John John and Medina keep playing those mind games.
It’s December 7 in Hawaii, the day that commemorates the bombing of Pearl Harbour and the intervention of the USA into the Second World War.
At Pipe this morning there were different kinds of bombs detonating, although if you were in the wrong spot they could be just as destructive.
As lumpy, 6-10 ft pyramids crisscrossed the lineup, the war was being fought on many fronts. There was the world title battle for psychological advantage. All the contenders – John John, Gabriel Medina, Julian Wilson and Jordy Smith – made their presence felt in the Pipe parade.
Not surprisingly it was John John who won the mind games. After claiming top slot in the ‘Surfer Poll’ awards last night John was out early, showing no signs of over-zealous celebration. He knows the real prize is still in the wind and seems hungry to claim it before an adoring home crowd. Come mid-morning John paddled out for his second dig and within five minutes of entering the water, soul-arched through the best wave of the am shift. The Backdoor, stand-up tunnel had the beach crowd dropping their Acai bowls in the sand and sent an ominous message to the other title players. Meanwhile, Medina stuck mostly to the lefts, spearing through a few front-side holes, but nothing on the scale of John John’s Backdoor howler.
Alongside the heavily scrutinized title machinations there was also the perpetual Banzai battle for the best wave, the best shot and props from the team house galleries – the unofficial judges at Pipe.
If you got a good one the Volcom boys certainly let you know. The most distinguished accolade you could earn was a high five as you walked up the beach and with it confirmation that you had been victorious in the hardest lineup in the world.
Amongst the other free surfers, Leo Fioravanti was a stand-out. The flamboyant Italian is looking for an Instagram Oscar after playing a faux James Bond in a Quiksilver-inspired parody of the famous film series. Leo will need every bit of 007’s cunning and guile, along with all his tricks, if he is to surf his way into the re-qualification zone. The semi-final finish he requires will be the best of his career if he can pull it off.
On the other side of the qualification spectrum, South Africa’s rubber-limbed CT hopeful, Michael February, was still on the scene. Quizzed about what has to happen for him to make the grade, the smooth-spoken February shook his head and said, “All kinds of scenarios.”
The battle for young, Aussie grommets like Lennox Chell and Xavier Huxtable was just to paddle out and experience a genuine Pipe day close up. “It was just good to be out there,” enthused a still-dripping Lennox.
There was also the battle to get the scaffolding up and the contest site finished in time for the scheduled opening of the window tomorrow, and the battle to beat the hangover for those who had downed one too many Mai Tais at last night’s Surfer Poll awards.
According to Matt Wilkinson the waves at Pipe, while not perfect, were the best they have been in the last three weeks. In a season characterized by messy swells and strong winds, it seems like the conditions are improving at the optimal time. “Still a little too North and a little too much sand on the reef,” commented a member of the on-site construction gang, who spoke with the authority of one who’d studied the Pipe lineup his entire life. Still, we may see the trials run tomorrow. The waves should taper through Saturday (Sunday in Aus), with another beastly swell forecast to rumble through on Sunday.
There are going to be no shortage of bombs dropped at Pipe during the contest window, the hard part for the WCT will be deciding when conditions are right to send their surfers into battle. Hopefully the only casualties will be title contenders.