Sean Doherty On: Pipe Masters Day 1, Gummy Bears

15 Dec 2016 2

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

Bustling beachfront, Photo by WSL/Cestari

Bustling beachfront, Photo by WSL/Cestari

COASTALWATCH | 2016 BILLABONG PIPE MASTERS 

Welcome to day one of the Gums Masters.

Okay, they weren’t technically surfing Gums, but you get the picture. It was bound to happen one of these years. The past five Masters have gorged on waves and Shakespearean world titles at The Pipeline. Historically it’s been on a roll and the past few years have been something to watch. We’ve had all sorts of blood-fizzing drama, we’ve had broken bones, personal heartbreak, last second world title waves, inevitable controversies, rabid crowds… but most of all there’s been waves. Pipeline waves. Real ones.

But with a limp North Pacific showing few signs of stirring, this year there’ll be no one getting vaped out of big barrels, and the only drama on hand has been Entourage’s Johnny Drama, who’s found his new Vinnie Chase in Occy.

Backdoor today was at best a junky righthand point. The broadcast rated it a “5” although failed to mention a scale. Five out of a hundred would have been fair, and all you can say is thank the lord that John John’s world title was won and done two months ago at the Portuguese Pipeline. If he’d somehow lost the world title in waves like this they would have been flipping cars in the streets of Haleiwa.

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So take away the waves and take away the world title and what are you left with? There’s only so much excitement you can conjur from the heated battle for requalification, but in saying all that, round one today was not without its moments. You just had to know where to look.

The last time the forecast was this dire was back in 2007 when Bede Durbidge won his Pipe trophy, and he was probably relieved the waves this morning looked more like it did back in 2007 than it did in 2015, when his ass was literally handed to the reef, snapping the saddle of his pelvis. Bede didn’t walk for five months and had a wheelchair ramp built for the house. To get back on the horse here today was nothing short of miraculous and a testament to the strength between his ears.

Man, I laughed so hard when Kelly dropped in on Kai Otton.

This event – short of a miracle win – will in all likelihood be Kai’s last on tour. If it is then it’s been a largely underappreciated career. His surfing never gets the wraps it deserves and Otto can walk away proud, but before he does you can bet he’s going to put on a show here. He wants to go out in style at Pipe.

Flaring Slater, Photo by WSL/Heff

Flaring Slater, Photo by WSL/Heff

The tour’s walking hard luck story – if you listen to him – has always got something working against him, and today it was Kelly – bloody Jimmy! – not only shutting Kai’s wave down with priority, but then launching straight into a long, long floater, the kind that went out of fashion early in the millennium. It was Kelly’s only move on the wave, but the judges then scored it as the best wave of the heat. I could only imagine the words coming out of Otto’s mouth when that score got read out, and ultimately that exchange cost him the heat. There was Kai’s whole career playing out there on one wave. Everything seems loaded against him, even the commentary, which defended Kelly’s floater as the best move of the heat by saying, “Well, this is 2016 and that’s what you need to do!”

SEE ALSO: 10 Of The Best Ever Billabong Pipe Masters Rides

The miracle win would not be beyond Kai here… if Pipe was 12 foot. I laughed again when I remembered back to last year when it actually was 12-foot, and the same thing happened to him. It was in a crossed-over heat and Filipe Toledo, sitting on the shoulder, dropped in on Kai with priority, turning the best wave of Kai’s competitive career – a 15 out of 10 – into a fat zero. If someone other than Kai actually went back through his whole career and documented all of these unfortunate occurrences maybe we’d realise that he really had been hard done by all these years. But then we’d have to listen to it even more.

Ancient floaters aside, Kelly looked great out there today. Hydraulic off the bottom before spritzing the lip. You kind of got the sense that finally drawing a line in the sand and telling everyone that next year will be his last serious shot at the title will lift his surfing… and in his mind next year has already started. Maybe this has been the secret to his 25-year dominance of professional surfing. Maybe, in his own mind, the 50 times he’s gone on record about walking away were actually genuine, he actually believed them, lifting him another three gears and winning another world title before forgetting he ever said he was retiring. Genius! If any kind of swell materialises Kelly would be shorter than short to win here again.

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