Joel Parkinson points and barks, "Johnny Goodvibes… are you kidding me?"
The dawn session at Pipe this morning was predictably spirited, being the best day of the winter so far, being the first day of the Pipe Masters, but it was little surprise that John Florence split the pack for the wave of the morning, just ghosted into it, ghosted out of it, washed up on the shore, scratched his nuts and walked off like it was February and the beach was empty. There might be plenty going on right now on the North Shore but John John, same as it ever was, lives blissfully in a bubble of good vibes that means he's perpetually immune from the claustrophobic, bristling pissing contest that can be life on the North Shore of Oahu. John John just surfs.
Good vibes, recently, have been in short supply here.
The Pipe trials wrapped up this morning, the final having been held off for two days to run in better surf. You probably already know the background to this year's trials. Since 2007 the Pipe Masters has been run with an extended field that put 16 local Pipeline surfers straight into the main event. This year it's just two, and it's the boiling the blood of some locals. Pipeline belongs to the islands and the Pipe Masters belongs to the people, although there's a signed contract filed in an office in Santa Monica that now says otherwise.
In a move that took some balls, the ASP cut the local representation at Pipe to bring it into line with every other event on Tour. It was a direct challenge to the unspoken influence from the North Shore underground and they expected beef, the same kind of beef that went down in 2011 when the Billabong house at Off The Wall was raided, with slaps handed out freely. The ASP is taking no chances. The plain-clothes mainland security detail stationed next door to the house now at Off The Wall, wearing department store surfwear and generally looking as inconspicuous as Sgt. Stedenko from Cheech and Chong, are on full alert. Except during lunch, of course, when they're lined up for an hour at the Brazilian tostada truck across the road.
The ASP is taking no chances, taking security so seriously they're even keeping troublemaking media from their own event. The beef going down about the Hawaiian trials pales in comparison to the one that went down today when your correspondent walked down to interview Kelly after his shocker of a loss. After obtaining an accredited media pass, and with Kelly in the middle of a media scrum, your correspondent walked up to the gate to barge in. "Brah," said the Hawaiian security guy pointing at my pass, "You can't get in that." I pointed out that it said "media pass" and that there were several hundred other media in there stealing my Kelly exclusive. Somewhat confused, I asked, "Where does it get me?" The security guard replies, "On the beach with the crowd." I looked around at the beach full of tourists and kids and explained to him I was pretty sure I could just walk onto the beach at Pipeline without the exclusive access superpower provided by my ASP media pass. I then stood at the gate and watched Kelly walk off, my exclusive lost, my dignity gone. If Jamie O'Brien was there I would've asked to loan a cigarette lighter to conduct a ceremonial torching of my ASP media pass, then looked for Noa Deane to duet on stage… although after his performance the other night at Surfer Poll, Noa's remained a little underground for a while.
Minutes earlier Kelly had just lost in the dying seconds of his opening heat. The Pipeline draw is always booby trapped for anyone chasing a world title, booby trapped this year with Pipe specialists like O'Brien, Florence, Flores, McNamara, McIntosh, Payne and… Melling? Huh? But indeed, it was Adam Melling who, in the dying seconds, won a heat against Kelly he never appeared to be in. Kelly, despite looking a little wooden after a month out with a broken toe, found his waves, looked comfortable, and if anything was only being challenged by the third surfer in the heat: the reborn, revitalized, now bearded Dusty Payne. So Kelly now just has to keep winning, keep winning all the way to the final, starting with the first heat of the morning tomorrow against wildcard Reef McIntosh.
Next up, Mick Fanning paddled out and looked composed, more composed than he was yesterday morning, anyway. Commissioner Perrow had big plans on running the event yesterday–the forecast for the rest of the event becoming less of a forecast and more of a lottery due to the wind–but the Pipe lineup yesterday looked like an Aivazovsky painting. It was bombing and big and only missing a shipwreck and a white whale… that was until Jadson found two waves in a row and came flying out of both. Mick freaked, and told Jadson to quit it, thinking they'd call the event on if he kept coming out of tubes like that. Mick was soon sprinting up the beach, stern faced, to make sure no one was entertaining the thought of actually running the contest. It was kinda bizarre, because he's seemed the most detached of all the world title dukers.
Watching Gabe Medina surf today, you imagine the only scenario that might see him not winning the world title would be some big, uncontrollable ocean, because he looks in control of pretty much everything else. Even the swell is working for him, swinging west and taking out Backdoor. In the worst waves of the day he picked the two best, but never seemed out of control. There are literally thousands of Brazilians here on the North Shore—thousands more than usual anyway—and as Gabe walked down to his heat he was mobbed with green, blue, and yellow flags, his headphones worn to the waterline blocking out the screams of "Brazeeel!" and "Vai Medina!" The Medina clan was at the high tide line and you could feel it getting real. The pressure was suffocating. As Gabe surfed Charlie Medina sat there stone-faced, expressionless, the stress of the moment palpable. Mind you, he looked exactly the same minutes after Gabe won the event in Tahiti—Charlie bucks the whole heart-on-sleeve Brazilian stereotype—but it's going to be a big few days for the family, one way or another.
A fresh swell arrives tomorrow, more west, more Banzai.
And there's a curveball coming. The retiring Travis Logie tweaked a knee freesurfing Pipe a few days back and sat out his Round 1 heat today. If he can't surf his round two heat tomorrow—and the word on Ke Nui Road is that he won't—he will be replaced in the field by the next highest triallist… an underground local by the name of Jamie O'Brien. Watching the trials final with Parko this morning we were crunching scenarios around who would get Jamie when he made the main event. With this swell forecast, drawing Jamie will be nasty. He's been schooling the Pipe pack all week on his eight-foot soft top, so the trials final was his to win.
Only thing was that somehow Jamie didn't. But if he does get back into the draw tomorrow Jamie O'Brien will take Trav Logie's seed, will avoid Kelly in Round 2, and if he were to win that heat the whole draw gets reseeded, which would square Jamie off against one of the world title guys. And if Jamie gets loose in the draw on a building swell—a Hawaiian wildcard who's not even a wildcard in a year the wildcards were shown the door—strap yourself in, because he might do more than burn the ASP rulebook.
Watch the Round 1 recap: