EMOTIONS RUN HIGH AFTER FULL DAY AT BILLABONG PIPE MASTERS
BANZAI PIPELINE, Oahu, Hawaii/USA (Sunday, December 17, 2017) – The Billabong Pipe Masters in Memory of Andy Irons completed Rounds 2 and 3 today in four-to-six foot (1.2 – 1.8 metre) conditions at the world famous Banzai Pipeline. The North Shore saw nail-biting match-ups as both requalification for the Championship Tour (CT) and the World Title are on the line at this event. Today’s battle to stay on tour was also accompanied by retiring athletes, Bede Durbidge (AUS) and Josh Kerr (AUS), surfing their last heats as full-time CT competitors, as well as Conner O’Leary (AUS) earning the Rookie of the Year honors.
After a full day of competition at the Billabong Pipe Masters, the final stop on the 2017 World Surf League (WSL) CT and the capstone event of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing (VTCS), there are now only two surfers in contention to win the WSL Title: John John Florence (HAW) and Gabriel Medina (BRA).
World Title scenarios after elimination Round 3 of the Billabong Pipe Masters: – If Florence gets 1st or 2nd at Pipe he will clinch the World Title;
– If Florence gets a 3rd, Medina will need a1st at Pipe to win the World Title;
– If Florence gets a 5th, Medina will need a1st at Pipe to win the World Title;
– If Florence gets a 9th, Medina will need a 2nd
With Florence advancing out of Round 3 today, Australia’s Julian Wilson will not be able to clinch the World Title this season. Despite not being able to take home the World Surfing crown at this event, the 2014 Pipe Master set the bar in Round 3 with the day’s highest single-wave score, a near-perfect 9.93 (out of a possible 10), to defeat rookie Ezekiel Lau (HAW).
“That was a sweet wave, any day of the week,” commented Wilson of his 9.93 ride. “That was such a beautiful wave, definitely the best wave that came in through the heat and just got really lucky to be in right spot without priority. I was trying to keep my distance from Zeke (Lau). Whether he wanted to go deep or wide, I was going to swap with him because I didn’t have priority, but that wave came to me before I really had to think about it and I just had a few pumps through it and went as fast as I could and got spat out, such a nice feeling.”
Wilson’s 15.26 combined score (out of a possible 20) forced Lau into a combination situation that he was not able to overcome. Lau will exit with an Equal 13th place result and is safe for a sophomore year on tour after ending within the Top 10 on the Qualifying Series during the Vans World Cup at Sunset Beach.
In the final heat of the day, World Title hopeful Jordy Smith (ZAF) went against 11x World Champion Kelly Slater (USA) and suffered a disappointing loss and early elimination to ultimately lose his chance for the World Championship. Smith scored a 7.00 on his opening ride for early domination in Round 3 Heat 12, however Slater’s positioning was on-point and he was able to score two rides, a 6.70 and 5.17, under priority to overtake Smith.
“Jordy (Smith), he was really sitting deep, behind the boils, behind the deep spots,” said Slater.”It really separates into two waves so I knew he was giving me enough space to find a little sneaky one at Aints. He just was a little too deep and I saw a set coming and I didn’t see him move and I looked at the corner of my eye thinking, ‘Is he really not coming over here?’ That one I almost missed it, but that was my 6. Not a high scoring heat, nothing special, but for what was out there I did alright.”
Current Jeep Frontrunner Florence barely escaped elimination Round 3 against 2017 CT rookie Ethan Ewing (AUS) in one of the tightest heats of the day. The 2016 WSL Champion held the lead for most of the exchange, but the rookie fought back to only need a 4.67 to advance through and end Florence’s World Title hopes. With just seconds left on the clock, fans held their breath as Ewing pulled into a Backdoor barrel and completed a critical maneuver on a closeout, however, he fell just short after judges gave the ride a 4.60. With the final combined scores coming down to 10.87 and 10.80, Florence will advance through to Round 4 and keep his back-to-back World Title hopes alive.
“Definitely a crazy, close heat,” Florence said. “Ethan (Ewing) is such a great surfer. Winning heats like that, it’s such a weird one. It ends up being so close. I’m obviously super stoked to keep going in this event. But that was really hard out there. It’s tough to find the good ones. I mean, it’s beautiful and there are good waves coming through but it’s hard to find them.”
Medina also had a close match-up against CT veteran Josh Kerr (AUS) in Round 3 Heat 8. Medina wove his way out of tight barrels and threw up massive air attempts for a 10.00 two-wave score and managed to narrowly escape elimination by Kerr, who garnered a 9.83 heat total.
“It was hard to find the good ones,” said Medina. “I’m stoked to get the win, that was a tough one. I still have a shot, feels great, I’m feeling good. I think God is on my side. Now it’s just to trust, believe, and just go for it.”
The first heat of the day, Round 2 Heat 1, opened with Medina defeating Pipe Invitational winner Dusty Payne (HAW). Medina took advantage of the clean barrels and found two 6.33 scores, his first for a Backdoor right, then a backup Pipe barrel on his forehand. Payne warmed up with a double barrel that earned him a 7.17 but was left looking for an excellent-range score after Medina lit up the North Shore with a near-perfect 9.00.
Wilson took down Pipe Invitational wildcard Benji Brand (HAW) earlier today before facing Lau in Round 3. The heated exchange started with Brand’s two best waves, a 3.17 and 3.70, for in-and-out barrels, but Wilson was not to be outdone by the local threat. With a combined two-wave total of 8.56, the Australian bested Brand after he found a backup 4.23 on the final ride of the heat.
Earlier in the season, 2007 Pipe Master Bede Durbidge (AUS) announced that he will retire from the CT after the 2018 season to become the Elite Program Manager for team Australia heading into the 2020 Olympics. With a loss in Round 2 Heat 10 to good friend Fanning, today marked Durbidge’s final run as a professional surfer after thirteen years on the world tour. The Australian veteran will now apply his experience to coach the next generation of surfers ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games.
“There’s so many highlights,” said Durbidge. “Just surfing with all these boys, Mick (Fanning) and Josh (Kerr), and Ace (Buchan) and Tommy Whits (Whitaker). I think that’s the best part — just traveling around with your friends and family and all the good memories. The contest side is amazing, but that’s what you remember forever. I have a really good job moving forward and transitioning into working with the Olympic Australian team at HPC and Surfing Australia. It’s super exciting for me and something I’m very passionate about. I move into that in January and it’s going to be another fun journey, another chapter in life.”
Josh Kerr (AUS) also surfed his last heat today as he too planned to retire at the end of the Billabong Pipe Masters. In an extremely close heat, Kerr fell just 0.17 points short of the win against Medina in Round 3 Heat 8.
From 2011 to 2014, Kerr finished in the top 10 in each year and was 11th in 2015 and 13th in 2016. Throughout his career, Kerr has proven himself as one of surfing’s great heavy-water chargers. The Australian made the Final of the Pipe Masters in 2012 and has been a standout at every Teahupo’o Code Red swell. Kerr further cemented his big-wave credentials when he won the Todos Santos Challenge in 2015 and remains the only CT surfer to have won a Big Wave Tour event.
“Definitely an emotional moment — my daughter comes on the beach crying and kissing me and all the boys there carrying me up,” Kerr expressed. “Super bittersweet. I’d love to keep going, but the most I’ve learned right now is winning isn’t everything. I’m just stoked on where I’m at in life. I feel like I’m winning with a great family, a good group of friends and family around me. I couldn’t be happier with everything I’ve done in the past and what I have moving forward, so really excited. I’ve got a few things in the works that have to do with surfing. Hopefully going to help out the world of surfing and then also a lot of traveling with the family doing some really rad stuff. We’re lucky enough to have an awesome family dynamic. Get to continue to travel to beautiful places like this and not put a rashy on.”
As the veterans said goodbye to the CT after Round 3, today also saw the next generation celebrate big wins. Connor O’Leary (AUS), in particular, won the prestigious Rookie of the Year award over the six talented rookies on the CT. O’Leary was not able to come out of his Round 3 match-up against Kanoa Igarashi (USA) but now focuses ahead on the 2018 season.
“I am stoked to take home the Rookie of the Year title and have a few beers with some friends when I go home,” said O’Leary. “It was such a massive learning experience for me. For me it’s a massive confidence thing to know and to keep telling myself I’m good enough to match it with the best. I’ll take that confidence into next year and see how I go.”
Rookie Ian Gouveia (BRA) upset the competition today with wins over top seeds Filipe Toledo (BRA) and Matt Wilkinson (AUS) in Rounds 2 and 3, respectively. Gouveia will be against Coffin and Wilson in non-elimination Round 4. First-year Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) also made it through to Round 4 after taking down Sebastian Zietz (HAW) in Round 3 and 2015 WSL Champion Adriano de Souza (BRA) in Round 3.
California’s Conner Coffin (USA) continues a successful run this season after besting three-time WSL Champion Mick Fanning (AUS) in Round 3 Heat 2, hot off a victory at the Vans World Cup earlier this month. Coffin opened up about his camaraderie with Fanning and the pressure of going against him in their first head-to-head heat of the year.
“Mick’s just been such a great role model coming onto tour,” Coffin commented. “He’s such a solid human, he’s been through so much. He’s such a real person and to be so welcoming to a kid like me coming on the tour, he’s just so willing to give advice and support. I don’t think I’ve surfed a man on man heat against him this year so I’m really stoked to have an opportunity to. Congrats to him on such an amazing career and being a really good role model for kids like me coming up.”
Kolohe Andino (USA) had a commanding performance in Round 2 Heat 6 against Jack Freestone (AUS), who lost his chance for requalification onto the 2018 CT after bowing out of today’s competition. Andino posted two excellent scores, an 8.50 and 8.60, for the highest combined heat total of the event, a 17.10, and a strong lead on the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing title.
“I was really nervous actually just having all these goals,” Andino stated. “I’m in the running for the Triple Crown, I want to stay in the top 10, had Kelly (Slater) in my first heat, and he’s the master out here. So I was really nervous and really happy to make that heat and get the ball rolling. There’s definitely no easy heats on this tour. I was stoked to get that 8.5 in the first bit and I was just trying to back it up. I took off on kind of a crummy wave and then he (Jack Freestone) got that 9 and I was like, ‘Man, what am I doing?’ It’s hard out there, but I’m super happy to make that heat.”
Andino placed runner-up in this year’s Vans World Cup and fifth in the Hawaiian Pro, the two final QS10,000’s of the year and start to the 35th annual Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. In 2016 he finished fourth on the CT and now currently sits within the world’s top 10 after an outstanding performance at Margaret River and Semifinal finishes in Tahiti, France and Portugal earlier this year.
Event organizers will reconvene tomorrow morning at 7:30 a.m. HST to reassess the conditions and make the next call.
Surfline, official forecaster for the Billabong Pipe Masters, are calling for:
Slow for the first half of Sunday as new NW swell gradually builds and old NNW/NE swell mix fades to leftovers. The new NW swell will peak late Sunday into Monday with fun size surf and variable southerly wind. A larger, mid to shorter period NNW to N swell will build through Tuesday and continue Wednesday as onshore northerly wind returns (light Tue, building and stronger Wednesday).
The event will be broadcast LIVE via WorldSurfLeague.com, the WSL app and on Facebook LIVE via the WSL’s Facebook page. Also check local listings for coverage on CBS Sports Network in the U.S., the Spectrum SURF Channel in Hawaii, Fox Sports in Australia, ESPN in Brazil, Sky NZ in New Zealand, SFR Sports in France and Portugal,
Sport TV in Portugal and the EDGEsport Network.
For more information, check out WorldSurfLeague.com.