Mark Richards must have been freaking out in front of the screen as he watched on from his Newcastle home. Kelly Slater was riding a twin fin at Pipeline and killing it.

The twinny had been the atomic weapon that powered MR’s four consecutive world titles between 1979 and 1981, (although he preferred single fins in Hawaij) however since MR’s reign it has been rendered almost obsolete as a competitive tool. When Tracks hit MR by text he preferred to zone in on the psychological implications of Kelly’s move rather than the design features of Kelly’s ride. “Yoda just fired the first shot in screwing with his competitors heads!!!!” offered MR who knows more than a thing or two about the mind games associated with elite competition.    

It may well have been a master ploy from Kelly. When it comes to surfboards he can certainly be a little like a celebrity dressing up for the Oscars - he likes to ride something that gets them talking as he rolls down the red carpet or in this case the beach at Pipe.

However, while it might have played like a fashion statement or psyche-out tactic, no one could deny Kelly’s twin fin looked highly functional in the four to six-foot Backdoor runners. Shane Dorian and Kaipo Guerrero had good reason to gush from the commentary booth as Kelly went into twin-fin flow mode. Williams later suggested the board was shaped by Mike Woo.

Despite the absence of a centre fin to leverage off, Kelly had little trouble dropping in late to a series of nuggety, Backdoor runners. The ‘groovy’ Kelly performance included a patented carving 360 and another buttery-limbed drawn-out turn that showcased the full-rail potential of a twin fin that doesn’t snatch and pivot as quickly as a thruster.    

After the heat, Kelly acknowledged he’d been riding the same 5’6” twinny a lot on his extended Bali holiday. “I only flew in two days ago... I didn’t even look at the waves today,” he said with a hint of boast and gamesmanship. He proceeded to talk up the value of the twin fin’s stability and tipped his cap to Dane Kealoah who was a force to be reckoned with on a twin fin at Backdoor. Will he ride it again? Like MR said, it doesn’t really matter know because he already has everyone distracted and trying to guess what he will paddle out on. It’s while the magician has you looking at one thing, that the real trick is performed.

John John Florence looked ultra-comfortable back in a jersey in his Pipe backyard, calling on frothy tubes and heavyweight turns to dismantle his opponents. It was John John at Pipe sponsored by John John’s own new label Marine X. It doesn’t get any more John John than that. Typically risk-averse with his equipment, John John was back on the trusty Ghost model but suggested he has been experimenting with boards and fins. Despite the on-camera nonchalance, the two-time world champ is eager to claim the one big prize which still eludes him, a Pipe Masters Crown. It will take more than a few twinny tricks to stop him.

Italo showed he was not afraid to fly in the yellow jersey at Pipe.

John John was absent from the last world title race but he will certainly make 2021 far more difficult for incumbent world champ Italo Ferreira. Italo found himself in the water when winds were funky on a day when the North Shore breezes almost did a full 360. Tubes were scarce in Italo’s heat and not surprisingly the man with the flying-high COVID reel turned to the skies for answers. A big, backside rotation was all Italo needed to secure a win and demonstrate he was comfortable competing as a world champ.

Jack Freestone was the standout Australian performer, posting a pair of eights ( and the day’s highest heat total) and backing up long barrels with Steezey front size carves. Jack is now based in Hawaii and the extra time in the Isalands’ heavier waves looks to have served him well. He looked extremely comfortable and perhaps 2021 will be the year when we see the former world junior champ emerge as a genuine title contender.

Meanwhile, Jack Robinson, who has some major Pipe props, burrowed his was way to a win with a polished performance. Robbo demonstrated his tube prowess by tickling the insides of Backdoor with double-arm tube stalls and on one wave threw in a heavy-duty, drop wallet for good measure. Ross Williams called him the ‘tube savant’ Kaipo made it sound like Robo (as in robot) while in Australia we just call him ‘Robbo’.

The day’s best underdog performance went to Josh Moniz who maintained his imperious form in the trials to bypass two former world champs, Gabriel Medina and Adriano De Souza, in a single heat. Having nothing to lose in front of a home crowd is a good position for Josh to be in and right now no one wants to draw a Hawaiian, wildcard natural footer who is running hot.

It was gratifying to see the world’s best men back in the water for the main event of a CT ( even if the waves were far better for the trials).  Not since the 2019 Pipe Masters have we been treated to their presence on our screens. Perhaps there are a couple of contenders lugging a few extra COVID kg’s but it’s possible that an extended break has enabled performance levels to lift for those who worked on equipment and figured out the kinks in their surfing. Ethan Ewing is one who has been training zealously for his second shot at CT life. Ewing had a tough heat against Caio Ibelli and Jeremy Flores and will now have to progress via the elimination round. We know he has the dragon-slayer carves but his barrel riding skills will be tested at Pipe.

Meanwhile, the women’s event is on hold while the WSL seek an alternative location to host the finals. Spooked by a shark attack nearby the contest area, the WSL, in association with the remaining surfers in the draw, decided that discretion was the best part of valor. Tyler Wright, Sally Fitzgibbons and Carissa Moore have all confirmed their spots in the semis, while a rejuvenated Sage Erickson and Tatianna Weston-Webb will surf the fourth quarter-final at a yet to be determined time and location.      

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