Slater, John John, Seabass headline Volcom Pipe Pro

A who’s who of Hawaii surfers are about to contest one of the year’s best Qualifying Series events as the Pipeline season provides an early glimpse into 2015 right where it ended 2014. The Volcom Pipe Pro begins its waiting period on Thursday (Jan. 29 to Feb. 8) and the world famous Oahu break always attracts some top names who wouldn’t normally bother with a QS event, with Kelly Slater and Kolohe Andino opting to stick around the islands this winter to get some more lineup-free Pipe sessions in.

Eight other World Championship Tour competitors are slated to participate – five of them from Hawaii. John John Florence will be the event’s top seed, Kauai’s Sebastian Zietz is seeded fourth and Freddy Patacchia fifth. Seabass re-qualified for this year’s CT with his result at the Pipe Masters. He’s always a factor at this wave and should be considered one of the favorites.

Oahu’s Keanu Asing and Maui’s Dusty Payne, who each qualified for the CT with their QS rankings at the end of 2014, round out the top 10 seeds. American CJ Hobgood, Australian Matt Banting and Brazilian Wiggolly Dantas are also hoping for a good QS start despite a full season of CT events ahead of them.

Slater will be looking to defend his title from this contest last year, which was his eighth career victory at Pipeline. But many of the best local surfers will be eyeing the opportunity for at least a shot at taking down the 11-time world champ, just like Mason Ho had in 2014. With the other top seeds, Ho will have a bye all the way into the Round of 64, thanks to his QS ranking. He was one of the standouts at last year’s event, reaching the final and taking third place.

Ian Walsh, Granger Larsen, Tanner Hendrickson and Kauai’s Danny Fuller will also get the advantage of a late start, placing 10 Hawaii surfers into the Round of 64 before the rest of the field even gets underway.

The early rounds are all locals with the Hawaii rankings determining who gets into the Round of 112 heats. Koa Smith, Reef McIntosh, Chris Foster and Kamalei Alexander will be the Kauai crew who hope to move out of that first round and into the Round of 96, which is also loaded with Garden Isle surfers, namely Alex Smith, Gavin Gillette, Kaimana Jaquias, Pancho Sullivan, Dylan Goodale and Evan Valiere.

The rest of the Hawaii field includes former Triple Crown winner Myles Padaca, big wave specialist Kalani Chapman and Pipeline prodigy Jamie O’Brien. North Shore legend Sunny Garcia gets a one-round break and starts in the Round of 96, as does young Sunny imitator Ezekiel Lau and Joel Centeio, who earned a perfect 10 on a Backdoor wave at December’s Pipe Invitational.

Kiron Jabour, Kai Barger, Seth Moniz, Hank Gaskell and Ian Gentil are just a few of the rest of the Aloha State contingent.

With the new World Surf League points system, the Volcom Pipe Pro, which was a 5-Star event last year, is now considered a QS3000 contest.

According to the official Surfline contest forecast, we may get some action on day one. A building swell will be peaking today and should leave some contestable conditions for early Thursday. The next swell should be a bit bigger and peak late Saturday into Sunday.

We’ve been lucky enough to have a couple Slater-John John battles at Pipe in the past. But with Slater, who turns 43 in February, always hinting that retirement isn’t too far off, this may be one of our last opportunities. I have a feeling both guys will work their ways into the final and from there, it’s anyone’s guess as to what can happen.

With Pipe and Backdoor waves about to be breaking in our direction, the 2015 men’s season is officially underway.

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

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