There were six contenders for the 2015 WSL Championship Tour title before the Billabong Pipe Masters got underway. Now there are only three; Mick Fanning (AUS), Adriano de Souza (BRA) and reigning world champ, Gabriel Medina (BRA), after the completion of Rounds 3, 4 and most of 5 in heavy, barrelling conditions on Wednesday, 16 December.
There was no stopping Mick Fanning, not today!
With a world title on the line it’s important for the contenders to remain focussed, and three-time world champ, Mick, faced another true test of his resolve after he learned overnight that his brother, Peter, had passed away. The morning did not start well for fellow Australian, Bede Durbidge, either.
While Mick studied the lineup with the same stoney-faced focus we saw before every important heat at the J-Bay Open this year, Bede took a heavy fall on his first wave in his match-up with Keanu Asing (HAW). He surfaced after the wipeout and was quickly returned to the beach by the water safety crew for treatment. A pelvis fractured in two places was the heavy price of Bede’s wipeout.
Bede was fortunate to escape further injury after taking a heavy fall in Round 3.
Gabriel Medina was the first title contender to test the waters in Round 3. He paddled out to face Jordy Smith in Heat 1, into a rough lineup that looked to be suffering from some morning sickness. Just as the sun rose a little higher and appeared to clean up the conditions, Gabriel took control of the heat with a sequence of well-surfed tubes. With the Backdoor not offering many options at that point, Jordy found it hard to match his goofyfoot opponent going left, and the Brazilian advanced easily to take a step ahead of his fellow contenders into Round 4.
After Kelly Slater (USA) showed that the Backdoor was open for business in Heat 3 with an incredible 9,50-scoring right, Mick continued his charge for the title with an excellent-scoring forehand pit of his own. This put Mick in the driver’s seat in his heat against the highly-fancied wildcard Jamie O’Brien (HAW). Mick kept his foot on the gas and backed-up his opening score with a smaller but clean barrel going left, while Jamie waited for his opening ride. Being in a combination situation with time winding down doubles the pressure. Instead of one perfect ride, you now need one plus another wave too. That pressure was too much for Jamie, and Mick joined Gabriel in the next Round.
Gabriel Medina looked determined to clinch back-to-back world titles.
John John Florence (HAW) then put on a great display of his tube-riding ability to win his Round 3 match-up with Taj Burrow (AUS), before Felipe Toledo (BRA) was due to face Mason Ho (HAW) with the world title on the line. If Felipe went on to win the heat and the world title as well, he would have been the youngest surfer ever to clinch the title, beating the record set by Kelly Slater himself. That would have been quite a statement. Instead he bowed out in a low-scoring match-up, but was gracious in defeat and admitted to Rosy Hodge in his post heat interview that he is determined to come back stronger next year by improving his surfing in heavy conditions.
Julian Wilson (AUS) was another title contender to fall out of the race in Round 3, when he lost narrowly to compatriot Adam Melling in Heat 10. In the last match-up of the Round, Adriano de Souza then beat Glen Hall (AUS) in a low-scoring heat to keep himself in title contention.
Adriano de Souza is the dark horse to clinch this year’s world title.
There was no threat of falling out of the title race in Round 4, but it did give contenders a chance to advance directly to the quarter finals. Gabriel Medina took his in comfortable style in Heat 1, before Mick faced two of the best Pipe surfers ever in what was being billed as a ‘Super Heat’. John John Florence and Kelly Slater made it a real challenge for Mick, but the Australian showed how much he wants his fourth world title by joining Gabriel in the quarter finals. Adriano de Souza made it a hat-trick of wins for the title contenders when he advanced directly to the last eight by beating Josh Kerr (AUS) and Adam Melling in Heat 4.
Three heats of Round 5 were also surfed before competition was closed for the day. Surfing in his final event before he retires, CJ Hobgood pulled off a huge win against John John Florence in Heat 1. Will his career end with a Pipe Masters victory? That will be epic! Kelly Slater then showed why he is a seven-time Pipeline Master against Keanu Asing to advance to the quarter finals from Heat 2, before Adam Melling beat Joel Parkinson (AUS) in a low-scoring final heat of the day. Only Round 5 Heat 4 between Josh Kerr and Jeremy Flores (FRA) remains before the final eight surfers left in the event can be confirmed.
CJ Hobgood could end his career on a high (and Gabriel’s title chances) with a win in the quarter finals.
Gabriel Medina will face CJ Hobgood with the title on the line, while Mick Fanning will have to beat Kelly Slater to clinch his fourth world title. Adriano de Souza, meanwhile, will face either Josh or Jeremy depending on who takes out that Round 5 match-up.