John John casts an even larger shadow with 4th Volcom Pipe Pro title

It was fitting that the final fell on Groundhog Day because the end result of this year’s Volcom Pipe Pro was one that we’ve seen over and over and over again. For the fourth time in five years, John John Florence was crowned Pipe Pro champ at his backyard break, accepting and thriving in the challenging final heat against Kelly Slater, Mason Ho and Kauai’s Sebastian Zietz.

The contest’s conclusion marks the end of the Hawaii pro surf season, but it’s just the beginning for these four and the rest of the field ready to tackle the Qualifying Series and Championship Tour schedules. In a short time, the Volcom Pipe Pro has become one of the most sought after titles on the calendar, as much for its iconic location as for its who’s who of prior champions. Jamie O’Brien won the inaugural event in 2010 before Florence won three straight. Slater claimed the top prize last year but was unable to defend his title from the young phenom picking up win No. 4.

With the winds ready to ramp up and make things unruly, forecasters saw just enough of a window on Monday morning to complete the event. Starting the quarterfinals with 16 surfers left from a field of 112, the locals were still well represented with nine Hawaii chargers set for finals day. Two of them, Zietz and Ezekiel Lau, paddled out for the first heat of the morning.

Seabass had been getting off to good starts in his previous heats, using his priority and patience effectively to find the right waves. The same was true Monday as he dug into a barrel and emerged for a 7.93 on his first ride. Lau also started quickly and bested that with an 8.67. But Zietz found the better backup to recapture first place and both ended up advancing to the semifinals ahead of Spain’s Aritz Aranburu and Brazil’s Ian Gouveia.

Sitting in second place with just over 10 minutes remaining of his quarterfinal, Florence secured his spot in the next round by pumping through a backdoor wave for a 9.00 score and an eventual heat win on a 14.83 total. Maui’s Ian Walsh kept Hawaii’s perfect record intact with a second-place finish, putting four Hawaii surfers into the first four semifinal slots.

That wouldn’t remain the case for very long as the third quarterfinal featured Slater and Kolohe Andino, two of the three top seeds. Slater reigned supreme and put up the highest heat total of the contest to that point by earning the first perfect 10 of the week on an electric backdoor wave. He got up high and raced down the line, staying covered seemingly forever. When he made it out the doggy door, he gave a quick look back at the wave as if he knew he didn’t need to give the judges anything more. That perfect score led to a 17.33 total and Andino made it through with a 15.10 of his own for second place.

Ho, last year’s third-place finisher, won the last quarterfinal heat in much tougher conditions. His 8.60 pushed him through with Japan’s Masatoshi Ohno in second (6.40). Kauai’s Kaimana Jaquias could not make it six Hawaii surfers in the final eight. He needed just a 2.81 in the closing minutes to leap into second but the scrappy heat ended without allowing that opportunity. He’ll take an Equal 13th for 850 points and $1,500.

The final was almost contested without Florence, who sat in third place with only 90 seconds to go in the first semifinal. But as he seems to always do, he found just what he needed with a Backdoor barrel and a big carve at the end for an 8.07 to leap into first. Seabass was safe in second but that bumped Lau out of the final four.

The ocean went quiet for the second semifinal. With just five minutes remaining, Slater’s 4.16 total actually held the lead. He added a 5.83 for the best wave of the heat to secure first, but second was still up for grabs. Ho literally needed to just stand up in a wave, requiring just a 0.03 to move past Andino. He got it with only 45 seconds left on a short barrel ride and rode it to the beach for a 3.70 and a spot in the final.

The star-studded championship heat was all John John. He started with an 8.40, which was actually quickly bested by Ho’s almost identical 8.60. But Florence pulled into another barrel and rode it flawlessly, finishing with a huge air. He became unstuck on the landing, which eliminated a certain perfect 10, but it was still a 9.20 for a 17.60 total with only six minutes gone in the heat. Ho was the only one to escape combo land and gave a prime effort with a 15.90 two-wave total for second place, one spot better than last year. Slater edged out Seabass for third with a 9.00 total while Zietz took fourth (8.47).

Florence, Slater, Zietz and the rest of the Top 34 competitors will now head down under for the opening to the CT season. A trio of Australian contests kick off with the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast (Feb. 28 to March 11).

The first QS6000 contest of the year for both the men and women starts a bit earlier with next week’s Hurley Australian Open (Feb. 9 to 15).

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

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