Jordy and Felipe out of the title race at Pipe
BANZAI PIPELINE, Oahu/Hawaii (Wednesday, December 11, 2019) - The Billabong Pipe Masters in Memory of Andy Irons, the final stop on the 2019 World Surf League (WSL) Men’s Championship Tour (CT) and third gem of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, witnessed a dramatic day of intense matchups in the Round of 32 as the world’s best surfers battled in eight-to-ten foot (2.4 - 3 meter) waves.
Today’s competition saw World No. 1 Italo Ferreira (BRA) and No. 2 Gabriel Medina (BRA) advance out of a suspenseful Round of 32 to tighten the World Title race. World No. 3 Jordy Smith (ZAF) and No. 4, Filipe Toledo (BRA), fell out of the running after heartbreaking defeats by Ricardo Christie (NZL) and 2018 Vans Triple Crown Champion Jesse Mendes (BRA), respectively.
Toledo and Smith Knocked out of World Title Race at Billabong Pipe Masters
With so much on the line in today’s competition, each heat was a mini-drama series as World Title hopeful Toledo became the first casualty at the hands of New Zealand’s Christie, 11.04 to 9.84. Christie and Toledo went into Heat 5 with opposite mindsets, Christie with a casual approach and Toledo with everything to lose.
“I made some priority mistakes in the heat,” said Toledo. “Paddled for some waves that I should have kept priority and waited for a better wave. I’m just tired. It’s tough. You’re trying not to prove to anyone what you can do but at the same time in the back of your mind, you’re actually trying to. So I just had to put pressure on myself.”
After a win at the Oi Rio Pro and two runner-up finishes (Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach and Freshwater Pro) this season, Toledo was in title contention for the second consecutive year and came into the Billabong Pipe Masters in the No. 4 position. Meanwhile, Christie was simply out to get some of the best waves of his life since he was out of requalification contention for 2020.
“I wasn’t really thinking about that, to be honest (playing World Title spoiler),” said Christie. “I just wanted to get some good waves. I had Filipe yesterday and he got me then and I got cut so I just wanted to redeem myself and get a good wave. I got a pretty sick one I’m stoked on.”
After surfing well in his opening round heat and advancing straight into the Round of 32, World No. 3 Smith came up against the 2018 Vans Triple Crown champion Jesse Mendes (BRA). With deteriorating conditions during his heat, the lineup went from dreamy to blown out in a matter of minutes creating challenging conditions for the surfers. With ten minutes remaining, Mendes secured a score for the lead while Smith got caught inside as time winded down. Forced to return to the beach to retrieve his back-up board, the South African ran out of time to get the required result and was eliminated in Equal 17th place.
“I just feel like I didn’t make a conscious decision to catch the actual wave,” said Smith. “I had a small glance at him and then I decided I was going to have a look at it and I didn’t really want it and I guess they deemed that it looked like I did. It just really hurts because at the bottom of my heart... I really didn’t want the wave and we could all see that the wave wasn’t anything special. Obviously, the wind came up, and on the very next wave he got a five and he went to the lead.”
Despite the loss, Smith has had an incredibly consistent season with only four losses before the Quarterfinals. This was also Smith’s fifth time falling short in the World Title race (2nd in 2010, 4th in 2013, 2nd in 2016, 4th in 2017, 3rd in 2019). The 31-year-old will now look ahead to 2020, where he will once again battle for a maiden World Title and also represent South Africa after his provisional qualification for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
“It’s a hard one to swallow at the end of a big year,” continued Smith. “Way to break your board and to just kind of end that way just doesn’t seem that good. I think the highlight is probably the consistency, every year I just try and kind of pick up that consistency. Those other guys surfed really well the whole year, they got a couple of victories and that really put them ahead. It’s a tough one to swallow. You wake up in the morning and you just kind of give it your all. The last three weeks have been pretty tough. But you just fight every day for what it is and come back stronger and that’s it. Just try and make yourself proud I guess.”
Final Three World Title Contenders Left Standing: Ferreira, Medina, Andino
A new large NNW swell filled in through the night and contest organizers and competitors arrived to pristine albeit challenging conditions at the famed break. Ferreira paddled out for the first heat of the day against good friend Jadson Andre (BRA) and went on to win with an 8.53 two-wave total (out of a possible 10) to Andre’s 7.20. With a World Title on his shoulders, Ferreira handled the weight well and found mid-range scores alongside Andre.
“It was hard to sleep last night, I woke up at 1:30 a.m. and watched some movies,” said Ferreira. “It’s so hard out there, ya know. I tried to get the best waves. I got one good one but I fell in the end, the foam ball hit me. Every heat is history, let’s keep going. I hope in the next one I can do better than this.”
Ferreira has been working with legendary Pipeline veteran Shane Dorian (HAW) to help work out the intricacies of Pipe and Backdoor, which showed in the Brazilian’s approach and wave selection today.
“We still working on this comp, Shane is a good guy and gave me a lot of details on Backdoor and Pipe and still helps me a lot,” Ferreira continued. “He’s still one of the best guys in on the Big Wave Tour, so happy to work with him, he’s a legend.”
Pipe Invitational wildcard, Imaikalani deVault (HAW), made two-time World Champion Medina work for the heat win after he earned the best wave of the exchange, an excellent 9.57. DeVault threaded multiple sections on a clean Pipeline wave and had a confident exit, but was unable to find a good backup score to edge out the Brazilian. Medina’s 17.07 scoreline was one of the highest in the event and he locked in on multiple frontside barrels to defend both his World Title and Billabong Pipe Masters title.
“That was a fun heat, a really tense heat because he got a nice wave in the end,” said Medina. “I’m happy to surf these kinds of waves with another guy. It was really fun, I just want to thank God for another heat and I’m looking forward to the next opportunity.”
World No. 5 Andino closed out the day with a win over Sebastian Zietz (HAW) in Heat 16. The battle saw Andino facing World Title dreams while Zietz fought for requalification to return to the 2020 CT. After a day of big scores and Perfect 10s, only mid-range scores were thrown down. Andino narrowly edged out Zietz with a 1.84-point lead. Zietz exits the final event of the season in 17th place, not enough to return to the CT next year.
“There were heats today where guys were losing with 9.5s, so I’d definitely rather have a low-scoring heat and come out on top,” said Andino. “It was quite a bummer that I had to come up against Seabass because obviously, I want to do well in this event but he’s not going to be on Tour next year and I just love having him on tour, he’s such a good guy so it’s quite a bummer but I’m just really stoked to be in Finals Day.”
Kelly Slater Finds Perfection at Backdoor, John John Florence Finds Redemption
11-time World Champion and seven-time Billabong Pipe Master Kelly Slater (USA) earned a perfect 10-point ride for an unthinkable right-handed Backdoor barrel that he deemed the best in years. Slater’s heat win against Joan Duru (FRA) kept his Olympic qualification hopes thriving, meanwhile, two-time World Champion John John Florence (HAW) got the magic back and secured his own near-perfect ride, a 9.70, after driving through multiple sections on a beautiful Pipe barrel.
“That’s the best wave I’ve had out here in a few years I think at Backdoor,” said Slater. “I kept trying to doggy door the thing and I couldn’t and I was like, ‘No it’s not going to let me out, it’s not going to let me out!’ It reminded me of one I had in the first Backdoor Shootout where I just kept going and going and kept bouncing open for me and I just snuck out the end. I didn’t take the line I wanted because I was trying to come out earlier, but I just had to keep going and hope the white water didn’t get me before I got out.”
This event marks Florence’s return to competition in 2019 after a critical knee injury sidelined him for five out of eleven CT events. Yesterday, fans were disappointed to see him relegated to the Elimination Round, but today, Florence looked in-form with the same brilliant performances he was used to putting on prior to injury.
Florence came up against local rival Ezekiel Lau (HAW) and started the non-priority, overlapping heat with an 8.00 for a completed Backdoor barrel, which eventually became a throw-away score. After 25 minutes, the Hawaii Heat 11 gained priority over Heat 12 in the lineup and Florence waited patiently for the waves that came to him with priority. His strategy paid off when a classic Pipeline peak appeared on the horizon; Florence was in position. He dropped in grabbing his rail and set his line with expertise, then drove through multiple sections to eventually come out clean into the channel, his knee brace visible as he claimed the best wave he’s had since his return -- a near-perfect 9.70.
The excitement was palpable as beach fans erupted in cheers; all of Pipeline seemed to celebrate the hometown hero’s return. Florence went on to find another backhand barrel, slightly smaller but equally impressive and earned an 8.80 from judges to garner the highest heat total of the event. Florence doesn’t claim many waves, but as he styled his way into the channel, it was clear he celebrated a successful rehabilitation and the return to his favorite wave.
“Kelly and Gabe got me fired up and the waves are absolutely pumping right now, just so clean and perfect out there,” said Florence. “I feel like I’m just warming up and getting back into things, I’m so excited to be getting barreled again!”
Being a two-time World Champion, Florence is no stranger to the pressure the World Title contenders are feeling. When asked about a third World Title for Medina, Florence appeared even more charged: “It will motivate me a ton. It will make me a little pissed off because he’ll have one better than me. It’ll just fire me up more for next year.”