The Billabong Pipe Masters challenges the World Tour like no other event in professional surfing. If 2nd Reef sets detonating on shallow coral heads doesn’t make the elite Pros a little nervous, going toe-to-toe against a menagerie of local tube specialists who have forged their careers courting Pipeline probably does.
Last year there were no trials for the Pipe Masters. This year however, most of the top wildcard options have been awarded to Hawaiians based on the performances from the Volcom Pipe Pro, Van’s Tripe Crown and local contest ratings.
Of the varied crew of wildcards set to take on the Pipe Masters this year, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more committed lot than Oahu’s Jon-Jon Florence, Maui’s Ian Walsh, all-time Pipeline favorite Bruce Irons and Kauai’s Kamalei Alexander and Danny Fuller.
Growing up in a house in front of the break offers a big advantage for wildcard Jon-Jon Florence – especially if you’ve been surfing it since you were six. The youngest competitor to ever surf the Master’s (2005) he has logged as much tube time at Pipeline as many a seasoned World Tour Pro. With aerial moves he’s practiced at Pipe, watch for fireworks.
Having already solidified his status as one of the world’s premiere big-wave hell-men, Ian Walsh has also proven himself equally adept at Pipe and Backdoor as he is at massive Teahupoo and Jaws. A smart and calculating competitor, look for Ian to throw himself over the ledge on a few heavers - but also use a sharp sense of strategy and tactics to get him through his heats.
It’s difficult to say his name and not conjure up images of Bruce Irons deftly slotted at Pipe and Backdoor. For the past decade, his name has been synonymous with the fabled lineup. A standout surfer whenever the waves go square, Bruce is capable of not only taking down a few of the World Tour bigwigs, but winning the event. And if the buoys start to strain and the 2nd Reef feathers, look to Bruce’s true threat.
Kauai’s Kamalei Alexander has become a staple on the 7-mile stretch, making finals at Sunset and connecting 2nd -Reefers at Pipe without breaking a sweat. Over the past four years, Kamalei has found competitive success in waves of consequence making his Pipe wildcard as deadly of a threat as any.
Danny Fuller’s nonchalance at Pipeline has made him the stuff of legends as a straight-up fearless guy when the surf goes haywire. He may be known for his good looks and penchant for photography, but make no mistake, Fuller has a finely tuned relationship with Pipe. As a goofyfoot he’ll take full forehand advantage if conditions turn golden.