2017 Billabong Pipe Masters Preview
Inside the 2017 World Title Race
The man of the hour in Hawaii right now is John John Florence. The defending 2016 WSL World Champion, he now fronts the 2017 rankings with a chance to defend his title. Coming home to his native Oahu has injected him with confidence and the will to win it all. He's just announced that he's withdrawn from the World Cup of Surfing at Sunset Beach to focus on the race, which he leads by the slimmest of margins. The formula for success isn't overly complicated for him: Make the final of the Billabong Pipe Masters, win the 2017 title.
The pressure of Brazil
This year, Brazil's Gabriel Medina came from behind to put himself squarely in the world title hunt. Winning the last two contests in Europe, he's on a bit of a roll at the moment. Medina can win the title with a win only if Florence gets third or fifth place or worse. He's put in some epic performances in the past and has come a whisker away from winning the Pipe Masters, but now he has to do it with all the pressure of Brazil on his shoulders.
Just a distraction
Florence isn't one to stress much. When it comes to his Pipe Masters pre-heat routine, he trots down from his backyard a few hundred yards away, throws on his jersey and goes to work. Everything else is just a distraction for the soulful world champ.
In case you thought you were going to be able to score an autograph from Medina, think again.
One of the most recognizable surf spots on the planet, the North Shore of Oahu is inundated by surfers and fans of the sport every winter. Nowhere else but Pipeline can you post up on the sand and look right into one of the most fearsome barrels. And unlike the NBA, court side seats are free.
Back by popular demand, 11-time world champion Kelly Slater is expected to surf in the Pipe Masters this year. After breaking his foot at J-Bay earlier in the season, he was listed as questionable for Pipe, but sources close to the champ indicate that he intends to surf. Given the power and ferocity of the wave, hopefully he's on his game.
The role of spoiler
After a bit of a disappointing season (which may ultimately be his last), Slater isn't vying for a title, but that doesn't mean he can't play the role of spoiler.
Nothing to lose
Speaking of spoilers, Hawaiian wildcard Mason Ho could be just that. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, he could easily knock a title contender or two out of the contest and reshuffle the deck. A huge fan favorite, he's coming into the contest with a lot of positive energy and a ton of talent. If anything, he's great for a post-heat interview or two.
Still has a shot
The title was Jordy Smith's to lose, and then he lost it. Mathematically, he still has a shot at the title, but he's not necessarily known as a great Pipe surfer and the deck isn't exactly stacked in his favor. Smith can only win the title if Florence finishes ninth or worse and Medina gets second or worse.
Another guy with a mathematical shot at the title, Julian Wilson needs to win the Pipe Masters. Not only that. Florence needs 13th or worse, Medina needs to get fifth or worse, and Smith needs second or worse. So you're saying there's still a chance.
One of the spoilers
Last year, Tahiti's Michel Bourez won the Pipe Masters in the biggest moment of his career. He's healthy and just made the finals at the Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa. Like Slater and Ho, he's one of the spoilers to watch.