We Say War

A report from the front lines after Round 2 at the Pipe Masters

Kelly Slater on the front lines in his continued world title campaign. Photo: Glaser

Kelly Slater on the front lines in his continued world title campaign. Photo: Glaser

I've borrowed the title for today's column from a poetic Dustin Barca missive posted online this morning, rallying for the rights of native Hawaiians, the war cry refrain at odds with the manner of Barca himself this winter on the North Shore, who's been convivial in and out of the water, surfing a board with a cowhide spray… "I got a whole herd of 'em!"

But while not quite as righteous or ennobled in cause, certain points of the Pipe Masters did indeed feel like a war… a holy war with the ocean.

At dawn it didn't look that way.

The new swell was undoubtedly west, but didn't seem to have the forecast chutzpah. "It's smaller than I thought, not as west as I thought, and hasn't washed away as much sand as I thought," said Joel Parkinson as first light spilled over the Pupukea escarpment. What was indeed here were the forecast tradewinds that blew in with daylight, blowing straight into the maw of Pipe, creating three foot ribs and crazed chambers that ran onto dry sand on the Beach Park bank.

I walked up to the contest area this morning to visit the contest chiropractor to deal with a nasty pillow injury, and found him busy readying himself for the day. "Lucky you got in early," he chuckled, "before the carnage." The event doctors were simulating a defib on a site worker as he cracked my neck. I asked if they knew something we didn't.

Kelly was first heat, but didn't want to go.

Notoriously recalcitrant when it comes to crucial heats being run in horseshit surf, he reportedly pushed hard to have the heat held off until mid-morning at least, but the event is quickly being painted into a corner by strong tradewinds and even stronger swell. Losing at any point in this contest of course for Kelly means another year will have gone by with a 12th world title tantalizingly, frustratingly out of reach.

For the first half of Kelly's heat with Pipe trials winner Reef McIntosh he was very much wishing they hadn't sounded the hooter. The lineup junked and the best he could manage were twos and threes. Watching on as the heat ticked into it's second half, Parko could sense Kelly's guitar strings were starting to twang and bust. "Look at him! He's got priority and he's trying to catch everything that moves. That doesn't even look like him." Parko paused for a second and countered, "But you know, he could have 19 points in five minutes time." Five minutes later Kelly's heat total was 17. Just like that it happened. The second score he took a risk, went in late with the wind under the nose of his board, and threaded a blue chasm before reeling off what Joel described as "the best cutback I've ever seen."

We've seen events and even whole seasons turn around for Kelly mid-heat in the space of minutes, and we might just have seen such a momentum shift during that heat. Like last year, he might not even get a shot at the title if Gabe and Mick keep winning, but suddenly there's a sense of it on the beach. But more importantly, Kelly senses it.

The tone of the morning then changed at 9:14 a.m.

Jordy Smith went right, the only one ridden all day, and was driven shoulder first into the Backdoor reef. He washed ashore in front of our joint at Off The Wall looking like a royal corgi that’d encountered a hyena. The big guy buckled, clutching at his right shoulder, his heat and his season over. Jordy was washed to the beach with the first substantial pulse from the new swell, the quad bike meatwagon dispatched down the beach to fetch him actually getting fully barreled in the shorebreak as the set surged up the beach.

From there things got patchy.

The wind picked up even more, the swell continued to build, the backwash swayed dumbly. The contour of the beach was horseshoing all the water rushing down the beach from Off The Wall straight back out through the Pipe lineup and making a real mess of it. Guys just got lost out there. Guys got washed away. Heats were one with pairs of twos. The back end of Round 2—where the mid-to-low seeds meet each other—is traditionally is the poorest surfing in any event, but combined with the increasingly rabid swell made it far from champagne surfing.

Trav Logie retired today with a heat total of 1.30 out of 20. It wasn't exactly the most glorious nor fitting way for Travvie to exit the stage, but the South African remained a class act. The fact that his finest career moments probably went down at Teahupoo—not once, but twice—tell you he was a little more than a beachbreak journeyman. The Tour will also miss the understated (and often accidental) humor that followed him around, exemplified today no better than when both Mick Fanning and commentator Ronnie Blakey went to give him a congratulatory hug on the beach and Trav comically shined them both without even knowing it. Priceless.

Trav Logie was under an injury cloud, and it was rumored (and reported in unreliable sections of the press) that he wouldn't surf today, and that Jamie O'Brien would take his place in the draw and would proceed to tear the draw several new assholes. Well, one of those unreliable sections of the press was wandering down the beach this morning and ran into Trav Logie himself who informed him he would indeed be surfing and Jamie would be relegated to spectator.

Jamie watched on until they put the event on hold for an hour at the end of the round to ride out what was expected to be the top of the swell. Not only did Jamie paddle out on his pink soft top, he proceeded to get righteously pitted out there, only 10 minutes after the final heats had been run and the surfers hit the beach wondering what had hit them. Jamie suddenly made it look like child's play out there… the pink foamie designed no doubt to make a point. But suddenly even Jamie had to surrender as a Third Reef set washed through the lineup that never seemed to end. I lost count of the waves after 30, and they were all 15 feet and they flushed everyone out of the lineup. The comp was off for the day.

Ten minutes earlier Mick Fanning had been curled up on his lounge under a granny blanket, watching TV next to the guy he's challenging for the world title this year. Mick had decided to freesurf, and wore every single one of those 30 waves on the head. His ritual flagellation at the Banzai continues, but you can bet now that with the contest off for the day, someone, if not 20 guys, would get the waves of their lives.

Now, Gabe needs only one more heat win to take Kelly out of the picture, but has been drawn against Triple Crown leader, Dusty Payne. It's a tough draw. I watched the Rams/Cards game the other afternoon with Dusty and that red beard has completely transformed him from a guy who couldn't win to a guy who now simply cannot lose. He's a different guy to the tortured Tour soul of a few years back, and he is a gnarly draw for Gabe… but if Gabe wins he not only knocks Kelly out, he also puts himself in a quarter of the draw stacked with fellow Brazilians. That might be crucial. Mick has fared probably even worse in drawing former Pipe Master Jeremy Flores.

Tune in to Round 3. I'll certainly be there… some big Hawaiian guy parked his shave ice van across my driveway and doesn't appear to be going anywhere in a hurry.

WATCH: Round 2 Recap