BANZAI PIPELINE, Oahu/Hawaii (Sunday, December 18, 2016) – The Billabong Pipe Masters in Memory of Andy Irons, the final stop on the 2016 Samsung Galaxy World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour (CT) and culminating event of the Vans Triple Crown, continued today in building three-to-five foot (1-1.5 metre) surf. With re-qualification on the line, elimination Rounds 2 and 3 delivered some heavy losses and big upsets as 23 surfers were sent home.
2016 WSL Champion John John Florence (HAW) continued his winning streak at Pipe after defeating Bede Durbidge (AUS) in Round 3 Heat 6. Durbidge kicked off the heat with a smooth barrel, but Florence fired back with two excellent-range scores, an 8.10 and a 7.17. Although leaving Pipe with a 13th place finish, Durbidge made a triumphant return to competition after suffering an injury last year. Prior to matching up with Florence, Durbidge took down Adrian Buchan (AUS), current No. 12 on the Jeep Leaderboard, in Round 2 Heat 5.
“It was super cool to surf against Bede [Durbidge],” Florence said. “He is such a legend and such a good guy. He is an amazing surfer and it is so awesome to see him back in the water now. I started working with him at Snapper earlier this year and he was barely walking. Just to see him progress through the whole year is really cool. I still took it like a heat though because I want to keep going in this event.”
“I’m stoked and very grateful to be back here competing,” said Durbidge. “I’m happy to be back and to get another chance to surf out here again with just a few people out. I’ve been here all winter and getting used to that power again.”
Rookie Ryan Callinan (AUS) upset the competition today with his win over two-time Pipe finalist and current World No. 2 Gabriel Medina (BRA) in Round 3 Heat 7. Callinan posted a 15.34 combined heat score, including an excellent 8.67, to lead the heat and put pressure on the top seed. In the dying minutes of the heat, Medina only needed a 6.75, but was not able to manufacture the necessary score and will be eliminated from the event. The win marks Callinan’s career first Round 4 berth.
“I guess this is a good end to the year already as I haven’t made it past the third round until now,” Callinan said. “Round 3 has kind of got me this year and the two guys I beat today have kind of got me in most of the events so it is good to get a bit of payback in. I am really happy to make some heats. I feel like I am just surfing and trying to get a good wave to myself. There’s no way I can requalify so I just went out there to have fun. I was disappointed not to make it but lots of friends did. I’m pumped for next year to try and get back on tour.”
“I am really happy with my year,” said Medina. “It was a good year and I want to thank everyone who was involved. Now I am off to Brazil to relax with my family and friends. It is going to start all over again pretty soon. I am going to start training and will be back next year. I feel really good and confident for next year.”
Round 2 Heat 6 saw an all-rookie clash between Callinan and Caio Ibelli (BRA), but the Australian found one of the better waves of the heat for a 7.83 on his final ride and took the win. Although Ibelli is eliminated from the competition in Equal 25th, he has claimed the honor of Rookie of the Year for the 2016 season.
“It’s really hard out there and it’s my first Pipe Masters ever,” said Ibelli. “I went out there looking for the sets and it’s heartbreaking that I didn’t find a barrel. Although now I can relax and then I’ll get back to training soon. This year was one of the best years of my life. It was such a great experience to be on tour and surf all those waves that I dream about. It was also really humbling to see all the guys I look up to.”
The upsets continued as Nat Young (USA) played spoiler for 2015 WSL Champion and defending event winner Adriano de Souza (BRA) in Round 3 Heat 9. Young picked off a clean Backdoor wave for a 6.17 backed up by only a 1.83. With time winding down, De Souza was not able to turn in his 3.34 combined score and this loss will put an end to his season.
“It was a fun year for sure to be a defending champion,” said De Souza. “I’m excited for next year. I think it will be way different for me because I’ll have way more time to prepare for the season. This contest is really special for me and every time I come to Pipe I’m so grateful to everyone for their help. When you’re not winning contests it’s frustrating, but I just have to enjoy being here. I’ve been coming to this contest for 10 years so I’ve been learning from the best.”
The final heat of the day witnessed an exciting match-up as 11-time WSL Champion Kelly Slater (USA) went up against rookie Conner Coffin (USA). The seven-time event winner stayed busy in the line-up, catching nearly every wave that came through. Slater’s efforts paid off as he was able to turn in two-excellent scores for a 15.27 combined total. Needing a 9.17 in the dying minutes of the heat, a set out the back gave Coffin one last opportunity to take the win. Coffin hunted down a deep barrel, but was rewarded with a 9.07, falling just 0.07 short of the win.
“It was a real tactical battle, so I was just trying to get something going on the smaller waves,” Slater said. “Backdoor is actually one of the great air waves when the wind is right. There’s always more to learn. It’s great to see how many rotations and flips are coming in. It’s fun to see that stuff and it’s fun to do it if you can figure it all out.”
Earlier in the day Coffin put on a show Round 2 Heat 9 by finding a clean tube followed by a powerful carve for an early lead in his bout against fellow rookie Jack Freestone (AUS). With ten minutes remaining Freestone answered with a barrel of his own and was rewarded with a 5.83 to close the gap on Coffin. An exciting close to heat saw the pair trade barrel rides and lead changes, until Coffin’s final ride – a clean tube followed by a huge layback – earned him a 7.77 and the win.
Rookie Kanoa Igarashi (USA) continued to shake-up the top seeds with his win over 2014 Pipe Master Julian Wilson (AUS) in Round 3 Heat 10. The heat saw low scores, but Igarashi found just enough to scrape through to the next round. Igarashi’s win sees him earn his second Round 4 berth of the season, while Wilson will leave the North Shore with a 13th place finish.
“That Round 3 heat has been getting me all year,” said Igarashi. “That was a really important heat and Julian [Wilson] is a former Pipe Master. I was nervous but I just wanted to get out there and let my surfing to its thing. I just trusted my instincts and I’m stoked to make the heat. I paddled out there wanting to win the whole contest.”
Another heated match-up earlier in the day saw Igarashi defeat Keanu Asing (HAW) in the final heat of Round 2. Sitting in 23rd place on the Jeep Leaderboard, outside the requalification bubble, Asing needed a strong showing in Hawaii but an early elimination ended his hopes of rejoining the elite tour in 2017.
“It’s hard to digest,” said Asing. “I can’t blame anyone else but myself. Sitting 23rd in the world, I’ve had a lot of ups and down this year and mixed emotions. There’s nothing I can really do, but it’s hard and if it was easier everyone would do it. This isn’t going to be the last of me. It’s easy to be bummed, but I have to look on the bright side and carry on. I won that event in France and gained a lot of experience from winning. Next year will be tough, but I have to keep working.”
In addition to seeing top seeds fall, it was a tough morning for the wildcards as the opening four heats of the day saw Gavin Beschen (HAW), Bruce Irons (HAW), Finn McGill (HAW) and Frederico Morais (PRT) all eliminated in Round 2 at the hands of Kolohe Andino (USA), De Souza, Joel Parkinson (AUS) and Sebastian Zietz (HAW).
Josh Kerr (AUS) charged through a full day with wins against Adam Melling (AUS) and Zietz in Rounds 2 and 3, respectively. Melling, in need of an excellent result at the Pipe Masters to secure his place on the CT in 2017, chased down a Round 2 win over Kerr. However, a pair of seven-point rides from Kerr gave him the advantage and the heat win. Round 3 saw Kerr claim a narrow win over Zietz with a 7.33 combined score to end the Hawaiian’s run at Pipe.
“There was a lot of luck out there today,” Kerr said. “I was about rhythm and luckily I had some good opportunities. It’s great having my family here for this event. I miss them a lot when I’m on the road so we’re having some fun.”
Jeremy Flores (FRA) found the wave of the day and was rewarded with an excellent 9.17 in the opening heat of Round 3 against Matt Wilkinson (AUS). Wilkinson attempted to battle back, but could not find the excellent-range scores required to defeat the former Pipe Master. Flores will advance to Round 4, while Wilkinson will leave the event in equal 13th place.
“I thought I was a little bit too deep on the wave, but then I looked on the shore and saw that we were pretty far towards Off the Wall,” Flores said. “There is a deep hole there so I was hoping the wave would back off and it did. I kind of busted my knee on my last wave in my first round heat and I have not surfed since. That is why I did not catch a lot of waves. I really have to choose them carefully.”
“Career-wise, this year has been the best year of my life,” said Wilkinson. “To have the lead for such a long time was a pretty crazy experience. It was great for me to feel like I could really fight for a World Title and before this year I did not think I had it in me. Now, I feel like I’ve had a lot of missed opportunities in the back-half of this year and I could have been fighting for a title. I am stoked with how the year has gone. I obviously would have wanted to do better here, but I am stoked going into the off-season. I plan to come into next year knowing what I want and what I am going to fight for.”
After 10 years on the CT, Kai Otton (AUS) surfed his last heat on the elite tour where he was narrowly defeated by Kolohe Andino (USA) in Heat 3 of Round 3. Otton first qualified in 2007 and in the decade since has claimed a CT win in 2013 in Portugal, a runner-up finish in Brazil and four Semifinal berths (two in Tahiti, one in South Africa and one in Portugal).
“It’s kind of a forced retirement I guess,” Otton said. “I would have gone again next year if all the boys were there, but I’m not going to chase the QS so it’s probably my last event. It’s been fun, but it’s a tough way to finish with Kolohe [Andino] pipping me there at the end. I’m going to do a couple of fun events near home and go and hang out with Taj [Burrow]. It still has to sink in but thanks to everyone that got me here and supported me. It’s been a dream – I didn’t qualify until I was 27 and ten years later it’s been great fun.”
Surfline, official forecaster for the WSL, are calling for:
Monday will see an easing trend, although fun to mid size surf looks possible through the day (favoring Backdoor). Surf in the head high to a foot or two overhead range on sets looks likely.
We continue to monitor a new swell for Tuesday from a storm now over the Aleutian Islands. This storm and swell are much better aimed at areas north and east of Hawaii, with this looking like more of a glancing blow for the islands. It appears that our Surfline swell model is too ‘hot’ on this swell right now, so the surf size for Tuesday (above) take that into account and is very conservative as compared to model guidance. As we gather further data on the storm and swell we’ll adjust as necessary. Stay tuned.