Sean Doherty On: The Foxes In The Hen House
Pipe, pre-dawn, was big. The reef rumbled and low gurgling sounds emanated from the men standing there watching it, drinking strong coffee. They were grimacing… and they weren’t even surfing today.
Jack Freestone, however, was. In about 20 minutes.
Given a start in the Pipe Trials to mark his breakout season where he qualified in a canter for the world tour, Jack suddenly found the baptism of fire that he thought was coming next year was suddenly here, right now, in the first heat of the morning.
The swell was 16 by 16 and hadn’t yet peaked. Guys were getting vapourised out there. There were six, maybe eight survivable waves caught in the freesurf. The rest was a white-hot mess. The roguishly handsome Gold Coaster fidgeted with his boards, which suddenly felt a foot too short. He then came running out with his phone, pointing out that even Sunny Garcia – who he was surfing against – was saying they were tripping. It wasn’t safe, Sunny reckoned. “Sunny reckons it isn’t safe!” Jack repeated, in hope of some last minute reprieve that was never coming.
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Kai Otton offered moral support, the kind of support Jack can expect from these guys when he surfs against them next year. “Jaaaaaaaacccckkkyyyy…” Kai whispered in his best Damien Omen voice as another 12-foot set washed through the lineup, skittling the pack. Jack laughed like he had broken ribs, picked up his boards, and headed down the beach.
The guy he ran past was a little more upbeat.
Stripped down to his shorts and clearly in the home strait of a long and transformative MDMA binge, he was performing some kind of interpretive capoeira in the shorebreak, before jumping into the ocean, swimming out, and disappearing out of sight down past Beach Park, his backpack and shoes the only trace of him remaining.
What followed was potentially the strangest Pipeline heat ever.
Paddling out against Pipe legends Sunny Garcia and Kalani Chapman, and San Clemente grom Griffin Colapinto, Freestone disappeared from view as sets steamed in from Third Reef and across from the Wakita Bowl. There was no right place to sit, not even for Sunny and Kalani. Minutes ticked by. No one caught shit. It ended comically in the dying minutes, when first the grommet rolled into a wide one for a 1.67, and Jack found a drop for a 0.87… the only two waves ridden in the heat.
Jack walked back to the house, put his board down, and exclaimed, “Tamed the beast!” Sunny meanwhile walked off down the Kam Highway muttering something.
The exits of Sunny and Kalani said something about the Gothic horror lineup this morning, but said more about a big generational shift going on out at Pipe.
The past few days have been small out at Pipe, few regulars have bothered with it, but instead the peak has been infested with kids, hundreds of them. Everything from stickered teenagers to kids barely out of diapers wearing colourful helmets and being pushed into Backdoor by their dads. If it weren’t Pipe, the same Pipeline that has killed and maimed and broken souls, you would have mistaken it for any peak in any surf metropolis anywhere in the world.
Well the kids took it over out there today.
It started and it ended with Jack Robinson, who we’ll get to later, but Colapinto, Nathan Florence, Kalani David, Luke Shepardson and the Moniz brothers all surfed like the Pipe veterans they are, despite the fact they’re all under 21. John John of course is the avatar for all this, and we’ll hear from him in days ahead, but today was significant for the fact this was a day designed for old Pipe pirates. It was big in the morning, unruly, and really didn’t let up all day – apart from the final of course – the swell still goosestepping in from the Pacific on dark tonight.
You can throw Jamie O’Brien in with the kids. Despite being 32, he has the behavioural age of a teenager. The day that Jaws ran, with Pipe white from one end to the other, he was out there on his ski getting towed into Second Reef sets on a blow-up pool toy. And whether you’re into Jamie or not, there’s a universal desire to see Jamie O’Brien let loose amongst the Pipe Masters draw and wreaking some kind of havoc. The Masters just doesn’t seem right without him in it.
The final sucked, almost mirroring the opening heat of the day… if it weren’t for Jack Robinson’s righteous highline swoop into the pit for a 9.43, the only wave he caught. He should’ve come in after that. That was the final, right there.
The 17-year-old scarecrow-haired West Australian has been doing little else but getting tubed this Hawaiian winter. He’s been doing little else this year, and when you look at it that way, has been doing little else his whole life. In the tube he’s a marsupial in a burrow, nose twitching, every sense tuned to the circle of light in front of him. Certainly more at home than when he was on stage being interviewed by the Amazonian Rosy Hodge, the star of several million teenage boys’ dreams, Jack’s voice cracking comically like he was starring in American Pie 7.
But at certain points today, just for fleeting moments, you looked at the swagger and the three-point backhand stance and whole ease with which Jack did it, and you couldn’t help but think of Andy. His surfing drew you straight there. And if Medina burst on tour at 17 and revolutionised beachbreak surfing just like that, Jack Robinson is on the verge of doing the same thing but in waves of consequence.
Thank God Jamie O’Brien held on for second in the final, making the main event. Every year the bloodthirsty public cry out for it, for the fox to be let loose in the hen house, and this year Jamie’s in. Even more deliciously in prospect is the fact he has drawn Filipe Toledo. It’s likely to still be solid tomorrow for round one, and Jamie O’Brien, a man who is rarely seen anywhere but Pipeline will be drawn against Toledo, who hasn’t been sighted at Pipeline at all this year. Not once. Beach Park, yes. Kammies, yes. But with a world title on the line the Brazilian aerial specialist has steered well clear of Pipe, and one can only think back to ’98 when Willsy and Cambo trained at home, instead of training for Pipeline by surfing Pipeline. Your correspondent will eat his words when Toledo 540 rotates his 7’2” at eight-foot Pipe tomorrow, but until that point he remains dubious about Filipe’s chances.
It doesn’t get easier for other world title guys, with Mick drawing a rejuvenated Bruce Irons, while Adriano is drawn against the killer koala, Jack Robinson.
This thing is set up beautifully. Bring it.
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