Mick Fanning creates his own momentum when it comes to title races. Since landing in Hawaii a few weeks back he has donated boards for fundraisers, taken on Waimea, spent time with the kids at the Mauli Ola Foundation and helped rescue Evan Geiselman from drowning. In between all that he’s been putting in plenty of time at Pipe and Backdoor, easily identifiable by his trademark black and blue-sprayed quiver.

He faced Hawaiians Bruce Irons and Sebastian Ziets in round one, snatching victory from Irons by a margin of 0.33. Aside from Gabe, Mick was the only other title contender who managed to leapfrog round two after de Souza, Toledo and Jules Wilson were rolled into the danger round.

Fanning told Tracks that facing Irons in an event that means so much to him was tough, but there was no love lost between the good mates.

“We both know that we want to do our best but there’s no love lost at the end of the day. I love Bruce he’s been a great friend for a long time and I’m just super stoked to see him surfing so good. I knew it was going to be a really tough one but he’s going to bounce back.”

Kai Otton thought he was surfing a South Coast bombie when he shot through a Pipeline cave like a cannon and did enough to secure a berth in round three.

“That thing was pretty round. I braced myself for the good part of it. It’s pretty wild, wooly and bumpy conditions so you don’t want to get too cocky and stand tall. I learnt a lesson there a few years ago when I needed to get through a heat and it was pretty crucial and I stood tall. So no it’s army stance out there.”

Tour veteran CJ Hobgood did one better in the next round. CJ’s perfect 10 was scripted straight out of a sporting fairy-tale as he took down Kelly and Taj in 8-10 foot aquamarine Pipe lefts by stroking into what looked like a Hail Mary closeout. He swooped under a cascading lip and the catlike reflexes that have earned him a reputation as one of the best barrel riders in the world kicked in as he negotiated the gurgling bowl. He emerged on a cushion of white water and drew the loudest ovation from the crowd all day.

“Maybe I should retire now on that perfect 10 like Freddy,” said a bright eyed and bushy tailed Hobgood as he entered the media pit. CJ told Tracks he was looking forward to moving on after a life spent in the professional surfing arena and was conscious of giving an opportunity to the next generation of surfing stars.

“I’m thankful and excited that this chapter in my life is going to end. There might be conditions where I’m doing alright … but for the most part I’m holding back surfing in the competitive arena with my jersey on. I’m one hundred per cent not pushing the sport forward. Those are reasons why I’m excited to move on to the next chapter because there are kids who are going to push the sport and I need to step aside.”

“I would love to have an impact in the sport but it’s obviously going to be behind the scenes. It’s going to be a very different role. I’m really thankful to have a job and I want to start from the bottom and go to work with Salty Crew. My purpose is that I want to come back in three-to-five years and I want to have done something where I can sponsor a surfer, not only financially but even spiritually with the things that they’re going through.”

This afternoon Irons arrived early to his round two clash with Filipe Toledo. As the wind ruffled the textured Pipe lips and the rip played havoc with the lineup, WSL Commissioner Kieren Perrow and Vans Triple Crown Surfing Director, Marty Thomas put the heat on standby. Rocking a tribute A.I board, Bruce paddled out anyway, waiting for his combatant to show. Forty-five minutes later the event was officially called off for the day. Did WSL give Toledo a leave pass because he’s a title contender? It wasn’t clear.

Adriano de Souza and Filipe Toledo’s world title destinies hinge on a showdown with two of the event’s biggest drawcards. All eyes will be on their heats tomorrow when they match up with barrel specialists, Jack Robinson and Bruce Irons respectively. Should they fall all eyes will be on Mick and Gabriel – just as there were in 2014.

All photos: Joli

BILLABONG PIPE MASTERS ROUND 1 RESULTS:

Heat 1: Italo Ferreira (BRA) 14.26, Adrian Buchan (AUS) 9.33, Glenn Hall (IRL) 1.70

Heat 2: Mason Ho (HAW) 6.17, Jadson Andre (BRA) 5.70, Dusty Payne (HAW) 1.70

Heat 3: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 12.60, Keanu Asing (HAW) 7.84, Wade Carmichael (AUS) 3.73

Heat 4: Michel Bourez (PYF) 9.33, Adriano De Souza (BRA) 7.23, Jack Robinson (AUS) 5.06

Heat 5: Jamie O’Brien (HAW) 8.06, Filipe Toledo (BRA) 7.84, Kolohe Andino (USA) 6.50

Heat 6: Mick Fanning (AUS) 14.60, Bruce Irons (HAW) 14.33, Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 4.37

Heat 7: Kai Otton (AUS) 12.40, Julian Wilson (AUS) 3.84, Ricardo Christie (NZL) 3.10

Heat 8: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 11.27, Jordy Smith (ZAF) 7.17, Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 3.94

Heat 9: CJ Hobgood (USA) 14.97, Taj Burrow (AUS) 11.26, Kelly Slater (USA) 9.80

Heat 10: John John Florence (HAW) 13.33, Nat Young (USA) 6.67, Brett Simpson (USA) 1.50

Heat 11: Bede Durbidge (AUS) 2.84, Adam Melling (AUS) 1.14, Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) 1.10

Heat 12: Josh Kerr (AUS) 13.06, Joel Parkinson (AUS) 8.17, Miguel Pupo (BRA) 3.44

UPCOMING BILLABONG PIPE MASTERS ROUND 2 MATCH-UPS:

Heat 1: Filipe Toledo (BRA) vs. Bruce Irons (HAW)

Heat 2: Taj Burrow (AUS) vs. Brett Simpson (USA)

Heat 3: Adriano De Souza (BRA) vs. Jack Robinson (AUS)

Heat 4: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) vs. Adam Melling (AUS)

Heat 5:  Julian Wilson (AUS) vs. Wade Carmichael (AUS)

Heat 6: Adrian Buchan (AUS) vs. Miguel Pupo (BRA)

Heat 7: Kelly Slater (USA) vs. Dusty Payne (HAW)

Heat 8: Jadson Andre (BRA) vs. Sebastian Zietz (HAW)

Heat 9: Nat Young (USA) vs. Glenn Hall (IRL)

Heat 10: Keanu Asing (HAW) vs. Kolohe Andino (USA)

Heat 11: Joel Parkinson (AUS) vs. Ricardo Christie (NZL)

Heat 12: Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) vs. Jordy Smith (ZAF)