BANZAI PIPELINE, Oahu/Hawaii (Thursday, December 13, 2018) – The Billabong Pipe Masters in Memory of Andy Irons, the final stop on the 2018 World Surf League (WSL) Men’s Championship Tour (CT), launched today in wind-affected 4-to-6 foot swell and completed the opening round of competition. Waves improved throughout the afternoon, offering an action-packed final two hours of action that included excellent scores from three-time Vans Triple Crown of Surfing Champion Joel Parkinson (AUS) and 2017 Vans World Cup winner Conner Coffin (USA).
World Title contenders Gabriel Medina (BRA) and Julian Wilson (AUS) advanced through their opening heats at Pipeline to launch their final campaigns towards surfing’s most prestigious crown. 2014 WSL Champion and two-time Billabong Pipe Master finalist Medina won his battle against Connor O’Leary (AUS) and wildcard Benji Brand (HAW) well above the lip, locking in a 13.16 point total (out of a possible 20) for a high-octane progressive approach in the windy ramps this morning.
“I was just trying to get a lot of waves,” Medina stated. “I’m really happy to make it through. Today the waves are really challenging out there. This year has been challenging with a couple of ups and downs. I’m stoked to come to Hawaii with a little advantage over the other competitors. But, I’m really focused on myself. I need to make the Final so I’ll stay focused and try and do my best every single heat.”
2014 Billabong Pipe Master Wilson stuck to the wave face and managed to take the edge over Tomas Hermes (BRA) and replacement surfer Seth Moniz (HAW), courtesy of a four-maneuver combination at Backdoor – Pipeline’s right-handed wave – for a 5.57. Wilson backed it up with a straight turn in the Pipe lip to advance into Round 3 and distance himself slightly from Toledo.
“I’m mostly focusing on just trying to find some opportunities out there,” Wilson said. “They’re few and far between and I kind of just found a couple. I’m definitely closer this year, but still needing a really big result to get it. I feel like the three of us that are in contention are all thinking we need a big result to clinch it. We’re all in the same boat. It feels really good to get through a heat that’s so tricky like that.”
Filipe Toledo (BRA), on the other hand, suffered a potentially serious setback in his campaign after being defeated by Matt Wilkinson (AUS) in the opening round. In a barrel-starved heat, Toledo, Wilkinson and Caio Ibelli (BRA) battled mostly with traditional maneuvers, with the Australian claiming the top two scores for his backhand attack at Backdoor.
“It’s always stressful this time of year and being on the bubble is most definitely a little scarier,” Wilkinson admitted. “But I’m just taking it as it comes. Waking up here every day we hope to get big tubes, but today is about as tough as it can be. I just wanted to do two backhand re-entries and try and find a little tube to try to beat the other guys in the water.”
Toledo will have a chance to redeem himself in Round 2 when competition resumes, as he will face lethal local wildcard Brand for a spot into Round 3.
The Men’s World Title Scenarios at the Billabong Pipe Masters:
– If Gabriel Medina finishes 1st or 2nd at the Billabong Pipe Masters, he wins the World Title;
– If Gabriel Medina finishes 3rd at the Billabong Pipe Masters, Julian Wilson and Filipe Toledo will need to finish 1st;
– If Gabriel Medina finishes 5th-25th, Julian Wilson and Filipe Toledo will need a 2nd or 1st at Pipe.
Italo Ferreira (BRA) took his act to the air in Heat 3 and landed a massive forehand rotation for a last-minute win over Joan Duru (FRA) and Keanu Asing (HAW). Ferreira, the current World No. 4, has been a standout at Pipeline lately with inspiring performances, both in massive barrels and air sections. With three event wins under his belt this season (Bells Beach, Bali, Portugal), Ferreira made a clear run for the World Title but his inconsistency cost him the opportunity to fight with compatriots Medina and Toledo for the top spot.
“I’ve been having a good time here in Hawaii,” Ferreira said. “Conditions are tough. It’s difficult to surf with this strong wind, but it also makes for good ramps, so I was excited. I fell on a few waves but thankfully in the last few minutes I managed to do two good airs so I was happy with that.”
The machine-like waves that have made Pipeline so famous finally started to turn on for Heat 9 and an entertaining battle between Michel Bourez (PYF), Ezekiel Lau (HAW) and Ian Gouveia (BRA) ensued. The Hawaiian held a firm grip on the lead all the way into the last two minutes of action, but Gouveia – sitting with priority – found himself in position for one of the best waves of the day. Gouveia took a late drop and squared off the bottom turn to pull in, claiming an excellent 8.17 (out of a possible 10) to steal the lead from Lau. But in the dying moments, Bourez found a left-hand barrel of his own and rode it successfully to add a 5.93 to his scoreline and ultimately claim the heat win.
“I heard Ian (Gouveia) got an 8-something on this last one and I saw the wave, he looked really, really good,” Bourez said. “I made a mistake just before and I could have been on that one, but at the end of the day it worked out well and I got the score at the end. Every spot on tour is super important, but this one is the last one, it’s your last chance, so you give yourself like two-hundred percent to make it.”
In the following heat, defending event winner Jeremy Flores (FRA) took on Conner Coffin (USA) and rookie Jesse Mendes (BRA) as waves continued to pump. Coffin and Flores found exciting barrels both on the rights and lefts and put up a brilliant fight on back-to-back waves with the heat eventually going the Californian’s way after he found a clean, deep backhand tube for an 8.47 and the win.
“Any heat win on the world tour is a big feat these days, everyone is so good,” Coffin said. “Jeremy won here last year and he’s definitely one of the best guys on tour as far as barrels are concerned. I knew it was going to be a good battle and it’s fun that waves turned on and I’m stoked to get the win.”
2012 World Champion and former Pipe Master Joel Parkinson (AUS) enjoyed one more pulse of near-perfect Pipeline conditions at the beginning of Heat 10, locking into a great barrel for an 8.33 which eventually was enough to seal a win into Round 3 with a low backup number. Parkinson, who will retire following this event, is in a great position on the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing rankings and will shoot for an epic finish to his highly successful professional career.
“It was a tough day and I’m lucky I found a good opportunity,” Parkinson said. “I’ve been here with my family and listening to my wife and daughter speak last night [at my retirement party] was really amazing and emotional. The love and support I’ve received from everyone including the fans has been overwhelming. I can’t wait for the next chapter and let’s go out with a bang!”
Michael Rodrigues (BRA) claimed the rookie class’ best performance in today’s opening round with a couple of backdoor barrels perfectly negotiated despite the tricky chandelier sections. The Brazilian, currently ranked 14th on the CT, built a healthy 11.44 heat total to make his way into Round 3 and defeat Patrick Gudauskas (USA) and Willian Cardoso (BRA).
“I’m stoked with that heat and to finally get a couple barrels at Pipe and Backdoor,” Rodrigues said. “This year was so special to me, I just tried to do my best in every event and right now I’m thinking about the next season and I’m super excited.”
The next call for the Billabong Pipe Masters will be tomorrow, Friday, December 14, at 7:30 a.m. HST, when event organizers will reassess the conditions and decide if the competition will run.
Surfline Forecast for the Billabong Pipe Masters
Billabong Pipe Masters Round 1 Results:
Heat 1: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 12.00, Kelly Slater (USA) 11.43, Frederico Morais (PRT) 4.47
Heat 2: Yago Dora (BRA) 9.83, Owen Wright (AUS) 9.60, Miguel Pupo (BRA) 2.00
Heat 3: Italo Ferreira (BRA) 13.30, Joan Duru (FRA) 11.67, Keanu Asing (HAW) 5.66
Heat 4: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 6.03, Filipe Toledo (BRA) 5.04, Caio Ibelli (BRA) 4.93
Heat 5: Julian Wilson (AUS) 8.07, Tomas Hermes (BRA) 6.40, Seth Moniz (HAW) 4.57
Heat 6: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 13.16, Benji Brand (HAW) 9.97, Connor O’Leary (AUS) 9.67
Heat 7: Griffin Colapinto (USA) 7.07, Ryan Callinan (AUS) 6.77, Wade Carmichael (AUS) 4.50
Heat 8: Michael February (ZAF) 6.30, Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) 6.10, Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 4.03
Heat 9: Michel Bourez (PYF) 12.03, Ian Gouveia (BRA) 12.00, Ezekiel Lau (HAW) 10.90
Heat 10: Conner Coffin (USA) 15.07, Jeremy Flores (FRA) 14.00, Jesse Mendes (BRA) 9.20
Heat 11: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 11.23, Kolohe Andino (USA) 8.10, Adrian Buchan (AUS) 5.13
Heat 12: Michael Rodrigues (BRA) 11.44, Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 7.60, Willian Cardoso (BRA) 5.04
Billabong Pipe Masters Round 2 Matchups:
Heat 1: Filipe Toledo (BRA) vs. Benji Brand (HAW)
Heat 2: Owen Wright (AUS) vs. Seth Moniz (HAW)
Heat 3: Wade Carmichael (AUS) vs. Caio Ibelli (BRA)
Heat 4: Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) vs. Keanu Asing (HAW)
Heat 5: Kolohe Andino (USA) vs. Miguel Pupo (BRA)
Heat 6: Willian Cardoso (BRA) vs. Kelly Slater (USA)
Heat 7: Adrian Buchan (AUS) vs. Ryan Callinan (AUS)
Heat 8: Jeremy Flores (FRA) vs. Ian Gouveia (BRA)
Heat 9: Ezekiel Lau (HAW) vs. Jesse Mendes (BRA)
Heat 10: Sebastian Zietz (HAW) vs. Patrick Gudauskas (USA)
Heat 11: Frederico Morais (PRT) vs. Connor O’Leary (AUS)
Heat 12: Joan Duru (FRA) vs. Tomas Hermes (BRA)