Evaluating the world title contenders after round one.
Was everybody watching the John John exhibition heat at Pipeline this morning? Paddling out in the wake of archrival Gabriel Medina’s loss to Miguel Pupo, John John completely monopolized his backyard break. Poor Wiggolly Dantas and Dusty Payne must have felt like walk-on parts in the John John show as the Hawaiian all-star firmly re-established his Pipe superiority and favourite status in the world title race.
The only disappointment was the fact a light wind ruffled up the lineup the moment John hit the water. Had it not we may have seen an even more omnipotent performance. Despite the uncooperative breeze, the superior nuances of John John’s Pipe game were on display. Firstly, he finds the best waves. Secondly he takes off steeper and deeper, often with a crumbling lip dropping on his head like a blunt but brutally swung tomahawk. Thirdly his speed management in the barrel is unparalleled. John seems to have about four extra tube gears than anyone else. He slows down and accelerates at will; always timing his exit for optimal dramatic effect; usually after the spit. “I don’t know how John John came out of that wave,” an awestruck beach commentator bellowed after one of John John’s backdoor Houdini acts. Watching from the beach, this is exactly the kind of response JJ inspires, even if you know how good he is.
Handing his trusty, 6’4”, yellow ghost to a friend, John John spoke to Tracks after the heat. Asked about his routine of regular, but short surfs (Often still getting the wave of the day) in the lead up to the contest, John John denied the suggestion he was actually surfing mock heats.
“I’ve just been surfing short sessions because I’ve spent a lot of time out at Pipe and I feel really good out there. So it’s just been more a matter of trying boards and not breaking boards.
While obviously dominant in good Pipe waves, John suggested he was ready if conditions weren’t optimal. “I’m super-prepared for that, I think more prepared than ever. I think this year we’ve had a lot of contests with weird, small rippable waves … I’m comfortable out here whether it’s one foot, onshore north swell and the worst it can be or ten foot and offshore west swell and the best it can be.”
While John John accomplished everything he and his home-town crowd could hope for, the same could not be said for number two on the Jeep leaderboard, Gabriel Medina, and his travelling Brazilian bandwagon. After stalking down the beach with headphones jammed in his ears pre-heat, Gabs suited up and spent an eternity with his head bowed, in the Pipe shorey. Such was his preference for pre-heat contemplation that he only allowed himself three minutes to paddle out. It wasn’t clear if he was praying, meditating or channeling the energy of the countrymen who flanked him, but ultimately it didn’t pay off.
While the wiley wildcard, Benji Brand, applied the early pressure, Medina made poor wave choices and looked completely out of rhythm, even though the ocean came to the party and sent a bunch of west swell lefts the way of the goofy foot trio. While Brand thwarted Medina early on, it was left to fellow-countryman, Miguel Pupo, to deliver what would ultimately be the crushing blow. It was a bitter-sweet moment for Brazilian fans. Pupo rode the wave of the morning, spearing his black-tipped shooter through a detonating left. Pupo’s victory made Medina’s quest that much harder, but kept his own requalification hopes alive. No chance of a thrown a heat in that match up. Medina will now meet Dusty Payne in a highly-anticipated round two heat. Payne will have the vocal support of the Volcom house and all of Hawaii, both camps hoping Dusty can eliminate John John’s main rival for the title.
By his own admission, outside title contender, Jordy Smith probably had the best Pipe heat of his life. “As far as points go anyway,” he told Tracks after his classy victory over Bede Durbidge and a disappointing Ethan Ewing, with a heat-total of 16.57. Drawing attention to how tough the judges are on barrels at Pipe, Jordy commented. “To get those big scores it’s got to be almost not makeable.”
Post heat, it was apparent just how chilled out Jordy was about the whole world title situation. It seemed he was liberated by his own long-shot odds, a mindset which makes him much more dangerous. Even if he is ruled out of contention by the certitude of arithmetic, he has the potential to spoil someone else’s party. “I’m probably the most relaxed I’ve been all year. I’ve really come to terms with what the situation is and to be honest it’s really black and white for me, I’ve just got to win and those guys have to bomb out pretty early.”
If Jordy was enjoying the ride, Julian Wilson was channeling anger in his entertaining but fatally flawed performance. After being in command of the heat from the outset Julian’s blatant interference on Stu Kennedy made progression a near impossibility. Fueled by his disappointment and perhaps his disdain for Kennedy, Wilson went into freesurf mode, launching two huge rotations at the end of backdoor barrel rides. Given he had been stripped of a wave, the leaps were futile, but certainly crowd-pleasing. The second rotation proved an important point for other competitors. By awarding Julian an eight after he backed up a mid-range barrel with a monster punt, the judges were making it clear that there was definitely room for more than just tubes in their criteria.
After the aerial hi-jinx, Jules added another dose of drama by nearly riding right over Stu Kennedy as they came in. There was definitely some malice and old-fashioned niggle in the act; some part of Julian obviously feeling that Stu had somehow tricked him into an interference. On the beach, Julian was met by his brother Bart, who immediately asked if the interference was the result of a mistake by Julian or a snake by Stu. Julian winced and scrunched his face as if to imply it was a moot point. The result was undesirable, but the incident may have been just what Julian needs to ignite his passion. Does he look like he has the form to win Pipe again? – Most definitely. The rest is out of his hands.
All round it was an engrossing morning of surfing, but one thing seemed certain – John John may not have posted the highest heat total but that was largely a result of depreciating conditions. If he retains his current rhythm he will be unstoppable.