Sean Doherty: Medina & Italo Ride On, Jordy & Filipe Crash Out, While Slater Has His GOAT Moment

12 Dec 2019 2 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

Photo: WSL/Heff

Photo: WSL/Heff


The GOAT Moment – Day 2 at the 2019 Billabong Pipe Masters

Much bigger out there this morning. Much more on the line. As Ronnie put it, “How good is Pipeline! It’s on fire today.” Ronnie might have been having the subtlest of digs at the Australian Prime Minister, a former marketing man who’s stock slogan has become, “How good is Australia!” Not so good right now, actually. It literally is on fire and has been for months.

Italo out there first with the sun peaking over Comsat Hill. As the title front-runner you’d rather surf first. Nothing worse than watching Gabe Medina savage the lineup like a pitbull on a poodle and then have to pace the yard for two hours waiting to surf, knowing you have to match him. No, get it done. Get out there and swing the pressure back on Gabby.

Italo could have done it easier than he eventually did. He dropped into a square one that vomited violently into the channel… when the spray cleared, no Italo. That would have won the heat right there, but instead Italo had to find a longer, inside runner to seal the deal against Jadson Andre. The bigger swell showed up Italo’s lack of Pipe positioning though. He caught closeouts, paddled for smaller ones, and looked kind of lost out there. Italo made up for that by simply catching twice as many waves as everyone else. One of them eventually had to be good.

We gave Peterson Crisanto a hard time because he’d bared his soul yesterday and let it slip that, in 10 years of going to Hawaii, he’d never actually surfed Pipeline before. It was a casually candid moment, an off-hand note, but the reaction maybe crystallised in his own mind overnight the reality of what that meant. The spectre of Pipe for a decade had loomed large and dark in his psyche. Tomorrow would be twice as big and there’d be nowhere to hide. Crisanto had woken up ready to have a dig.

Crisanto dropped over the ledge this morning and – to his great surprise – actually came out. He knifed into a couple of others that claimed him, before eventually a bigger one stayed open and delivered him triumphantly into the channel. He acknowledged the Big Guy and paddled out wondering to himself why he hadn’t paddled out 10 years ago. Sitting in 22nd, Crisanto also needed to win to stay on tour. His minor league heroics might have come to nothing when Conner Coffin picked off a Backdoor cave on the bell. The judges cruelled him. Conner’s currently on his veranda with his guitar working on a new tune, The Low Ball Blues.

During a rare slow moment, in a brave, off-piste commentary they discussed “The Whistle” at Pipe. For the usually safe-space broadcast it was majorly unsafe ground, but hats off to them for at least going there and alluding to the occasionally violent reality of surfing The Pipeline. “Strider, what was The Whistle?” asked Joe. Strider would love to have said that The Whistle traditionally precedes a dumb haole getting cracks on the beach at Pipe. Instead he diplomatically explained that when things “went wrong” there “might be a little bit of punishment". Joe sanitised it with “The Whistle was actually created for safety”… just not the safety of the guy getting slapped and turned into a bleeding pretzel on the sand. Strider segued seamlessly into a metaphor about Pipeline being a bowl of ice cream and John John being the sprinkles on top and the WSL producers in the OB van wiped the sweat from their brow and relaxed in their chairs.

The next heat was worthy of finals day. Wright versus Dora. Before Pipeline rang his bell a few years ago, Owen Wright had surfed nowhere but Pipeline in the previous seven years of coming to Hawaii. Owen was a Pipe-exclusive guy, but Yago has been sleeping on floors at the Volcom House for a decade. Immediately, even without priority, the pair looked a class above everything we’d seen this morning. Dora took the win. Owen’s Olympic team spot should still be safe.

The broadcast shoved a microphone in front of Phil Toledo before his heat, the first time I think they’ve done it to anyone before a heat this year. Generally they’re off limits but the producers today made the call. Barton commented afterwards it was a good sign that Filipe agreed to do the interview. It’s a sign he was feeling no pressure. If he wasn’t feeling pressure before the interview he definitely was after. “So Filipe, world title implications, big day at Pipeline, a lot on the line… how you feeling?”


Up against Kiwi Rick Christie, Filipe looked to be cruising. As Shane Dorian noted in commentary, he hasn’t had results at Pipe but he has been growing. He’s looking more comfortable moving around the lineup. Toledo dropped scores early and looked comfortable on the scoreboard. Christie had filleted his leg yesterday on his back fin, requiring 10 stitches. He took a set wave and if that lip had hit him, he would have required several hundred stitches to reattach his head. Instead the lip tickled his crimpy blond locks and he suddenly was standing in the greatest Pipe wave of his life. Bang, a 7.67. Bang, bang. Two more waves in two minutes and Rick Christie was leading. Filipe lost shape, paddling for a closeout to lose priority. The mood of the heat shifted. Toledo was left chasing a five… a five he wouldn’t find, and he was the first of the contenders to bomb out. The loss not only cost him a shot at the title; the Olympic favourite is also out of the Brazilian Olympic team and won’t be going to Japan.

Ryan Callinan provided the comic highlight of a reasonably intense day by coming out of the tube on his back, facing upward, looking up at the lip, before proceeding to breakdance back to his feet. It wasn’t enough however and Jack Freestone won through. Meanwhile, the pointlessly reconfigured “seeding round” yesterday had moved Billy Kemper from a huge heat against a title contender to a heat with fellow Hawaiian Seth Moniz. With two Hawaiians out, Pipe suddenly looked a lot easier. They traded tube for tube, but Seth found the one for an 8.5 and Billy was packing his boards for Jaws tomorrow and headed to the airport.

Medina gave his opposition 45 seconds of hope. He fell on his first wave, coat-hangered by the lip on exit. He hasn’t fallen at Pipe in, well, I can’t remember the last time. Was he off today? Less than a minute later he pumped into another insider, came flying out, and launched a huge straight air into the trades, hanging up there for a week before landing. Gabe did his thing and looked untouchable… until he suddenly wasn’t. The waves were smoking by now and Imai deVault stood tall for a 9.5. Gabby took a shitty one, losing priority and earning himself some nervous moments before surfing on.

Joan Duru was a tough draw for Kelly. Another brother from the floor of the Volcom House, the Frenchman has a real act at Pipe. Without priority Duru chalked scores at both Pipe and Backdoor. It spelled trouble for Kelly. We’ve wondered all year what Kelly’s genuine expectations of the season might have been. The ones he doesn’t tell you about. We mused yesterday as to what Kelly’s expectations might be here at Pipe this week. This Olympic spot is sitting there. Sure he’d love to be in Japan, but Japan will be two foot and there may not be much dignity in it for a surfer of Kelly’s status. Kelly’s legacy is written here at Pipe though and a largely disappointing season could be redeemed here in some way… and redeemed it was. Redeemed in a hot minute at Backdoor. Kelly’s long, perfect, Backdoor tube… three, four, five sections… was the best wave he’s surfed at Pipe in a very long time. He punched the air. He kept punching the air. The perfect score was a mere formality.

For so long now it’s felt like Kelly’s needed another title, another contest win, some air the kids can’t do and now an Olympic spot… all to validate to himself why he’s still here. Maybe he just needed a wave like the one he got today. It was written on his face. Suddenly there it was… the feeling he’s been searching for all year. A long, beautiful Backdoor wave and the beach in rapture. Maybe it was that simple after all. A moment worthy of The Goat.

In the commentary highlight of the year, Strider recounted Duru’s reaction to Kelly’s wave. The Frenchman had split the peak with Kelly and had kicked out of an average left to the sound of the crowd losing their shit. For half a second he was confused, wondering if it was for him. He soon realised it wasn’t. As he paddled past Strider he went, “I guess I should have gone right, huh?”

The Seeding Gods have been busy. John John against Zeke Lau in this round spiked popcorn sales. We all remember Bells last year. Zeke paddling over the top of John. Hassled him heavy. Knocked John out of Bells and knocked him out of a winning orbit. Both had a bit to surf for today. John surfing to keep his Olympic spot. Zeke surfing to stay on tour.

It was over pretty quickly. John opened with a Backdoor slingshot for an eight. He then slid into a drop-perfect Pipe wave for a 9.5. The air got sucked from the contest and Zeke never got going. Pipe was firing by this stage, Joe called it “gorgeous”. John was doing his thing on positioning more than anything else. His new knee looks pretty solid, but John was in the right spot every time so the knee never really needed to be tested. It felt like John didn’t break second gear but was suddenly sitting on the highest total of the day. John closed it out by saying he’ll be pissed off if Gabby gets a third title here at Pipe. If it wasn’t for that dumb knee brace that third title would have been his.

Of the world title guys, that just left Jordy to surf. He was the sleeper. There was a feeling he could coast along at the bottom of the draw and when things got real on finals day could come from the clouds. You felt he might be the only one capable of challenging Gabby. Jordy’s problem was that as he paddled out the wind swung west. It was now overcast and suddenly very far from gorgeous. Still, Jordy scrapped for fours, and when Jesse Mendes snapped a board you felt he’d graft his way through. Jordy’s problem came in the dying minutes. A Third Reef set, the first real signs of the building swell that will see Jaws run tomorrow, rolled through. Mendes snuck an insider before it hit. Jordy wore the next one on the head. His board snapped clean. He was on the beach fetching a new board when he heard that Mendes was now leading with four minutes to go. At that point he must’ve wished the beach would just open up and take him… instead he high fived a grom as he ran past. 

Jordy made it out with a minute left but he was toast. It was a heavy end. It couldn’t be said often in the past, but Jordy really earned his shot this year. He deserved better than going out ingloriously the way he did. At least he doesn’t now have to fly home.


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