Your Guide to the 2008 Billabong Pipeline Masters

Making sense of the Pipe Masters this year is damn near impossible, even for the big wigs at the ASP, but we're going to try and clarify as much as possible. So without further adieu, here are a few things to bounce around in that empty skull of yours:

Wildcard Mania:

Firstly, and probably easiest to comprehend, is the fact that there's no trials. Like last year the wildcards will be based on the how people performed last January at the Monster Energy Pro. There are 64 people in the draw, which as basic math dictates, you get the Top 45 and 19 wildcards to chose from. As of press time the final heat draw was not complete, so stay tuned for that.

Figuring Out The Format:

The Billabong Pipeline Masters will utilize the over-lapping heat format from round one onward, or at least until the semifinals when the event will switch to man-on-man. This cuts a complete day of competition out of the equation, meaning it'll only take three days instead of four to wrap this sucker up so pick your Fantasy Surfer Teams now!

Eying the Forecast:

It looks like small surf is on tap for the first day of the waiting period, December 8th, but then we should see a healthy west swell start building on Tuesday and into Wednesday. At the moment conditions are looking clean, and by the looks of things the Pipe Masters could easily be done by the first week of the waiting period. Swell models show another pump for the weekend, but it's still to early to nail down those details.

Wildcards To Watch:

As far as who looks like an early frontrunner, well, judging by the season he's had thus far the safe money's on Jamie O'Brien. His affinity for Pipe is beyond compare. He could ride a longboard out there and still beat everybody—in fact, the other day he paddled out on a log and got a couple waves that easily could have garnered 10s from the judges. Another wildcard favorite to keep an eye on is Kalani Chapman. Hands down the dude's done some serious damage in previous events, and no doubt he'll do it again. The heavier the better for Kalani, and with swell on the way things could very easily roll his way. But the really interesting wildcard is Dusty Payne. Leading the Triple Crown ratings, the Maui phenom's been absolutely on fire as of late. It's hard to say exactly how honed his Pipe act is, but given what he did at both Haleiwa and Sunset, he could very damn well crush some dreams

That said, here's a quick recap of the wildcard situation according to Randy Rarrick:

"Besides the top 44, the four wildcards are: Shane Dorian, Laurie Towner, Kalani Chapman and Jamie O’Brien. Alternates for this group are Mark Occilupo, Torrey Meister and Reef McIntosh. Joining the 48 will be the 14 Hawaiian Pipeline Specialists, 1 Vans Triple Crown contender, and 1 Tahitian invitee. The Hawaiian Pipeline specialists who qualified earlier in the year are: Dustin Barca, Makuakai Rothman, T.J. Barron, Ian Walsh, Marcus Hickman, Jessie Merle-Jones, Nathan Carroll, Ola Eleogram, Kekoa Balcaso, Daniel Jones, Mark Healey, Kamalei Alexander, Tory Barron and Dave Wassell. Alternates for this group are Ezra Sitt, Evan Vallere and Danny Fuller. The Triple Crown contender is Dusty Payne and the Tahitian invitee is Manoa Droullet."

Kelly Vs. Andy Redux:

Don't expect the epic grudge matches of old this time around. Immediately following the opening ceremony of the Eddie both Kelly and Andy chased a swell down to the Caroline Islands, which means if the conditions pan out like the forecast says their barrel riding skills will be well honed. Kelly, who was only in Hawaii for a day before splitting for the South Pacific, has admittedly just been in cruise mode since clinching his title in Spain—and we all know what that means. Seems the less water time Kelly logs the harder he is to beat. And as for Andy, after struggling through the second half of the tour season, he's been relishing his time in Hawaii. "It's been good for him," told Andy's wife Lyndie during the Eddie ceremony. "To be back here in Hawaii, back where things are familiar and his friends are has been a really good thing. He's a lot happier and is enjoying his surfing a lot more."

Bubble Boys:

This is the last chance to dance for those hoping to requalify for the world tour. Before events are dropped and point totals are adjusted there is less than 500 points separating 20th from 30th. Out of those 10 surfers Tiago Pires is the only one who can double qualify through the WQS. This means there's some serious pressure on some pretty big names. More than likely nobody's more apprehensive than Jordy Smith. After buggering up his knee at Sunset during the final of the O'Neill World Cup, Jordy's been out of the water. The injury could be so serious that preliminary reports look to be keeping the South African laid up for a couple of months. Right now he sits 25th in the ratings, the cutoff spot for making the 2009 tour. There's a chance he could get an injury wildcard next year and everything would be find, but there's also the very real chance that you may not see him on tour. Either way, that pack that's hoping to keep living the dream will be fighting tooth and nail to make heats.

Bruce's Last Stand:

This is Bruce's last year on tour, and if I were a betting man I'd say he'd love to go out on top. He took a bad bounce off the reef the other day, but besides some cuts and scratches he'll be all good to go when the Pipe Masters gets underway. He hasn't been surfing Pipe as much as Jamie O'Brien because of not really wanting to deal with the crowd factor, but get him in some man-on-man heats and he could very easily dominate from start to finish. If it's pumping he's a hard man to beat.