With two spots up for grabs, Finn McGill and Gavin Beschen worked their way through the Men’s Pipe Invitational field to earn wild card berths in the Billabong Pipe Masters on Monday. They’ll join the full Championship Tour roster, as well as current Triple Crown leader Frederico Morais and former Pipe Master Bruce Irons in the year’s final pro contest.
For McGill, it’s another breakthrough performance during the best stretch of his young career. He made the final at the HIC Pro and had some high results in QS 1,000 events earlier in 2016. But this is his most prestigious moment, taking down a Pipeline title and getting to now participate in an annual staple.
It almost didn’t materialize as he was sitting in fourth place with just over a minute remaining in his semifinal heat. But after Ezekiel Lau punched through a doggy door in a Backdoor barrel, McGill followed suit with a bigger, cleaner ride to earn a 9.50 from the judges. That propelled him into first place, where he advanced along with Josh Moniz.
McGill got off to a solid start in the final and punctuated his day with an 8.60 to stay safely in the top two and ultimately earn the win. He and Beschen now get to tangle with some of the world’s best in just a three-man lineup, hoping to pull off an upset or two. While McGill is just starting to get his feet wet on the dream tour scene, Beschen has more than 20 years of pro surfing experience, much of it on the North Shore.
Beschen has the honor, or the misfortune, of going up against world champ John John Florence in the opening round. Jadson Andre completes that trio and he might have an unlikely supporter on the sand. Lau, who came close to a Pipe Masters berth of his own, would be happy to see Andre make a run to at least the fourth round, aiding his last chance at a qualifying spot for 2017. So while he may normally cheer for the two Oahu boys, Lau may prefer seeing the Brazilian pull off the unthinkable and best John John in his backyard.
With his brother as the event’s namesake, Bruce Irons will start round one against former world champ Gabriel Medina and tour rookie Kanoa Igarashi. Igarashi is another who can help Lau’s chances, but these other two Pipeline prodigies will make that difficult at this stage.
McGill goes up against World Cup of Surfing winner Jordy Smith and Keanu Asing, while Morais has Matt Wilkinson and Nat Young in round one. Morais has been so good this winter, but he’ll need one more solid showing to hold off both Florence and Smith for the Triple Crown title, unless someone like Kelly Slater pulls out the win and makes up his larger point deficit.
Pipeline wild cards always have a shot to do damage because there’s a reason they’re in the draw. McGill and Beschen just proved their mettle, Morais has the hot streak going and Irons is a lethal opponent if the conditions are prime.
Seven days remain in the waiting period with three needed to complete the contest. Hopefully the large swell approaching Friday will be clean enough to showcase these guys at their best. It’s been Florence’s year to this point, but there are certainly more contenders for this coveted piece of hardware.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.