Sean Doherty On: Pipe Masters Day 2, The Day After
COASTALWATCH | 2016 BILLABONG PIPE MASTERS
So, you might have caught what went down at Pipe yesterday. In fact, I’m sure you did.
In a perfect world the highlight of the contest happens during the actual contest – not on a layday – but when your two biggest stars trade turns like John Florence and Kelly Slater did at Backdoor yesterday, well, you don’t quibble over it. You take the several million aggregated views and the building storyline and you move forward.
The Kelly and John dynamic remains the most genuinely intriguing on tour by a factor of plenty.
I don’t buy into the Florence and Medina rivalry malarkey. That’s largely been contrived to generate interest through some pretty dull periods over the past few years. They seem diametrically driven. I don’t think either of them have dartboards with the other’s face on it, and as a rivalry, there seems no higher calling to it.
But John and Kelly go way back … just how far back is open to interpretation. Matt Warshaw calculated that John was six days old when Kelly won his first world title over in France back in 1992. Someone tweeted back asking where Kelly was exactly nine months and six days before that world title. Kelly and John joke about it, but love child theories aside the pair have history and most of that history has been laid down here at Pipe and you get the feeling there’s more being written right now.
Pipe was pretty unruly yesterday and they thought long and hard before calling the contest off. Maybe they could have run, but it was a day where half a dozen guys would have flourished while everyone else got flushed down to Rockpile.
Kelly paddled out yesterday and commenced the predictable master class. His Backdoor barrel to alley-oop, the one you’ve no doubt seen by now, was the kind of statement he usually drops when he’s either a) got something big on the boil, or b) when someone else got the wave of the day earlier that morning. Note here; the timing is crucial. Kelly always likes to bat last, to have the last laugh, but yesterday he didn’t.
John’s alley-oop, well, you saw that too. You don’t need me to throw more disbelieving hyperbole at it. With the world title won, with the movie made, and finally being free of injury here’s a young guy at the height of his powers exploring what’s possible. Kelly meanwhile is sprinting to the finish line of a marathon 25-year career, also testing the limits of what’s possible… just at 44, not 24.
It was a bit hard to get a rise outta the waves this morning. Half the size, super north, not a Pipe wave to be seen.
When you go searching for adjectives to describe Pipe you don’t want to be choosing from cute, playful or fun. You don’t want to watch the Pipe Masters and be thinking, you know, I could surf that. On the upside the drop in swell opened the heats right up… unless of course you were a goofy footer trying to contort yourself into a three-foot Backdoor barrel like a yogi into a Perspex cube.
But what it lacked in immediate life and death consequence it made up for with career life and death. After the four wildcards went 0-4 in the opening heats it was over to the lower rated guys duking it out to avoid another year of two-minute noodles and two-star Brazilian hotel rooms on the WQS.
The razor’s edge was thin. Davey Cathels fell in the dying seconds by 0.03 of a point to Wiggolly Dantas and immediately began remodelling his surfboard with his fists. Nat Young escaped twice today and lives on, while Keanu Asing scored the dubious honour of being the only surfer to win a Championship Tour event and fall off tour in the same year.
SEE ALSO: Sean Doherty On, Pipe Masters Day 1
As we followed in round one, Kai Otton needed to make the final at Pipe to requalify. At 37 though there would be no Q-ey for him next year, just a date with the workforce like the rest of us Eddie Punchclocks. Otto scraped through his first heat against an injured Stu Kennedy, and was within seconds of keeping his improbable tour dream alive against Kolohe Andino. You might also remember we labelled Kai as the tour’s walking hard luck story, and the tag followed him right to the end when Andino found a winning wave in the last 20 seconds. The tour’s lost one of its real characters. For a guy who was so hard done by he gave everyone a lot of laughs, Otto won a ‘CT, charged on days that mattered, and going back to real life won’t be hard for him, cause that’s where he came from. “Old Bones” didn’t get on tour till he was 27, had been sweeping floors at Aloha surfboards for a while before that. “Ten years later I’m still here,” he quipped.
One of the more interesting performances today was Ryan Callinan’s, who somehow had no hope at all of requalifying. All year his surfing looked like it belonged on tour… right up until you looked at the ratings and had to scroll to the very bottom to find him. Callinan today drew the guy who started the slide for him, Brazilian Caio Ibelli. The rookie pair have drawn each other a bunch of times this year, Ibelli winning them all, including a split decision at Bells that precipitated Callinan’s slide. On a day that was a goofy’s graveyard, Callinan looked good enough to win the contest, taking down Medina along the way.
With the drone army grounded by the clause 53.4 of the WSL by-laws, enterprising aviators have been using their aircraft to deliver beers up and down the beach at Pipe. Today the flying bottleshop started air dropping at noon, just as John Florence paddled out. The Festival of John has been in full swing on the North Shore and there are plenty of people still celebrating.
All the hype around John was in danger of fizzing out though when, with 10 minutes left in his heat, he was sitting on a pair of ones. It was about that point he slid into one late and with no discernable movement managed to slow down and speed up at will. It was a little more subtle than his alley-oop yesterday but equally masterful. John sleepwalked out of the tube and into the last 12 of the only contest left for him to conquer.
The momentum of Kelly’s heat against Connor Coffin was flipped the other way. Kelly surfed like an alleycat, quick, frisky, assured. After a season where he’s had dancing dad moments, he suddenly looked 20 again. Kelly selected Connor to death and was on all the gems. Then, in the dying seconds and with people checking their draws to ensure that a Kelly/John John final was possible, Connor was swallowed up and regurgitated by the wave of the day. Connor needed a low nine, it looked a low nine… and it was a low nine, just 0.1 too low. Connor blew up. Kelly survived.
Somewhere nearby, watching on and well into his tenth beer by this stage, Kai Otton surely yelled, “Of course they gave it to him!”
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