Friday featured the Men’s Pipe Invitational, an event that completed the main draw for the year’s final Championship Tour contest. Two top finishers in the 32-surfer field made their way into the Pipe Masters bracket, now with a chance at the year’s most prestigious contest win.
Surviving the day were former CT competitor Dusty Payne and one of the top young surfers in the Hawaii region, Benji Brand. Each managed to get the appropriate scores when necessary and will now have a chance at not only making an impression on the biggest stage of all, but shaking up the world tour.
Saturday was a lay day for the Pipe Masters, but action may very well get underway today with a big swell pushing through the lineup.
It may end up being too big and wash out navigable sets, but check out the early call to see if your Sunday brunch might include some competition.
The biggest story line of all is John John Florence’s attempt to win his second straight world title. Florence is the favorite at any stop on tour, but that reality is amplified at the year’s last stop in his literal backyard.
To handle business on his own, Florence needs to make the final heat. If he does so, nobody else will be able to surpass his point total.
If John John exits anywhere before the final, a few other hopefuls can still make their way to the top spot in the rankings. Gabriel Medina needs to win the contest if Florence gets a third- or fifth-place finish. A ninth or worse brings Jordy Smith back into the picture, and if John John is upset in rounds two or three, Julian Wilson would still have an outside chance with an event win.
The year’s Triple Crown of Surfing champion will also be determined during this event. Unfortunately, current Triple Crown leader Griffin Colapinto won’t be in the draw. After reaching the final heat at both the Hawaiian Pro and World Cup of Surfing, Colapinto still needed to make his way through the invitational to have a chance at the Pipe Masters.
This is a rule that needs re-tooling. Anyone holding the Triple Crown lead heading into the final leg should have an automatic berth in the Pipe Masters.
They get an automatic spot in the invitational, but having to still make their way through four rounds of four-man heats makes it so difficult for a QS surfer to win the Triple Crown. As if the qualification process for the CT wasn’t stacked against the QS competitors enough, this just reinforces that hurdle.
So Kolohe Andino is now the man to beat as he enters the Pipe Masters in second place on the Triple Crown leaderboard. Wiggolly Dantas, Conner Coffin, Filipe Toledo, Michel Bourez, Italo Ferreira and Adriano de Souza are all in the top 10 and have a chance at the top spot with a Pipe Masters title.
Michael Rodrigues and Patrick Gudauskas will have their eyes squarely on a few competitors, namely Kanoa Igarashi and Ferreira. Both hold the key to the qualification possibilities for Rodrigues and Gudauskas. Igarashi has been in this position before and won’t need anything quite as dramatic as last year to help propel one into CT rookie status. But it will be a nerve-wracking contest for the upstarts who aren’t even in the event.
Florence will get his quest underway against Dantas and Payne in round one.
Sebastian Zietz will take on Ace Buchan and Ian Gouveia in his matchup. Mick Fanning, Frederico Morais and Ferreira finish up round one with what looks like the most evenly matched trio.
And Kelly Slater will make his return to action after four contests, having suffered a broken foot during a freesurf at the J-Bay Open.
Slater’s presence seems almost mandatory at Pipeline, and he’ll get going against Andino and Joan Duru in round one.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.