Editor’s Note: This story was updated throughout the Pipe Masters finals day today.
Author’s note: Normally, I would be driving on Kamehameha Highway and then reaching Ehukai Beach in the morning. Not this year, with COVID-19. No fans, no press at the Pipe Masters. In past years, there would be no real panic, other than the deadline pressure to get the story in to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, my place of employment as a sportswriter since 2000 (to March 2020). Parking? Not a real problem. Just be patient. Eventually something opens up. Get out of the car and hit the press area — say hi to World Surf League employees Jodi Wilmott and Lauren Rolland. Greet the Christmas elves Mike and Solange and get to workin’, which involves watching and interviewing the best surfers in the world. This year, however, I’m sitting at home, drinking a fresh cup of perfect coffee sent over from Kauai farmer Les Drent, who groomed those beans with loving care, and watching the Pipeline proceedings on TV. It’s funny because often at the Star-Advertiser, my co-workers would say I could, if I wanted to, stay at home and watch it on TV before writing a story and that nobody would know the difference. Yeah, but then you don’t get the sense of the beauty of it all, the waves, the barrels, the thousands of fans, the glint in Kelly Slater’s competitive eyes, the water dripping from John John Florence’s hair, the Australian accent of Julian Wilson et al, and subtle, savory things like the intricate artistry of Gabriel Medina. And most of all, the drama. OK, so, we’ll see, maybe you can’t tell I’m not there. It doesn’t matter much. You’ll either read this or you won’t. One thing I won’t be able to do is pick up some swag from the Pipe Santa Claus and bring it home to nestle under the tree. And a Merry Christmas Pipeline season to all of you.
UPDATE (AFTER FINAL):
Haleiwa’s John John Florence latched on to his first Pipe Masters championship trophy today at Ehukai Beach.
Florence needed to win three heats throughout the day. After knocking off Italy’s Leonardo Fioravanti in the quarterfinals and 11-time world champ Kelly Slater in the semis, he wrapped up what had been an elusive Pipe Masters championship with a come-from-behind victory over Gabriel Medina in the final.
Medina, a two-time world champion, failed in his effort to take a second Pipe Masters crown. He won it in 2018, the same year he took his second world crown.
John John Florence, shown in file photo, won his first Pipe Masters
championship today. (From YouTube.com).
Trailing 11.10 to 10.94 with five minutes left in the final, Florence caught a classic Pipe barrel. It put him in the lead for the first time, 11.74 to 11.1o.
Two minutes later, Florence ducked into a deep Backdoor tube. It added to his lead slightly, making the final count 11.77 to 11.10.
“It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid,” Florence said to TV reporters. “I grew up watching this event. I’m super stoked. I don’t know what to say. It feels so good. That was a really hard heat. Gabe had that early start and then, I said, ‘Ok, I think I can find a couple little rights here.’ I’m stoked I went against Gabe. Competing with him is like why I want to compete, you know.”
These two, Florence and Medina, had a less talked-about interest in winning the event. They are in a struggle to become the best surfer of their era.
Florence’s win today, perhaps, means more than just another chapter in surfing history. It’s also kind of about the normalcy of the whole world. COVID-19 nearly wiped this contest out in the early stages when WSL workers tested positive and rumors floated around that one of the competitors, Yago Dora, also tested positive. The event was suspended, not canceled, thankfully.
Somehow the organization motored on and pulled it out, finishing it up in pretty clean and somewhat uncertain conditions on the final day of the Dec. 8-20 waiting period.
The epic finish, MAYBE, gives the world of surf and the world in general the sense that things are going to get back to the way we once knew them. Just having a power-packed four in the semis — the 48-year-old Slater, Medina, Florence and defending world champ Ferreira — was a GOOD START to that!! And then a Florence vs. Medina final with a John John victory put a tight little bow around an early Christmas present for surf fans looking for that sense of normalcy.
TODAY’S PREVIOUS COVERAGE (AFTER SEMIFINALS):
Arguably the two best professional surfers in the game — Haleiwa’s John John Florence and Brazil’s Gabriel Medina — will square off in the Pipe Masters final at Ehukai Beach later today.
Florence knocked off 11-time world champ Kelly Slater in the semifinals with two solid barrels — one at classic Pipe and the other at Backdoor — for an 18.16 total.
Slater, from Cocoa Beach, Fla., needed a 9.83 in the late stages to overtake him, but couldn’t get it. Instead, in the final minute, Slater took off on Florence despite not having priority and was called for interference, negating his points in the heat.
“I’ve had some good battles with Kelly and … he’s gotten the better of me a few times so it feels good to finally get him,” Florence said to TV reporters.
Still, it was an incredible performance throughout the event by the 48-year-old Slater, who failed in his bid for an eighth Pipe Masters title and starts off the 2020-21 year with an equal third — a good start as he tries to pull off the unthinkable, a 12th world crown.
Florence is going after his first Pipe Masters title, the only major cherry he still hasn’t picked off the surfing tree. He owns two world titles, three Vans Triple Crown of Surfing victories as well as an Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational win. In addition, he’s captured four Volcom Pipe Pros, which, like the Pipe Masters, is held at the famous Banzai Pipeline break on Oahu’s North Shore, but is of a lesser magnitude than the Pipe Masters.
In order for Florence to give Hawaii fans something to cheer about (despite the fact that they were not on hand to watch it first-hand due to COVID-19 restrictions), he must beat Medina, who is also a two-time world champ.
Medina topped fellow Brazilian and defending world champ Italo Ferreira 12.60 to 8.57 in the other semifinal.
Medina has one Pipe Masters title to his credit, winning it in 2018 on the same day he clinched his second world championship.
File photo of Brazil’s Gabriel Medina at Pipeline. He is going for victory No. 2 at the famed Pipe Masters in the final later today against Hawaii’s John John Florence. (From YouTube.com).
TODAY’S PREVIOUS COVERAGE (AFTER QUARTERFINALS):
Haleiwa’s John John Florence and the most accomplished competitive surfer in the world, Kelly Slater, pushed their way into the Pipe Masters semifinals today at Ehukai Beach.
They’ll meet in the the event’s first semi this afternoon. Defending world champion Italo Ferreira of Brazil and fellow Brazilian, two-time world champion Gabriel Medina, meet in the other semi.
There’s a lot riding on the outcome of this year’s competition, which is held in memory of the late former world champion Andy Irons.
And the proceedings today are not just about surfing history, either. It’s also kind of about the normalcy of the whole world. COVID-19 nearly wiped out this contest, suspending it temporarily in the early stages when WSL workers tested positive and rumors floated around that one of the competitors, Yago Dora, also tested positive.
Somehow the organization motored on will be finishing it up today in pretty clean and somewhat uncertain conditions. MAYBE, just MAYBE, there will be an epic finish to give the world of surf and the world in general the sense that things are going to get back to way we once knew them. Just having this power-packed four in the semis — Slater, Medina, Florence and Ferreira — is a GOOD START.
John John Florence and Kelly Slater meet later
today in the Pipe Masters quarterfinals. (From Pinterest).
Slater, an 11-time world champion, is going for an eighth victory in the Pipe Masters. Florence is a two-time world titlist who has four victories in the Volcom Pipe Pro, but he’s never won a Pipe Masters.
Slater, who hails from Cocoa Beach, Fla,, won two heats today, beating Australia’s Jack Robinson 13.67 to 11.67 in the Round of 16 before dispatching South Africa’s Jordy Smith 6.23 to 1.90 in the quarters.
Slater needs to upend Florence to get a step closer to the incredible accomplishment of winning one of the holy grails of the sport at AGE 48.
“We made the finals together both at Teahupoo (Tahiti Pro) and out there,” Slater said about Florence in a post-quarterfinal interview with TV reporters. “We’ve surfed (competitively against each other at) Trestles … in Fiji at Cloudbreak, so we’ve really had the opportunity to have a lot of fun heats.”
Florence topped Italy’s Leonardo Fioravanti 17.67 to 10.17 in the quarters. He previously got through the Round of 16 on Friday.
“It takes a lot to win a Pipe Masters, especially on a day like today,” Florence told the TV guys. “It’s pretty tricky. I’m going to try to keep my energy up and put myself in the best position to win.”
Like Slater, Ferreira and Medina won two heats today to get to the semis.
Ferreira took care of Australia’s Ryan Callinan 13.00 to 5.27 and then topped France’s Jeremy Flores 13.34 to 10.53.
Medina dropped Australia’s Jack Freestone 11.56 to 6.67 and came on strong late to rally past Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi 9.13 to 7.06.