With a finicky forecast wind-wise for the rest of the Billabong Pipe Masters waiting period, Round One popped off today in sunny, 3-to-4-foot northerly Backdoor walls. Of course, an odd tube here, a rampy left there, but for the most part: Turn City on them rights.
Sure, when it comes down to it, nobody's actually eliminated in Round One…but nobody likes to surf one extra heat if they don't have to. (Maybe if it was perfect Pipe, which it wasn't today.) Regardless, even if John John's won the World Title already and it's not second-reefing out there, alot is on the line for a few souls in this comp.
For one, No. 22 Nat Young and No. 23 Keanu Asing are fighting for their lives to stay on the Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour, where No. 22 is the cutoff to requalify. As the last event of the season, the Pipe Masters is their last chance for CT survival. If Kanoa Igarashi and Jadson Andre, for instance, double-qualify (meaning that they finish in both the Top 22 on the CT and the Top 10 on the Qualifying Series, the latter of which both have done already) and finish better than Young and Asing in the process, this could bump a guy like QS surfer Zeke Lau into a qualification situation.
Which brings us to our next narrative: Lau could possibly qualify if Kanoa or Jadson make a few heats.
Is Zeke poking a voodoo doll with freckles and blonde hair that looks vaguely like Nat Young while lighting a candle in a cathedral for his best bud Kanoa to double qualify? Probably not, but he'll most likely be biting his nails every time Kanoa surfs in this event.
And while Igarashi didn't advance directly to Round Three today, the Huntington Beach kid hasn't once lost in Round Two the entire year. (Fact). Plus, some might say that Kanoa would fare better in windy, Backdoor rights than giant Banzai Pipeline, the latter of which we don't have on offer at the moment.
The third storyline unraveling today was the race for Rookie of the Year, a spicy ménage a trois among Conner Coffin, Caio Ibelli and Stu Kennedy. At the moment Ibelli (No. 15), a rookie who many have touted as the most underrated surfer on the CT, is leading that race.
But while Young, Andre, Asing and Igarashi all had strong heats, none of them won their heats, thus this tale is To Be Continued until Round Two.
Some highlights? Not surprisingly, in Heat 5 Gabriel Medina was looking quick, nimble and out for blood on his deadly backhand in the walled righthanders. In the heat that followed, Florence -- the new World Champ -- found a few tubes and pockets to flare in, as he sniffed around for that Pipe Masters win that's forever eluded him. In that same heat, Andre landed a monster, half-inverted air-reverse on a Pipe bowl, but couldn't quite get that backup score to overtake Florence.
Former Pipe Master Jeremy Flores as well as Filipe Toledo both looked fired-up and considerably quicker than their opponents in their respective Round One heats, Toledo particularly looking explosive AF, as my 13-year-old niece Jenny says.
Not regulated to the predominant right, Toledo was lighting it up both ways, looking red-hot-habanero, like in a nightclub in Little Havana. "Hoy Como Ayer" is the one I'm thinking of…
Honorable-mention heats for winners Italo Ferreira and Kelly Slater, too. Specifically, Slates, who hopped off a 6-foot lip mid-floater to the gasping dismay of the entire beach…to stomp the landing and pop out of the whitewash again. Vintage Slater!
Stay tuned for Round Two to see if Young and Asing can keep on keepin' on, and if Igarashi and Andre can continue their double-qualification campaigns.