Opening day of the World Surf League (WSL) 2024 Championship Tour (CT) season got underway at Stop No. 1, the Lexus Pipe Pro Presented by YETI, with an exciting day of competition held in solid, six-to-eight foot, offshore tubes at Pipeline. The iconic North Shore break delivered heavy, hollow waves all day to complete the first two rounds of the men’s event, eventually dealing the first eliminations of the season to an unlucky few.
Men’s Opening Round and First Eliminations Start 2024 CT Season
It wasn’t long before excellent scores emerged and the three-time WSL Champion Gabriel Medina (BRA) was the first surfer to break into the excellent range with a foamy left at Pipe and a super deep barrel for an 8.33 (out of a possible 10). With a decent backup, the Brazilian seemed in control, but Callum Robson (AUS) launched himself even deeper on a pristine Pipeline gem on his backhand and rode it on the foam ball for a 9-point ride to regain control of the heat.
“When I got out there, it felt like the energy was shifting towards Pipe, so I tried to establish the inside for the lefts,” Robson said. “I didn’t want to sit and wait for too long, and that first wave made me realize I needed some waves with more draw to them, then I got that 9, which I was stoked on.”
In the following heat, 11-time World Champion Kelly Slater (USA) and 2023 Pipe Pro winner Jack Robinson (AUS) went head to head with Backdoor and Pipe waves. Slater posted the highest single score, but Robinson took the heat win with a higher backup to send Rio Waida (INA) into the Elimination Round.
World No.3 Griffin Colapinto (USA) had a slow start in his 2024 debut for the first 25 minutes but turned it all around with a bomb left for an excellent 8.50 (out of a possible 10) in the last moments of his heat. He backed it up on the buzzer and somehow made the heat in first, sending good friend and former Pipe finalist Seth Moniz (HAW) into the Elimination Round. Although not technically a rookie on Tour, Ramzi Boukhiam (MAR) made it through this heat with Colapinto and will surf again in the Round of 32. After missing the 2024 season, Boukhiam hopes to make the most of his time as the injury replacement on the Hawaii leg.
Florence Kicks Off 100th CT Appearance in Incredible Fashion
The day’s highest combined heat total was claimed by John John Florence (HAW above) with a 15.20 (out of a possible 20) in Heat 7 against Jake Marshall (USA) and Caio Ibelli (BRA). Marshall and Ibelli had a good fight for second place, but the Pipeline local was once again untouchable in his backyard. Florence’s wave selection was on point and he made every drop and barrel ride look really easy.
“That is a lot of events, a lot of heats, and a lot of surfing,” Florence said. “It got me really excited and gave me a lot of confidence actually, thinking, wow I spent a lot of time surfing heats now. Sometimes, at the beginning of the year you’re nervous and feel almost like a rookie, that everything’s starting again for the first time. But no, I’ve been here for a while, and maybe I don’t think about it as much.”
Rookies and Wildcards Tested on Opening Day of Men’s 2024 CT
Wildcard Jackson Bunch (HAW above) put on a clinic in familiar waters and posted an upset win in the Opening Round of competition. Bunch was sitting dead last in the last few seconds of his heat against World No.2 Ethan Ewing (AUS) and CT Rookie Cole Houshmand (USA) when he dropped behind the peak on a big and fast Pipe left, which he rode to excellence, earning an 8.77 (out of a possible 10) for his effort and the win.
“I’m just here to have fun, and to get to surf Pipe with three guys out is a blast,” Bunch admitted. “I surfed a pretty bad heat, and the waves were not going my way. I knew there were 30 seconds left when Ethan went on his wave, and the next wave I was going no matter what, I just had to give it a try. Coming from Hawaii, surfing in this event is every little surfer’s dream.”
A tough day for the 2024 CT rookie class did not phase Maui’s Eli Hanneman (HAW), who put on a clutch performance to pick up another win for the Hawaiian islands in the Opening Round. Fellow rookie Crosby Colapinto (USA) faced another in-form Hawaiian in Barron Mamiya (HAW) but did enough to advance behind in the second position to avoid the treacherous Elimination Round.
Facing potential elimination after tough starts in their Opening Round heats were 2024 CT rookies Jacob Willcox (AUS), Kade Matson (USA), and Cole Houshmand (USA above). All but Houshmand, who fell to Jordy Smith (RSA) and Liam O’Brien (AUS), turned their fates around with advancing positions in their Elimination Round heats to advance into the Round of 32.
After falling to 2019 World Champion Italo Ferreira (BRA) and Miguel Pupo (BRA) in the Opening Round, Jacob Willcox (AUS) redeemed himself in the Elimination Round with a win over CT sophomore Ian Gentil (HAW) and veteran Caio Ibelli (BRA). Willcox will await his next matchup against perennial CT threat Yago Dora (BRA), while Ibelli is eliminated in equal 33rd place.
Shion Crawford (HAW), event wildcard, earned an excellent 8.00 (out of a possible 10), with a long and wide open Backdoor pit after he suffered a couple of heavy wipeouts that helped settle the nerves in his first-ever CT heat. Troubled to find a decent second score, Crawford settled for second place, but he sent the reigning World Champion Filipe Toledo (BRA) into the Elimination Round.
Current World No. 1 Filipe Toledo Withdraws Due to Illness
Despite struggling with food poisoning, Toledo paddled out for his Opening Round heat. Toledo was then relegated to Elimination Round 2 against Crawford and Samuel Pupo, but was forced to withdraw from the competition due to illness. His opponents in the Elimination Round, Deivid Silva (BRA) and Seth Moniz (HAW), will advance to Round 32 with Toledo’s absence.
For more information, please visit WorldSurfLeague.com.