson started the scoring with near perfection, dropping into a Backdoor barrel and getting completely pitted, emerging to a 9.93 score. But Medina fired back almost instantly and managed to better his opponent, coming through Backdoor for a longer tube ride with arms raised as he showed himself out of the spit. That was worthy of a perfect 10 and the narrow advantage. Wilson had minimal backups for the next 20 minutes and needed an 8.08 with two minutes remaining, when he again drove through a Backdoor barrel and came out perfectly clean.

Seconds later, on the very next wave, Medina found a solid Pipeline barrel and put the onus all on the judges. Both scores were still being determined as the final 90 seconds ticked off the clock and the surfers huddled with their supporters on the sand. When the numbers came through, they were a 9.70 for Wilson and a 9.20 for Medina, flipping the standings and giving Wilson the comeback win (19.63 to 19.20).

The last six weeks have propelled Wilson back into the sport’s elite after a disappointing season. He had a seemingly unstoppable run at the Reef Hawaiian Pro before Payne came back in the final from a heavy combination and took the title off him. Now he finishes the year by ripping the Triple Crown title from Payne’s grip with a memorable Pipe Masters championship. Wilson had to knock out Kolohe Andino, Sebastian Zietz, Kai Otton, Ace Buchan and finally Medina, all in elimination heats on Friday, so the title was certainly well deserved.

Though he was a casualty to Wilson in round five, Zietz’s day was ultimately a success because he clinched re-qualification for the 2015 world tour. Seabass was in a precarious position, right on the cut line at the start of the event. When he won his first-round heat, he jumped directly into round three where he matched up with former Pipe Master Joel Parkinson. The two men had nothing of note through the first 15 minutes until a Backdoor wave availed itself to Seabass and he took it for a 4.83 score. He held a very narrow lead with just a minute remaining, but Parkinson needed only a 2.11 to move back in front.

The two split the peak on a wave with 30 seconds to go, Parko taking Backdoor and Zietz going Pipe. Neither was a huge score, but it was good tactics by Seabass because Parkinson got a 2.83 that would have moved him in front. Zietz scored better with a 4.10 and held on for the 8.93 to 6.76 win.

Because Matt Wilkinson had been eliminated earlier in round three, Zietz only really had to worry about Muniz knocking him off tour heading into his matchup with Parko. But each heat can be so dramatic in hindsight. Had Wilkinson gotten by Michel Bourez in round three (a 9.67 to 7.00 loss) and Zietz lost to Parkinson, Seabass would have finished the season 23rd with 19,200 points.

Instead, because those results were reversed, Zietz ends the season in 20th place with 21,450 points, grabbing one of the final three automatic re-qualification spots with Oahu’s Freddy Patacchia (21st; 21,250) and Brazil’s Jadson Andre (22nd; 20,750).

The Equal Ninth result for Zietz was his second-best finish of the season. He was a quarterfinalist at the Billabong Rio Pro, good for Equal Fifth. But he did not make it out of round three at any other stops in 2014. It shows just how strong the world tour is to see a talent like Zietz having to scrap for a spot and competitors like Muniz, CJ Hobgood, Aritz Aranburu, Tomas Hermes and Willian Cardoso heading back to the World Qualifying Series next season.

The state of Hawaii will add two representatives to next year’s WCT, with Payne and Keanu Asing joining Zietz, Patacchia and John John Florence. Florence will certainly be eyeing a world title run next year, having finished 2014 in third place and reaching the semifinals in five of 11 events.

Congratulations are in order for Medina and Wilson, as well as Zietz, Payne and everyone who took on Pipeline Friday for a long, memorable capper to the 2014 season. I’d say “hana hou!” but these guys deserve a break.

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

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