New Pipeline Champion Michel Bourez crowned at Banzai
The North Shore of Oahu breathed a deep sigh of relief when its deadliest reef was finally dealt a reliable and chargeable swell this weekend.
4-6ft glass faces took the place of last week’s storm swell and Backdoor proved a veritable playground of little barrels for the final two days of the 46th annual Pipe Masters Competition in memory of Andy Irons.
Surfing to win or surfing to survive on the Championship Tour, the class of 2016 saw dramas and heartbreaks as their rankings shuffled up and a new Pipe Master, Michel Bourez was crowned. It wasn’t classic Pipe, but isn’t Backdoor pretty when it’s small.
“This is the most prestigious event on tour,” said Bourez after the final. “Every surfer on tour, on the CT and the QS, they all want to win it.”
Kanoa Igarashi, the 19 year old from Huntington Beach California fully established himself as a dangerous enigma on the hunt for the title and was everyone’s new favourite on the beach. Having taken down Hawaii’s Keanu Asing in round 2, Igarashi knocked Jordy Smith out the quarterfinals with a carefully chosen 9.93 point first wave backed up by a barrel and floater combo worth 8.10 points.
Igarashi played the same patient waiting game against 7X Pipe Master, Kelly Slater in the semi’s, stalling deep into a pipe in the heat’s final seconds that earned him a 0.5-point lead from a delayed decision by the judges.
Within 12 minutes he was paddling back out for the final of his first Pipe Masters against 30-year-old titan, Michel Bourez. Cue a timely lull in swell and a winning wave rhythm by his Tahitian competitor. But the rookie stole the show and his runner-up position bumped his buddy Ezekiel Lau into the CT top 10 for 2017. This heat ruined any hopes American surfer, Nat Young had of returning to the CT next year, but we’ll be seeing him back on the QS after a much-needed rest.
Keanu’s fellow Californian and main contender for Rookie of the Year, Connor Coffin took on the first real round 2 brawl earlier in the competition against Jack Freestone as they hustled for the the lead on back to back waves. Coffin scraped the win after building on a narrow points lead ahead of the South African.
Only 11X World Champion, Kelly Slater stood in the way of Coffin’s Rookie title, and with 90 seconds to go Slater dealt a 9.14 requirement to the young surfer. Finding a last minute double barrel Coffin closed the wave out with a hack, but the 9.07 score wasn’t enough. Coffin lost the heat and his punt at Rookie Of The Year to Brazil’s Caio Ibelli.
Beers dropped from the sky to meet Matt Wilkinson out the water after his round three defeat to Jeremy Flores. A drone bearing the beer greeted him on the beach, which he immediately opened and drank.
We’ll say adios to CT veteran, Kai Otton from the world tour this year as his total wave score was bettered by world number 4, Kolohe Andino in round three. Otton lost his chance to re-qualify for 2017 along with the heat, and he’s officially decided to focus on family life for the foreseeable future.
New World Champion John John Florence then met his coach in heat 6 and mercilessly took Bede Durbidge down, busting some big booster airs whilst wearing his gold leader’s jersey. Having cracked his pelvis at Pipe last year, it was a meaningful return for Bede as he paddled out to face his pupil at Backdoor.
Florence came up against Bourez in heat 2 of the quarter finals and struggled to maintain a rhythm against the Tahitian, who found squeaky doggy-door exits from smaller inside barrels. Bourez played big carves and physical strength to his advantage as he surfed his way to the finals and finished 2016 with the Pipe Masters Title.
Despite the defeat at Pipeline, John John Florence closed his season with a solid collection of victories, taking his third Vans Triple Crown title for the first time as the 2016 World Champion.
“Watching the last couple of heats here was kind of nerve wracking,” said John John holding the trophy. “It was so close between me and Jordy, and Kelly being Kelly usually goes on to win things but it’s been the best year of my life, I couldn’t have done it without my mum, my brothers and my girlfriend.”
And what’s next for John John?
“I’m really excited to take a little break now and realise everything that’s happened. It’s going to be a big goal for me next year for sure, to try and win this event. Hopefully next year it’ll be big big Pipe!”
All photos: Sue Gilbert