North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii – The Championship Tour, as we all know, is going to Pipeline. It’s a strange old place is the Banzai Pipeline. There have been so many incidents, so much history, drama and trauma at that one surf spot.

Potential wildcards like Jamie O'brien can have a major impact on how events unfold. Photo: WSL

Steve Massfeller head butted the reef at the 1983 Pipe Masters, resulting in massive skull fractures that required a large steel plate to be inserted into his head. Malik Joyeux drowned at Pipe on the 2nd December 2005. Travis Musselman died there on 20 March 2000. Bede Durbidge broke his pelvis in 2015 at Pipe, Owen suffered a brain injury at Pipe the same year, and Leo Fioravanti broke his back surfing Pipe earlier the very same year. Yes, there are consequences far more serious than world title races, but it’s an exciting place to finish a tour, or even to start a new tour. Rio it is not.

John John is brilliant but not invincible in his backyard at Pipe.WSL/Tony Heff

When you think of the title race and Pipe, you immediately think of John John, his relationship with the wave out frontskies, and the popular notion that he’s pretty much unbeatable out there. The fact is that he actually is very beatable out there. Over the last four years of competing at Pipe he has a second and a fifth place finish as his best two results. In comparison, Gabriel Medina has two second place finishes. Jordy, who everyone thinks is not a danger at Pipe, got a fifth last year at the event, and Julian Wilson won the whole show in 2014. So it’s definitely not an event that curries any favour with Florence.

Gabriel has a pair of Pipe seconds to his name but may need to go one better if he wants the title. Photo: WSL

Gabriel, however, is a surfer who knows how to win heats at Pipe, and his two, second-place finishes reveal just that. You hardly ever see Medina suffer a big wipe-out and you hardly ever see him not make a wave. He finds the best, most makeable waves and consistently gets two high scores, enough to beat surfers and to win heats. He also has the air game for the end section that he frequently applies when the event is run off in smaller conditions. Medina is the big threat, and with his advancement to second place on the Jeep leaderboard, at Jordy’s expense, it means that he is agonizingly close to another world title. He really, really wants that crown.   

Drops like this put former Pipe Master, Julian Wilson, on another level at Pipe. Photo: WSL

Jordy cannot be discounted at Pipe. He has constantly improved and up-skilled his left barrel performances over the last few years, and his talent and technique at places like Cloudbreak and Restaurants have become phenomenal. He is also always at The Donkey/Skeleton Bay when she is kicking, pulling into those endless, mental barrels, and is probably one of the most backhand barreled surfers on the tour at this particular point in time. He has also opted to hang out and surf Pipe as much as he can prior to the event.   

Jordy Smith will need his best Pipe performance ever to be in contention for the title. Photo: WSL

Julian Wilson, as mentioned before on this website, is an anomaly wrapped up in an enigma and shrouded in mystery. He continues to give fairly cheerful but not that insightful interviews, whether he wins a heat, loses a heat, gets ripped off or misses a heat-winner set wave by seconds. It’s hard to judge his hunger, and it’s even more of a challenge to ascertain his motivations. He seems like too nice a guy, and they say that nice guys finish last, but he did become a Pipe Master in 2014, so who knows what’s going on in his internal hard-drive right now.     

Will Kelly come back and throw a curve-ball at the world title contenders? Photo: WSL

Pipe can be a terrifying, intimidating, downright petrifying, place, and that’s just trying to find a place to park your car. The waiting period For the Billabong Pipe Masters is December 8 – 20.

Before that we have the Hawaiian Pro from Nov 12- 24  

The Vans World Cup.  Nov 25 - Dec 6 

More on Pipe here