From 8 a.m. through 4 p.m. Hawaii time, the Billabong Pipeline Masters steamed through a full day of action. The wild cards were the standouts for the day, and it was Bruce Irons, Shane Dorian, John John Florence and 40-year-old Liam McNamara who led the charge. Round One and half of Round 2 is out of the way, and with a bombing forecast in store, the final two days of this affair could rank right up there among Pipe's most memorable events. The next call is coming at 8 a.m. Friday. Stay tuned and we'll keep you up to date. Until then, check out all the blow-by-blow action from a heck of a day at Pipe:
3:59 p.m. HST: Today's photos are starting to surface. Check out the gallery at the Billabong Pipeline Masters site. This was this morning, in what could have been a final -- Marcus Hickman, a guy some consider the best of the new crop of Pipe riders, and former Pipe Master and three-time world champ Andy Irons. The two Hawaiians collided early, ruled a double interference, but it had little effect on the outcome. Hickman takes an early exit, and Irons will surf in Round 2, Heat 16, against Drew Courtney. --JC.
3:42 p.m. HST: The final heat of the day is in the water, Michael Picon vs. Josh Kerr. Picon has opened up with two huge scores, and the French jokes are running rampant up and down the beach. A lot of "frog" remarks, but it's all in good fun. --JH
3:33 p.m. HST: Timmy Reyes' fate is no longer in his hands. Sitting on the brink of requalifying for the tour next year, Reyes needed to make it past Bruce Irons to keep the dream alive. He lost, and now it all depends on how other bubble boys fare in the coming days. It was a hard-fought battle, with Irons' opening 8.6 throwing down the gauntlet early. Reyes countered with a 9.8, but lacked a backup score. From here on out, he's going to have to depend on Lady Luck if he wants to stay on tour. --JH
3:11 p.m. HST:The youngest competitor in the event, John John Florence, posted a 17.20 heat, which still stands as the highest total of the day. Check ESPN Surfing tomorrow for a full coming-of-age interview with Mr. Florence. --JC
2:55 p.m. HST: When Pipe is on, the North Shore is completely transformed. Traffic is backed up halfway to Waimea to the west and Sunset to the East. From world-class surf photogs to shaved ice hustlers, everyone depends on the Vans Triple Crown. These days are crucial for the local economy. Make hay while the sun shines. --JC
2:42 p.m. HST: Timmy Reyes is going back to tradition. Last year at Pipe, Reyes, of Huntington Beach, Calif., alternated boards at Pipe, even riding a Stretch Quad 4-fin en route to the semifinals. Right now, he's clashing with former Pipe Masters champ Bruce Irons and is back on a thruster. --JC
2:14 p.m. HST:
Like any good circus, the Pipe Masters has a hell of a sideshow. When the all-stars are out performing at Pipe and Backdoor there always seems to be a few brave souls willing to paddle out at Off The Wall, take their lumps, and hopefully make a name for themselves. Brazilian Bruno Santos is one such fool, and as you can tell by the photo above, he pulled into a smoker. "I reckon it's the best wave ridden all day," commented a photographer on the beach.
The word coming from Randy Rarrick is that we're running through Heat 6 of Round 2, which gives us about two more hours of surfing. Tiago Pires vs. Shane Dorian is coming up quick, it should be a good one. --JH
1:51 p.m. HST: The youth are getting restless. 17-year-old John John Florence just had the heat of his life, comboing Pipe Specialist Danny Fuller. Florence has tremendous support on the beach, with his family's friends and North Shore neighbors encouraging him to "beat up on those old guys." (Like Fuller, at 27, is worried about Medicare.) 21-year-old Mason Ho bested Jay "Bottle" Thompson, but was visibly limping after the heat. Ho is part of the legendary Ho family, with his father Michael and Uncle Derek both former Triple Crown Champs. He has not fully healed since his injury at Sunset, but apparently it's not an issue. He had a long Pipe barrel and came out down the beach by Gums.--JC
1:08 p.m. HST:
The conditions continue to swirl around. This morning started with some solid sets and flawless conditions, then for a while there it looked as if the wind was going to come on the shore and the swell was on the decline, but it seems that's not going to be the case. The swell's pulsed again, and the wind's lightened up. It's not massive, deadly Pipe, but as Florence just said, "It's really cleaned up and is a lot of fun." --JH
12:39 p.m. HST:
Mason Ho's out right now, his ankle's shot and it's all taped up. When asked how he'll surf his heat, he says, "I reckon I'll just go straight." I doubt he'll be going straight; he just pulled into a beast. It was a full pig dog just like his old man, a really solid Pipe tube. Also worthy of note, both John John Florence and Danny Fuller are surfing really well, but 17-year-old Florence somehow has Fuller in a combo situation. The wild cards continue to roll. --JH
11:49 a.m. HST: Speaking of Pipe Specialists, I just spoke with Jamie O'Brien, who lives at Pipe year-round. This wave has made his career. He surfs it, bodysurfs it, swims it, competed in a pro bodyboarding event here last year -- the guy even collects shells here when it's flat. He just told me that despite all the moving water lately, the sand is in good shape.
"The sand is absolutely perfect right now," said O'Brien. "We're going to have straight southeast winds, which are straight offshore. It's just going to be a great event." --JC
11:49 a.m. HST:
Wild cards versus tour surfers. It's a contentious topic, and one that's been at the heart of the Pipe Masters for a few years now, but given how proficient the "Pipe specialists" are, at the end of the day it's hard to make the case to keep them out of the event. With all the history and drama that's unfolded here over the years, obviously the Pipe Masters isn't like any other contest in the world, so while most other tour stops only get two or three wild card slots, there's 16 for the Pipe Masters. But getting to watch guys like Andy and Bruce Irons, Shane Dorian, and other less notables like Hank Gaskell and Liam McNamara perform is what the event is all about. It may make requalifying a little tougher for the bubble boys on tour, but for spectators and most of the surfers, having the "Pipe specialists" in the water is what helps make this contest so interesting. --JH
11:00 a.m. HST: Billabong Webcast notes. Some tourist with a point-and-shoot camera just told Billabong's webcast personality Greg "GT" Tomlinson that his live interview at the water's edge to millions of viewers was in the tourist's shot.
Also, Miky Picon just said "s---" in an interview, when talking about drawing fellow Tahitian Manoa Drollet. --JC
11:00 a.m. HST: Had a good talk with Gabe Kling this morning. As you may know, Kling got injured at an O'Neill Cold Water Classic event in Tasmania early in the year.
It was a rough break. Kling qualified in 2006, then dropped off the tour in 2007. He secured a spot at Sunset again last year and then got a bum wheel at the start of the year. So, he's been rehabbing, sitting on his couch, fishing and watching his beloved Jacksonville Jags. When he didn't heal, his doctor recommended he get surgery a few months ago. So, he went under the knife and came back strong. This morning, he rocked Kalani Chapman in Heat 2.
"I feel great. Just a little soreness in the mornings, but there's really no pain at all." --JC
11:00 a.m. HST: Very interesting turn of events. Sunny Garcia might be out of Vans Triple Crown contention. Garcia was late for his heat this morning. Garcia probably thought he was surfing later, but due to the overlapping format, his heat was moved way up. He's been known to do this before. But apparently, when they denied him entry this morning, he tried to just take a jersey.
There's a whole lot of money on the line and Garcia was in second place in the Triple Crown standings coming into Pipe. It's been an improbable run from the 1999 World Champ and a Triple Crown win would make him the oldest champ in the event's history. But the way it's breaking and knowing his skill at Backdoor, he had a solid shot. The guy put in so much effort traveling the world last year trying to requalify for The Tour and then misses his heat?
This puts Randy Rarrick in a precarious position. Remember, Garcia was a wild card in the first place. Normally Garcia would go to the bottom of the alternate list. But instead they're moving him to the top. Now he has to wait for someone to pull out due to injury (or miss his own heat) in order to keep the dream alive. --JC
9:51 a.m. HST:
Andy Irons' win over Marcus Hickman was a much-needed shaking off of the competitive rust for the three-time world champion and three-time Pipemaster. Irons caught three solid Backdoor barrels and is surfing Pipe like he usually does, but he's admitted to me this week that after a year off from competition, heats make him "nervous." Irons plans on returning to the World Tour next year as a wild card, so every round he advances through in the Pipemasters is one more opportunity to get his competition sea legs back under him. His competitors would no doubt prefer to return him to the couch as soon as possible. --JH
9:06 a.m. HST:
Let's talk about the overlapping heat format for a second. It's kind of confusing, but it essentially works like this: Each 40-minute heat features two surfers. At the start of the day the first heat paddled out and had the lineup all to themselves for 20 minutes, then halfway into their heat the second pair of surfers paddled out. The first heat maintains priority, and then when their time is up the other guys get priority. What this does is allow the contest to fire through Round One in about half the time it would normally take. "It's more interesting to have four surfers out there," said Reynolds as we were talking about it. --JH
8:31 a.m. HST:
Jihad Khodr bagged the best wave of the heat, a 7.33. Brazilians don't always have it that easy on the North Shore, but Khodr's one of those "nice" guys on tour that everybody pulls for. Nevertheless, the whistles on the beach this morning are for local boys Gavin Gillette and Kalani Chapman.
The houses fronting Pipe were buzzing early. Photogs and filmers are salivating to do some work today. Pipe days have been far and few between this winter.
Dane Reynolds arrived yesterday. He was in Starbucks at Foodland this morning when somebody walked in off the street, took all the cream and sugar, and walked back out the door. Speaking of Young Guns, Julian Wilson returned from Maui late last night, where he apparently got yanked into a couple bombs at Jaws. --JH
8:02 a.m. HST:
There's a certain excitement about arriving in Hawaii that can never get old. Just approaching those isolated islands sitting in the Pacific as your flight drops in, especially at night when it's a collection of lights in the mountains, is so unreal.
This season there's even more reason for anticipation. Obviously, the whole state has been in a tizzy over the massive mountains of water that have been popping up out of the north, making careers and breaking boards. And this year we have a bona fide title race on the line, my friends. Jake and I will both be posted here to give you constant coverage.
The Billabong Pipe Masters is a go for today, and the ASP's best will be raring to go. But let's be honest here. There are two surfers we're all watching.
The World Title and Triple Crown are coming down to Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson, a couple of Aussie mates since childhood. Each of these Cooly Kids has gone back and forth this season -- one grabbing momentum while the other faltered and then switching roles completely.
Neither surfs in the first round but we do have some notable matchups. Gavin Gillette and Jihad Khodr are up first, followed by Gabe Kling and Kalani Chapman. This is Kling's return to the tour after being injured all season.
The sun is well up. Pipe is six-to-ten and it's on. --JC
7:20 a.m. HST: The final event of the 2009 ASP World Tour, the Billabong Pro Pipeline Masters, will commence today in pumping six-to-10 foot surf at Pipeline, still the most electrifying arena in all of surfing. Round 1 will run at 8 a.m. --JC