Photo: WSL / Heff

Celebrating the History of Volcom Pipe Pro

By Shannon Reporting

The Banzai Pipeline is perhaps the most famous beach in the lore of surfing history. It’s one of the most feared and photographed waves on the planet, considered the proving grounds in competitive surfing ever since the beginning of the Volcom Pipe Pro and the Triple Crown of Surfing contests.

Pipe’s prestige is unequalled anywhere in the world. That’s why the Pipe Masters event has been perceived as the pinnacle of competitive surfing since its introduction in 1970. However, the inherent financial and logistical obstacles one must overcome in order to qualify for the WSL Championship Tour has often left noteworthy local surfers out of the running. Ultimately, the Volcom Pipe Pro has supplied an excellent opportunity for the top homegrown talent and visiting Pipe Warriors to prove themselves more than worthy of competing on what is arguably the best wave in the world.

New in 2018 was an expanded, 144-man format playing out over four days of competition. Making up more than 50% of the list are local surfing legends, and the top 12 finishers will then be qualified for the Pipe Invitational, similar to a trial, with the top two surfers being awarded spots in the Billabong Pipe Masters. Thus, the importance of the event for local surfers is enormous.

“What’s consistent is the amazing quality of waves we have for the Volcom Pipe Pro,” said contest director Marty Thomas. “We’ve had epic battles between Jamie O’Brien and John John Florence. Josh Moniz’s win last year was a major breakthrough for his career.”

The origin of the Volcom Pipe Pro goes back to 2010 when North Shore charger Jamie O’Brien took the inaugural trophy. That first ever event was riddled with local surf royalty. Derek Ho sat way out the back waiting for one of the biggest waves of the day from Second Reef Pipe. Kauai’s Danny Fuller got a 10 in the first Semifinal, but didn’t manage to take home the crown. North Shore lifeguard Dave Wassell was awarded the “Todd Chesser Sportsmanship Award”, given to the hardest charging surfer of the event. 13 year old Landon McNamara got demolished after falling on a huge wave, smashing his face into the reef. The young Gladiator broke his board, but redeemed himself afterwards by paddling back out and finding a clean in-and-out barrel ride.

Growing up with Pipe in his backyard has turned Jamie O’Brien into a freak of nature, capable of pulling off shallow water stunts and surfing virtually any form of craft with ease, no matter how big or how heavy the wave. In fact, JOB has made the podium as runner-up nearly every year following his victory: 2011, 2012, 2016 and 2018. Always one to watch for his late drops, backside pig dogging, and barrel riding skills, JOB is surfing entertainment at its finest.

John John Florence was the next local phenom to follow in Jamie’s footsteps as 2011’s Volcom Pipe Pro champ. Crowned at the tender age of 17, he so far remains the youngest surfer to win a Pipeline event. Like JOB, Florence was raised on the 7 Mile Miracle. He first started pulling into backside barrels at Pipeline before he could drive a car. He was surfing in the Vans Triple Crown event at 13, the youngest competitor ever. Since then, he’s won the Volcom Pipe Pro an astonishing four times, and is definitely still the man to beat.

No event would be the same without the likes of Kelly Slater, the winningest athlete the sport has ever known. Slater is quick to compete in all events at his beloved Banzai Pipeline, easily one of his favorite waves, always bringing the heat and giving the other surfers a desperate run for their money. Slater claimed the throne as Volcom Pipe Pro victor in 2014 and 2016, closing out John John’s relentless winning streak. The battle between these two legends is a highlight for surf fans.

“The Volcom Pipe Pro gets the pick of the litter in terms of best Pipe waves nearly every year,” Kelly Slater told Freesurf Magazine. “Everybody who surfs it enters as much to get good Pipe as they do for the early QS points. Making a couple heats is great practice without all the people to deal with. I’ve loved competing in it.”

Volcom Pipe Pro’s defending 2018 champion, Joshua Moniz, will be back for more. The 22 year old Hawaiian underdog from Kuliouou had his best career result on the North Shore last year in pumping 8-12 ft Pipe and Backdoor. Finals day was held on Super Bowl Sunday with some set waves peaking in the 15 ft range; it was a swell some say was the best of the 2017/18 winter season. “This is by far my greatest win, I’m going to remember this forever,” Moniz told the World Surf League on the podium. The Honolulu native comes from a family of seven, including World Champion longboarder Kelia Moniz; the entire family was on site to celebrate his win.

“It’s going to be crazy this year!” Josh Moniz told Freesurf Magazine. “It’s always a lot of fun because we typically get a lot of swell for the waiting period. Just to have the shot at surfing Pipeline with an empty lineup is one of the most special things as a surfer, and I can’t wait to get that opportunity again!”

Empty waves and glory aside, Pipeline also delivers a hefty dose of battle scars and broken dreams. The treacherous reef is shallow and unforgiving. The severity of a wipeout here is no joking matter. The Hawaiian Water Patrol works hard all winter to handle what it dishes out… but when the right swell hits the North Shore and that horn blows, it’s every man for himself, going for broke out there.

Good luck to all the Pipe Warriors facing the wave in this year’s Volcom Pipe Pro contest. The event window runs from January 29 – February 10 with a $75,000 prize purse. Be there or be square, ‘cause you do not want to miss this one.

2010

Jamie O’Brien Photo: WSL / Heff

Winner: Jamie O’Brien
Runner-up: Anthony Walsh

The inaugural event was a banger! Kauai’s Danny Fuller got a 10 in the first Semifinal, but didn’t manage to take home the crown. Maui’s Ian Walsh fell short in the Semis, but not before scoring a couple of good ones. Mark Matthews from Australia ended up with a respectable third place finish. 13 year old Landon McNamara got demolished after falling from a huge wave and smashing his face into the reef. The young warrior broke his board, but redeemed himself afterwards by paddling back out and finding a clean in-and-out barrel ride. But in the final it was crystal clear that Pipeline local Jamie O’Brien deserved the win, riding high in his beautiful, glassy front yard.

In addition to points and prize awards, honor was also conferred on North Shore lifeguard Dave Wassell, who received the “Todd Chesser Sportsmanship Award” in honor of the late surfer lost at sea. This award is given to the hardest charging surfer of the event every year.

 

2011

John FLorence Photo: WSL / Heff
John Florence Photo: WSL / Heff

Winner: Jamie O’Brien
Runner-up: Anthony Walsh

Jamie O’Brien Photo: Tom Carey

The inaugural event was a banger! Kauai’s Danny Fuller got a 10 in the first Semifinal, but didn’t manage to take home the crown. Maui’s Ian Walsh fell short in the Semis, but not before scoring a couple of good ones. Mark Matthews from Australia ended up with a respectable third place finish. 13 year old Landon McNamara got demolished after falling from a huge wave and smashing his face into the reef. The young warrior broke his board, but redeemed himself afterwards by paddling back out and finding a clean in-and-out barrel ride. But in the final it was crystal clear that Pipeline local Jamie O’Brien deserved the win, riding high in his beautiful, glassy front yard.

In addition to points and prize awards, honor was also conferred on North Shore lifeguard Dave Wassell, who received the “Todd Chesser Sportsmanship Award” in honor of the late surfer lost at sea. This award is given to the hardest charging surfer of the event every year.

 

2012

Koa Rothman Photo: Mike Latronic

Winner: John John Florence
Runner-up: Jamie O’Brien

John Florence Photo: Kinimoto

Hawaii’s John John Florence created one of professional surfing’s most dramatic moments in 2012 to claim his second consecutive Volcom Pipe Pro title, completely flipping the table on former Pipe Pro champion, Jamie O’Brien, in the final seconds. JOB held the lead for the majority of the final, only to see the top spot disappear in the last minute. JJF paddled over and congratulated O’Brien with a hand shake thinking it was over, when suddenly a dark line on the horizon caught his eye. One last wave stacked up on the reef, as JJF clawed his way past JOB throwing himself over the ledge and into a 9.93 tube ride to sneak away with the victory

Remembered as one of the wildest moments to date in Volcom Pipe Pro history, these last 10 nail biting seconds awarded JJF with a custom warrior helmet trophy and $20k. And legend status… just when we thought Slater was the mind to beat with his infamous tricky banter in the water, John John showed him up and snuck away with the win.

 

2013

John Florence Photo: WSL / Heff

Winner: John John Florence
Runner-up: Chris Ward

John John Florence claimed his third consecutive Volcom Pipe Pro title in 2013, eliminating Californian Chris Ward, John Kerr and Olamana Eleogram in the Final. An in-tune Florence sat relaxed in position for the rights at Backdoor, scoring two great tube rides within the first three minutes of the final, leaving his opponents scratching to catch up.

Photo: Chris Latronic

“It was definitely a special Final for me, my third time in a row. I can’t even believe it,” said Florence. The win came after he survived a tight Quarterfinal clash with three other surfers who had previously tasted victory: Jamie O’Brien, Reef McIntosh, and Bruce Irons.

 

 

2014

Kelly Slater Photo: Sean Reilly

Winner: Kelly Slater
Runner-up: Wiggoly Dantas

With superb 8-to-12 ft barreling A-frames filling the lineup on Day 2 of the 2014 Volcom Pipe Pro, competitors were ready to get pitted in a 4-man crowd. Amazing rides went down as a light South wind direction kept the waves nice and hollow for takeoffs at Pipe and Backdoor. But one of the biggest upsets came as defending champ John John Florence came up short against American rippers Parker Coffin and Evan Geiselman, who got the best waves to kill John’s chances at a 4 time repeat.

Billy Kemper Photo: Sean Reilly

When it comes to Finals, there’s one name that never ceases to resonate. Besides JJF, JOB and Andy Irons, there’s no one else who can dissect the Pipeline lineup like Kelly Slater. But his victory road still had a few comers to take down as hungry local boys Mason Ho, Kiron Jabour, Dusty Payne, and Torrey Meister were hot on Slater’s tail, chasing his fumes into the Semis.

 

 

2015

John Florence Photo: WSL / Heff

Winner: John John Florence
Runner-up: Mason Ho

Over 100 warriors entered the 2015 Volcom Pipe Pro, but only one would take home the Spartan helmet. Adding a fourth trophy to his collection, 22-year-old John John Florence claimed victory on February 2nd, defeating Mason Ho, Kelly Slater, and Sebastian Zietz in highly technical 6-to-8 ft conditions at Backdoor. John John had the 35-minute Final in the bag within the first seven minutes, posting wave scores of 9.2 and 8.43 for the highest heat score of the entire event — 17.63 out of 20. Florence and Slater were the pair to beat from the get-go, pushing each other round for round and flip-flopping on highest wave and heat scores all along the way.

Mason Ho Photo: WSL / Rock

John John’s fourth title in five years, the phenom went home $16,000 richer, celebrating the well deserved win in fine fashion with toasts, drinks and dinner at Lei Lei’s in Turtle Bay.

 

 

 

 

2016

Kelly Slater Photo: WSL / Heff

Winner: Kelly Slater
Runner-up: Jamie O’Brien

The 8-10 ft WNW surf opened the 2016 Volcom Pipe Pro, as Kauai’s Koa Smith rattled off back to back nine point rides. Bruce Irons advanced along with two wildcards – Gavin Beschen and Balaram Stack. Allowing wildcards in on the action is part of what makes the annual Volcom Pipe Pro so unique. Because the contest has a QS 3000 rating, it provides an entrance ticket to an arena with a fat purse up for grabs with cash prize totaling $100,000 for local and travelling hellmen who wouldn’t otherwise have the rankings necessary to compete for such a big bone.

Kelly Slater Photo: WSL / Heff

“Everyone gets one chance,” said Dave Wassel. “It takes a whole lifetime to earn respect. It takes 5 seconds to lose it, plain and simple.” Jamie O’Brien, a standout crowd favorite throughout the 3 day event, placed second to Kelly Slater overall. Slater notched yet another win in his belt, taking home first place.

 

 

2017

Soli Bailey Photo: WSL / Heff

Winner: Soli Bailey
Runner-up: Adriano de Souza

Over its eight year history, the Volcom Pipe Pro had seen only three different winners: Jamie O’Brien, John John Florence, and defending champion Kelly Slater. Going into the 2017 event, JJF was predicted to win in his customary blazing, barreling fashion. But the 4 day contest held several unexpected surprises in store, including one bloodied eye, several stitches, a number of broken boards, unmeasurable cheers reverberating from the respective team houses, innumerable claim after claim after claim, and a brand new Aussie champion.

Soli Bailey Photo: WSL / Heff

Unsung Hawaiian talent, 15-year-old Wyatt McHale nailed an 8.5 on Day 1, the best wave ridden in the main event. Makua Rothman pulled into a Backdoor barrel that stretched to Off the Wall on Day 2, as the crowd went wild and the judges awarded him the only 10-point ride of the day. On the last day of the contest, Soli Bailey found a double barrel to ride through to the Finals. Volcom also presented a $60,000 check to the Boys & Girls Club and a $16,000 check to the Sion Memorial Fund, which continues to be a cornerstone of the Volcom Pipe Pro’s contribution to the community.

 

2018

Cam Richards Photo: WSL / Heff

Defending champion: Joshua Moniz
Runner-up: Jamie O’Brien

Last year, the competitive field was expanded from 112 surfers to 144, nearly half of which were representing Hawaii. Poetically and understandably, the top two spots went to North Shore boys, with prodigal son Josh Moniz ultimately adding his name to the prestigious list of past winners alongside the likes of John John Florence and Kelly Slater. “100% this was the best win of my professional career,” Moniz said. “I’m going to remember it forever.”

Josh Moniz Photo: WSL / Heff

Jamie O’Brien snuck into the event after winning the intensely competitive 8-man, 30-minute Volcom Last Chance Qualifier. He surfed a near-perfect heat without priority in double-overhead sets against Hawaiian locals Gavin Beschen, Dave Wassel, Kalani Chapman, Jonah Morgan, Takayuki Wakita, and former World Champion and Pipe Master Derek Ho. Ho was a sight to behold, continuously exploding out of the surf with a wall of spray and always managing to be in the sweet spot, reminding the crowded beach of the talent that earned him the first Hawaiian World Title back in 1993.

Finals day landed on Super Bowl Sunday, as perfect cylinders churned across the reef groomed by offshore winds. The mostly underdog Final was a full on, nonstop barrel fest.

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