Sean Doherty: Medina Dominant, John John Back and Zeke On a Mission as Pipe Gets Started

11 Dec 2019 2 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

"He looked like the only guy who paddled out this morning with the intention of doing something more than simply surviving the heat." Photo: WSL/Cestari

"He looked like the only guy who paddled out this morning with the intention of doing something more than simply surviving the heat." Photo: WSL/Cestari

COASTALWATCH | SEAN DOHERTY

The Pipeline Manifest – Day 1 at the 2019 Billabong Pipe Masters

Baby-blue dream day for title contenders. North Pacific cracks await over the horizon. A third Medina world title and a beach washed with yellow awaits sometime in the next week.

Anybody feel differently?

The world title contenders rolled out in a conga line this morning, one after another, all five of them. Of the five, Gabe Medina is the only one you’d say has proven game out here, the rest of them all needing to lay down some kind of showing today, for their own self-belief more than anything else. With plenty of swell brewing, this round will be quickly forgotten. The real heats won’t start until tomorrow.

Kolohe Andino opened up and scratched through in a heat without waves. Brother is the longest of long shots for the title here this week. He knows that. But man… surely he can’t stop thinking about losing the Snapper final, the first event of the year to Italo in the dying seconds. He mentioned it in commentary yesterday during the trials. I reckon in that moment when they announced the score he flashed forward to Pipe and thought about what those extra 2000 points would eventually mean.

Filipe Toledo says he woke up feeling light. Unbearably light. This is the third time he’s come to Pipe with a shot at the title… and maybe the first time he’s got a chance. If the waves stayed like today that’d be a real chance. He surfed light. Dancing around the lineup and finding waves. His challenge comes when Pipeline stops being cute. He won easily today and can only win the heat he’s got.

If anybody is going to trip Gabby up however, I’m on Jordy. He almost did it last year… and if you speak to any South African, he got royally ripped off. Jordy tackled his lack of Pipe experience by buying beachfront down at Log Cabins. Dropping a couple of million would be the easy part; actually getting a wave at Pipe would be tougher. But basing himself out of Hawaii has made a huge difference. We saw that last year here. Jordy’s surfing needed to toughen up… and we’re going to see where he’s at this week. Jordy hasn’t won an event this year and that’ll work against him. Of all the contenders he needs to go deepest into this event to win the title. Jordy progressed but got nudged for the win today by Peterson Crisanto, who later revealed that in 10 years of coming to Hawaii he’d never surfed Pipe. Not once. Does his tour card get revoked?

Then you have Gabby. Of all the contenders, he looked like the only guy who paddled out this morning with the intention of doing something more than simply surviving the heat. Gabby knows the power of a statement heat at Pipe. He knows the head noise it creates in his opponents. It must be dispiriting to deal with. Every time they get caught inside, every time they‘re trailing, Gabby’s in their head, ready to paddle out again and get another two nines. He carries these statement heats around like the Vikings carried around the heads of their enemies. It frightens the shit out of everyone else. He paddled out this morning straight into an eight. His second eight was a deep-pump Pipe wave, straight through a collapsing 20-yard section.

GABBY KNOWS THE POWER OF A STATEMENT HEAT AT PIPE. HE KNOWS THE HEAD NOISE IT CREATES IN HIS OPPONENTS.

Shane Dorian sat in the booth for Italo’s heats. Shano is in Italo’s corner for this Pipe event, and revealed that Italo had initially planned to stay at home in Brazil and train, arriving in Hawaii a week before Pipe. Hearing that, Medina suddenly became more unbackable. There would have been a run at the bookies. Italo is famously good at just turning up somewhere he has no history and performing, but this is Pipe. That doesn’t work here. He pulled into a wave almost identical to Gabe’s deep-pump eight but never came out. He caught a lot of waves and eventually got the ones he needed to progress.

Meanwhile, I’m looking ahead here and seeing Billy Kemper ready to mess someone up here at Pipe. Badly. Against Italo he sat and waited for the thickest, squarest Backdoor wave he could find and came out like he’d just been irradiated with gamma rays and twice his normal size and lime green. Dude’s fired up. He’s got Jaws coming up later in the week and you remember what he did there last time. The big-wave guys he surfs with on those days reckons when he gets like this he looks straight through people. Expect that this week. He said as much in commentary. “I want to beat anyone and everyone. This is the week I’ve been manifesting ever since I started surfing.” Good luck whoever gets him.

And then there was John John. If he hadn’t hit that lip in Brazil back in May, blowing out his knee, this week here at Pipe would be purely ceremonial. John would be world champ. Instead he’s got to test the surgeon’s handiwork against a solid Pipe forecast, needing to win three or four heats to make sure he keeps his Olympic spot. After waiting for six months John waited another 25 minutes to get a wave. His heat was slow, and turned into a five-minute shootout with threes and fours. John caught his wave in the dying seconds, but had Ace Buchan on his inside, having played priority. John was in the afternoon loser’s round. He looked pissed.

Kelly was watching on from his yard. I don’t know what Kelly’s private expectations are here at Pipe this week. I think they might be very different from his expectations at the start of the season. It hasn’t entirely gone to script, but he’s here at least with a shot at winning Pipe, and – certainly after John’s loss – a shot at going to the Olympics. At the first Olympics you really wanted a Hawaiian and you really wanted Kelly, but as it’s played out you’re only going to get one of them. With his throwaway, Kelly’s 4000 points behind John. That’s probably three heats he needs to make up. That won’t be easy. Kelly had a slow, seabreezy heat and never really got going, but a small Backdoor tube was enough to put him through in second. He danced with the Olympic question later… “Not really sure what I need to do etc.”

Like Billy Kemper, Zeke Lau is here on an unholy mission. He’s going to cause someone problems. He’s still simmering after the Sunset final which he lost to Jack Robbo on a controversial interference call that wasn’t made… Jack Robbo getting run over by Zeke on Zeke’s best wave. It’s a hard case to prove intent – that Jack did it on purpose – and the judges went nowhere near it. Gabe Medina does it habitually and they’ve never had the appetite to call it. The decision – or lack thereof – cost Zeke a guaranteed place on tour. He’s in 28th and will need at least a semi to requalify. He surfed like he needed to win, his no-grab pump on the wave of the day was gnarly. Again, good luck to whoever draws him.

HE SURFED LIKE HE NEEDED TO WIN, HIS NO-GRAB PUMP ON THE WAVE OF THE DAY WAS GNARLY. AGAIN, GOOD LUCK TO WHOEVER DRAWS HIM.

They threw the loser’s round out this afternoon and there was only one heat to watch… unless of course you were close to John John, in which case watching was tough. They didn’t need to worry. John got busy from the start and found a sweet little Backdoor tub. John was never in trouble, but tomorrow might be another matter. He’s got Zeke Lau which I’m sure is triggering some flashbacks to Bells.

As the last heat ticked down the first Second Reef set of the day broke. That’ll be Third Reef by tomorrow afternoon.

SEE ALSO: NICK CARROLL'S GRADING OF THE CONTENDERS ON DAY 1 OF THE BILLABONG PIPE MASTERS

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