Pipeline: left is the way

The Billabong Pipe Masters in Memory of Andy Irons will be surfed in big wave conditions, as a big swell is looming on the horizon.


The final stage of the 2011 ASP World Title Series is also the third jewel of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. Check the wave height forecast for Hawaii.

Kelly Slater, 39, freshly crowned 11-time ASP World Champion, was admittedly more relaxed entering the upcoming Billabong Pipe Masters after securing the 2011 ASP World Title in San Francisco, but is still anxious to tackle the dangerous barrel after nearly a year out of the North Shore lineup.

"In theory, having won the title in San Francisco takes the pressure off a lot, but there’s a big swell coming,” Slater said. “There’s been nothing to prepare on and I haven’t been there even if there was. It’s going to go from zero to 10 here pretty quick in the next few days and there’s not going to be a whole lot of waves to free-surf beforehand".

"The pressure is off, so I don’t have to worry about that, but the anxiety building up to surfing the Pipe contest is a lot. I haven’t felt it until sitting here today thinking about it, but it’s exciting and I can’t wait to get in the water. The pressure’s not there (for the ASP World Title), but there is the excitement, the anxiety and getting rid of the nerves after a year of not surfing Pipe."

Slater, who has won several elite ASP event victories at Pipeline, also explained that the massive swell expected to ignite the infamous reef instantly changes a competitors’ heat strategy in comparison to smaller first-reef Pipeline typically seen in previous years at the Billabong Pipe Masters.

"It’s a whole different deal, you kind of have to make a decision," Slater said. "Everyone would love to get one of those second-reef bombs in their heat. The truth is, they are heats and you get scored so the chance of getting out there and getting a second reef wave and maximizing your scoring potential at Pipeline probably isn’t going to happen. It’s been a long time since someone’s had a second-reef Pipe wave in a contest, but it’d be nice to see."

Taj Burrow has been putting his time in at Pipeline in preparation for this year’s contest, but feels the smaller swells on offer earlier this year have done little to prepare him for the serious swell expected to deliver on the opening day of the waiting period.

"It looks like the surf is only going to get better, so I’m getting excited," Burrow said. "I’ve been surfing out there a lot, but it’s mainly only been rippable little turns, so I’m looking forward to getting some barrels. It’ll be fun. Big Pipe is pretty intimidating, it’s scary for sure, but it’s awesome at the same time. I’m excited to surf such an incredible wave with just a few guys out."

John John Florence is currently leading the Vans Triple Crown ratings entering the final stop at his home break and is chomping at the bit to battle the world’s best surfers despite the pressure that comes along with competing in front of the local crowd.

"It should be fun, we haven’t really had a Pipe swell this year and it’s looking like this will be the first real swell, so no one has had the chance to surf it yet," Florence said. "There’s definitely pressure. I live there and surf there everyday and I don’t want to lose first heat. I want to have fun out there surfing with only three other guys in the water, it’s amazing."

Gabriel Medina has been in stunning form while scalping two event victories and the young Brazilian is looking at this year’s solid swell as an opportunity to build crucial experience in bigger surf.

"I’ve been to Hawaii five times, but I haven’t surfed Pipe much because it’s always so crowded," Medina said. "Hopefully I can get some good waves this year with two or three guys in the water. I don’t have a lot of big wave experience, but I’m excited and I’m going to do my best."

Upcoming Billabong Pipe Masters Round 1 Match Ups:

Heat 1: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) vs. Marcus Hickman (HAW)
Heat 2: CJ Hobgood (USA) vs. Kekoa Bacalso (HAW)
Heat 3: Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) vs. Evan Valiere (HAW)
Heat 4: Travis Logie (ZAF) vs. Bruce Irons (HAW)
Heat 5: Kai Otton (AUS) vs. Ian Walsh (HAW)
Heat 6: Chris Davidson (AUS) vs. Kai Barger (HAW)
Heat 7: Daniel Ross (AUS) vs. Aamion Goodwin (HAW)
Heat 8: Dane Reynolds (USA) vs. Jamie O’Brien (HAW)
Heat 9: Kolohe Andino (USA) vs. Laurie Towner (AUS)
Heat 10: Willian Cardoso (BRA) vs. Shane Dorian (HAW)
Heat 11: Tanner Gudauskas (USA) vs. Jack Freestone (AUS)
Heat 12: Mason Ho (HAW) vs. Hank Gaskell (HAW)