Nick Carroll: Grading The World Title Contenders on Day 1 of their Pipeline Showdown

11 Dec 2019 0 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

Italo. Photo: WSL/Cestari

Italo. Photo: WSL/Cestari


FOREPLAY – The real game begins at the Pipeline

Watching Pipe early this morning, with the sea-mist* hanging over Beach Park and the early sun turning everything a brighter shade of itself, it struck me that keeping this spot in the primo CT position might be the best decision of the WSL’s entire six year tenure.

They thought about bailing on it — sticking Pipe on the front end, where it’d have made every other event of the year look dopey — but at least they didn’t actually do it. The ASP did, three times in 30 years. Each time there were reasons and reasons, but in hindsight those reasons all seem pretty stupid, or at least unnecessary. Pipe’s Pipe, you can’t beat it, so why would you try.


So yeah, first day, I figured watch the big guns, the title guys, and how they played their heats. Not so much form as their poise and heat-running skills. Crazily the five of ‘em were drafted in back to back, heats two to six. Let’s go there. Heat-running scores for each.

Kolohe gets a solid 7.5. He split peaks with Griffin Colapinto to go one-two, then semi-directed Griff into an elegant paddle-sandwiching of Jadson Andre. A perfect move on a surfer with priority. It made Jaddy think too much and paddle off the spot, and when a wave came, he was too deep.

Filipe, hmm. He didn’t run the heat, but neither did anyone else. He had an uncertain hassle with Ricardo Christie over the first wave, a great and unridden left, threw his hands up, and I thought, “Man! Don’t freak out in the first 30 seconds!” Then a Backdoor that coulda been the wave of the morning so far, but his board’s tail drifted on its broad near-roundtail outline and he was pulled up too high and ate it on exit. He only seemed to relax when freed of priority and released to go hunting smaller lefts and rights away from the hot seat. 3.5.

Jordy, different story, much better, a very controlled effort. Rode two moderate waves without showing too much, didn’t worry about Peterson Crisanto, and made sure he held priority on his identified threat, Fred Morais, to the finish. It gave Peterson room to sneak under Jordy’s guard and snatch a winning wave, but it didn’t matter. Still we’re gonna have to knock the big fella’s score down to 6 as a result.

Gabriel Medina, my god. Opened with the alpha move of the day, paddling around the top of Willian Cardoso to snare the first wave in the opening 30 seconds and instantly out-score everyone in the contest so far. Then got priority again and banged the door shut. Then went under priority and won another heat with a single wave. Then got another. Young wildcard Imaikalani DeVault could only sit wide and watch this terrifying display. Someone I trust but can’t name said recently, “Gabriel’s not a surfer. He’s an athlete. You know how guys will go drive down the coast with their friends, go surf and have a laugh? Even pro surfers will do that. Gabriel doesn’t do that. It’s not who he is.” No it’s not. Who he is is the only surfer on tour who’s competed in every CT for the past six years. I think right now he is also the only surfer of the five who can win the world title without the JJF asterisk next to his name. 9.0.


Italo didn’t run the heat, Billy Kemper ran the heat. Billy did so many things right in this heat it seemed like he was the super-seed. He used the non-priority phase at the start to nudge Italo into taking a wave from too deep, waited patiently while Italo chased small numbers on the inside, and eventually got a high scoring Backdoor that could not have been ridden deeper or more critically. This was competitive fire and wave knowledge, used by a guy with a very big few days ahead. He’s got local boy hero Seth Moniz on Wednesday, then he’ll be at Jaws on Thursday. Think about that. Italo got through OK, so at least he ran his own bit. 3.

Zeke Lau killed it. He has a lot on the line and he blew ‘em away with all the passion Medina doesn’t bother with. His opponent in the one-on-one on Wednesday will be, guess who, John John Florence. As for John, well at least he surfed. He got himself in a corner with Ace Buchan and Jesse Mendes of all people, and was forced into a priority interference on Ace in the final 10 seconds. It was like that — either go and hope Ace didn’t, or sit and lose anyway. JJF got back in through the elimination round. He is nowhere near 100%, but for him the timing of this event, three months before the high performance needs of the 2020 Aussie tour, makes it a valuable way back into this scene.


Only one surfer, Leo Fioravanti, is now definitely bumped from the CT. Leo’s had a bitch of a year and will chase the injury wildcard.

My two favorites today were two back end survivors. Soli Bailey hasn’t had a break all year. Lost early heats by small margins and watched the other guys go on to big results. Classic first year out of the QS. But Soli’s not a sulker and he won his heat today with style and a smile. Ricardo Christie came here with a minor hope of QS qualifying and had about as much luck as Soli. Today he kicked out of a dicey Backdoor and, well, “kicked out” is the description, really. He came in without a back fin and with a corresponding hole in the soft flesh next to his upper left shin. Ten stitches and some padding later, he went back out in the elim round and got through. That’s the spirit.

* “Ehu’kai” — Hawaiian for mist formed by waves breaking close to shore. That’s why it’s called Ehukai Beach Park.


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