Inches matter when surfing Pipeline. So too do degrees, and both became apparent today as competition resumed at the 2018 Pipe Masters.

When morning broke it was clear that the swell had arrived, but with sand still covering a good chunk of the reef and the swell coming in a few too many degrees from the north it was far from classic Pipe. However, it was more than good enough to provide the carnage, drama and glory surf fans have been eagerly awaiting over the last week. And let’s face it, it’s not like KP had the luxury of choice.

The window to run this thing has been closing on the WSL like a vice, an unruly Pacific Ocean turning the screws and forcing them into the last days of the waiting period. Items still on the agenda that needed resolution included the word title, the rookie of the year, the triple crown champion, Parko’s retirement and numerous careers that hung by a thread. The Jeep Leaderboard still had some major shuffling todo and some career fates to determine. It had to run, and regardless of conditions it was going to be a big day. 

Round two was already well underway by the time I managed to wipe the sleep from my eyes and fire up the laptop. All week I had managed to make it in time for the call, but the one day it actually runs I sleep in.

A quick scroll through the results showed that apart from Filipe surviving a tight one against wildcard Benji Brand, I had missed nothing of consequence.

As I took my first sip of tea Kelly Slater and Willian Cardoso made their way out through the channel to do battle. As an excited Kelly passed Strider in the lineup he remarked that he had spotted some Backdoor bombs from shore and he planned on packing as many as he could.

After threading a ‘safe’ mid size Pipe wave to get a score on the board, Kelly made good on his word and moved down to Backdoor. Once there he proceeded to charge a series of highly consequential waves with very short odds of success; it was exciting to watch.

After seeing nothing of Kelly in the actual ocean for an age, it took only these few waves to bring my buried love and admiration flooding back to the surface. That style, the subtle adjustments in the tube, no-one does Pipe quite like Kelly and man it was a sight for sore eyes.

He didn’t actually make many in that heat, but did enough to get through and ensure a match up with Filipe in round three.

When pressed by Rosie about his chances against Filipe, Kelly maintained that he had wanted to stay clear of the title race until later in the contest but then, shrugged, smirked and remarked that, “We’ll have some fun”.

Well, one of them would anyway.

In the next heat, Ryan Callinan put on what was the performance of the event at the time. Packing three Pipe bombs, knifing beyond vert drops and standing tall, shoulders back. Dispatching Adrian Buchan with ease.

Ryan would continue his form in round three, snuffing out the seemingly inextinguishable flame of Italo Ferreira.

It is a completely different man that inhabits his body today than when he debuted on tour during difficult times in 2016. If the trend continues, 2019 will be a very good year for Ryan, and no-one deserves it more.

On the opposite side of the coin, if there’s a day on which you don’t want to be fighting for your career at the end of a miserable year, it would have to be at large and merciless Pipeline while you’re suffering from the flu. Isn’t that just the tale of Matt Wilkinson’s year though. The poor bloke can’t take a trick, and today was no exception. Bundled out in round three by stablemate Conner Coffin, Wilko is now off tour with a whole lot of questions to ask himself. Does he join the kids on the QS grind, or will Rip Curl spare him that hell and grant him sanctuary on The Search?

Remember those inches we talked about earlier, well that’s the difference between a ten and a two point ride at Pipeline. And for poor old Connor O’Leary during his round three heat with Michel Bourez, they also became the difference between him staying on the tour and being relegated to the QS. Rolling into what looked like a buzzer beater at the tail end of the heat, Connor packed himself ever so slightly too deep and was bucked off by the shockwave. He will replay that wave a lot in his mind over the next year.

Soon it was time for Gabriel Medina to enter the fray. Seemingly undeterred by the occasion, Gabe picked apart the lineup during his heat with Hawaiian wildcard Seth Moniz, who was no easy draw considering he has been threading Pipe pits since he was prepubescent.

In the end Gabriel just stuffed himself deeper in the tube when it mattered and did the job required. It’s gonna be a big job to stop him from claiming the title, he hasn’t even hit third gear yet.

In the very next heat Julian Wilson made his intentions clear. If he was gonna win this thing it would be by packing the biggest tubes he could. Sitting at Backdoor for the majority of the heat, Julian rode the biggest waves of the day, all bar one of them into total oblivion.

Julian held a slim lead as the heat entered the final minutes, but caught inside after his latest beating, Jules could only watch as Miguel held priority needing only a 2.61 to extinguish his dreams of a world title.

Miguel failed to capitalise, pulling into a closeout at the death and failing to get the score. It was hardly the convincing and controlled victory of Gabriel’s heat, but Jules is through to tomorrow’s showdown and that’s all that matters.

The best show of the day was saved until last, when Kelly and Filipe’s round three Clash rolled around. As Filipe made his way to the water and began paddling to the lineup, Kelly was nowhere to be found. Kelly, drawing on his Jedi mind tricks of years past, was performing the now famous ‘I’m not here, no wait I am here’. A sure sign that the Goat was hungry. There would be no quarter for Filipe and his title dreams. This warmed my heart in a way professional surfing hasn’t in some time.

What followed was a masterful display by Kelly, and perhaps my favourite half an hour of competition from 2018. Kelly showed that through two years of injury and limited time in the actual ocean, Kelly has lost none of his muscle memory when it comes to pushing over the ledge at big Pipe.

Perhaps the climax, although not according to the judges, came when Kelly was completely blown off his board mid tube ride at Pipe, before freakishly regathering it, promptly standing back up and exiting the pit. You must watch on the heat analyser if you didn’t see it.

While all this was going on Filipe did his best to make a heat of it, by riding what Pottz politely called “cute, little waves”, and garnering a couple of mid range scores, but he was never gonna make a dent when Kelly was on song like this.

As the clock counted down, it was heartening to see Filipe pack perhaps the largest Backdoor wave of the day, driving through it until the bitter end, before being unfairly clipped by the lip while squeezing out the doggy door, claimed by one of those haunting Pipeline inches.

Filipe is out. Two remain.