Well it wasn’t exactly big, scary, west swell Pipeline, but clean head-high+ barrels is better than the onshore mess Hawaii has had the past week, so we’ll take it.
Sunday was the first time in nearly two weeks that there has been a barrel fest at Pipe/Backdoor. That might be normal at your average beach break, but it’s not normal on the North Shore in December. The forecast has been downright abysmal, and many were beginning to fear that we’d see the entire Pipe Masters go down without anyone getting properly piped. But it was clean, and it was hollow, and although no one won wave of the winter, a lot of guys had a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, a couple of guys didn’t—and those guys won’t be on tour next year. The first casualty of the day was Keanu Asing, Hawaii’s biggest little man whose huge heart outweighs his small stature. Asing is a bit of an enigmatic contradiction—a nice guy on a tour where you have to be selfish to win; a small surfer with a cage fighter for a girlfriend; an event winner who didn’t requalify. Of all the bubble boys, it was Asing who we most hoped would get another crack next year, but after falling to Kanoa Igarashi in round 2, that’s not going to happen.
Kai Otton also fell off tour after losing in round 3 to Kolohe Andino. Kai has been one of the hardest-charging gents on the circuit for the past decade, and is always a standout when Chopes, Cloudbreak, or Pipe are flexing. But Pipe wasn’t flexing—it was pretty much dormant, while Backdoor looked like a fun day at Newport Beach. Kolohe looked solid in both rounds 2 and 3, and his round 3 win over Otton means one of the tour’s working man heroes is no more.
Another blue-collar goofy foot who needed a result was Nat Young, and he stepped up in a big way, stacking a pair of pigdogs against Jadson Andre to advance to round 4 and keep his tour hopes alive. The further Young progresses, the more work others will have to do to take his spot. And right now the biggest threat is Kanoa Igarashi.
You may recall that Igarashi has already requalified via the qualifying tour, but if he were to move ahead of Nat on the ratings he could grab the Californian’s spot and double qualify—which would open up a spot for QS #11 Zeke Lau, who happens to be Igarashi’s Quiksilver and Snaktales stable mate. As long as Nat keeps winning, his fate is in his own hands, so you can bet Lau and his crew have their voodoo dolls close at hand.
Conner Coffin has requalified via the QS, but was campaigning in the Pipe Masters for Rookie of the Year honors. Conner found handful of juicy tubes in his round 2 win over Jack Freestone, but ended up falling to an in-form Kelly Slater in round 3. His early loss at Pipeline sealed the deal for Caio Ibelli, who is the 2016 WSL Rookie of the Year.
All five wildcards and injury replacements fell in round 2, and with the most important loss belonging to Frederico Morais. The Portuguese surfer has been on a tear in Hawaii, qualifying for the world tour, finishing the year rated 2nd on the QS, and gaining a wildcard entry into the final event of the Triple Crown with a healthy lead over second-rated John John Florence. But Morais was eliminated, which left the door open for John John to make his move—and in case you missed the memo, John John is on fire.
Yes, we all know about his competitive pedigree this year—Slater says it’s the most dominant competitive performance of all time, between the event wins, world title, and Eddie win. But how about that alley-oop Florence did in a freesurf earlier this week? Many assert it’s the biggest air ever done, and you can only imagine what would happen if JJ landed one of those beauties in a heat, after getting spat out of an overhead Backdoor tunnel.
The Pipe Masters and the Triple Crown trophies could easily join Florence’s stack of memorabilia this week—the world champ is the man to beat as we head into the final two days of the season.