Freedom from having to prove a thing is 11-time WSL World Champion Kelly Slater's (USA) ultimate weapon, proven with two pace-setting performances at the Volcom Pipe Pro Sunday. In high-quality but inconsistent 8-to-10 foot barrels, Slater put on a tuberiding clinic at Backdoor Pipe to post two of the three highest heat scores of the event in Rounds 3 and 4: 16.2 points and 15.6 points respectively. The only surfer to surpass him was his next door neighbor, John John Florence (HAW), who topped the scores at 17.0 in Round 4.
Slater, 42, is the defending Volcom Pipe Pro champion, but also plays the role of inspiring a new generation of pro surfers -- including Florence -- who are here to try their hand against the ultimate surfer of their lifetime. Slater is right on par with their youthful exuberance and excitement to surf the world's "ultimate playground": Pipeline.
Slater advanced from his fourth round heat to the Quarterfinals today alongside 21-year-old Kaimana Jaquias (HAW) -- the son of one of Slater's good friends and original touring peers, Kaipo Jaquias.
"It's cool to surf with Kaimana, I surfed against his dad 20-plus years ago, so to now be surfing against his kid is pretty cool," said Slater.
Slater first stepped foot on the sands of Pipeline at the age of 14 and says he's as excited by the place now as he was on that day.
"This is the ultimate playground for me. There's nothing else to me that's nearly as fun as my job. I just love it. I sit on the beach and imagine what I'm going to do when I get out there and I get stoked when I see someone get a great wave. And it's getting more and more like that as I get older and less attached to the results."
Twenty-two year-old Florence is at the other end of the spectrum and career line. Touted as one of surfing's greatest natural talents, proving himself is precisely what he's here for.
Along with their property fence-line, Florence also shares Slater's passion for Pipe and source of momentum for the year. Just weeks ago they both ended the 2014 season here watching Brazil's Gabriel Medina run away with the world title.
"I got a lot of confidence out of the end of last year and Gabe winning the title," said Florence. "It really opened my eyes, like, oh my gosh, I want to do that now! It's really pushing all of us.
"Going into 2015, I'm excited, and it's great to start the year here at home in great waves. This event helps get momentum to head into the season."
Other top performers today included Ezekiel Lau (HAW), Sebastian Zietz (HAW), CJ Hobgood (USA), Mikey Bruneau (HAW), Masatoshi Ohno (JPN), and Hank Gaskell (HAW).
Sixteen surfers remain in contention for the Volcom Pipe Pro title as of end of day Sunday, and organizers anticipate the final heats to run Monday morning. The call will be made at 7 a.m./HST, with the LIVE webcast at www.VolcomPipePro.com/live.
H1: E Lau (HAW), A Aranburu (ESP), S Zietz (HAW), I Gouveia (BRA)
H2: M Bruneau (HAW), K David (HAW), JJ Florence (HAW), I Walsh (HAW)
H3: K Slater (USA), B Toth (PRI), H Gaskell (HAW), K Andino (USA)
H4: M Ohno (JPN), K Jaquias (HAW), CJ Hobgood (USA), M Ho (HAW)