Lots to settle at Invitational – but when?

Forecasts seem to be a bit murky when trying to determine the best days to begin the Billabong Pipe Masters. It could be today, it may be as far out as Wednesday or beyond. Today is just day four of the 13-day waiting period, but the added heats with the pre-event Men’s Pipe Invitational do make things a little more pressing, which might force the WSL’s hand. If things do get going in the next day or two, they will probably be in the lineup at Off the Wall, with Backdoor maybe opening up for some opportunities.

Two surfers will emerge from the Invitational field to enter the main draw, but Bruce Irons won’t have to work his way through that minefield. Irons and Frederico Morais have been given injury replacement wild cards into the main draw, so Irons is certainly a candidate to put up a monster score at any moment under the right conditions at Pipeline.

There are also four of Kauai’s representatives hoping to join Irons in the Pipe Masters. Koa Smith, Reef McIntosh, Kaimana Jaquias and Gavin Gillette will all compete in the Invitational. McIntosh has the honor of the very first heat against Kalani Chapman, Makai McNamara and Keoni Yan. That heat has the potential to go any which way and McIntosh has his work cut out for him right from the start. But it’s safe to assume that Reef won’t be sweating his results too much as he looks to catch the biggest and best wave he can find.

Smith and Jaquias are in the same foursome in heat six. These two seem to find each other in a lot of the same lineups at Qualifying Series events, so hopefully they’re each able to emerge from this group and advance further.

Gillette paddles out in the final first-round heat against World Cup finalist Torrey Meister and a pair of youngsters in Finn McGill and Seth Moniz. Gillette hasn’t put in much of a QS workload this season as he’s competed in just four events around Hawaii. But he’s certainly a known entity and just needs a little momentum to get rolling.

Ezekiel Lau is also in the Invitational field and he’d be one of the most interesting candidates if he were to emerge into the Pipe Masters draw. Lau sits one spot out of a qualifying position and needs a few different things to happen in the Pipe Masters to move up and make the 2017 world tour. If he worked his way into the event and wound up in a heat with someone like Kanoa Igarashi or Jadson Andre — probably a non-elimination heat because of seeding — it would actually be more advantageous to him for the other competitor to win than for Lau to win and move ahead two rounds.

Other notables in the Invitational include Jamie O’Brien, Billy Kemper and Mason Ho. O’Brien is always a likely candidate to run deep in this event, or any at Pipeline.

In all, it’s going to take 15 heats to determine the two wild cards. That’s a full day’s worth of action, so the WSL is unlikely to wait for perfect conditions before making the call. Check the action this morning to know for sure if today is that day.

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

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