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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pipe Masters

Round 4 - Gabriel Medina, Michel Bourez and Evan Valiere. Evan Valiere surfing.

When one of the ASP World Tour surf contests is running, I can't get any work done. Pretty much, for the entire day, my laptop is open and streaming the contest. I guess that's one of the perks of being a freelance consultant who works from home?

I love watching sports, from baseball to tennis to swimming to soccer to football (when my husband has it on TV), but I had never really thought about watching professional surfing. Maybe it's because it's not televised on a national level and I just assumed that you had to be there on the beach in order to be a spectator. Now, you can watch all these contests online and it's pretty cool.


Yesterday was the final day of the Billabong Pipe Masters held at the Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu. It is the 11th and final event of the ASP Men's World Tour and the final event of the Vans Triple Crown. Pipeline is considered by many the world's perfect wave with its picturesque barrels. But it's also one of the most dangerous waves and you definitely witnessed that during the competition this year - Josh Kerr sustained a grade one concussion, Laurie Towner dislocated his shoulder, Julian Wilson got stitches in his heel, Shane Dorian took a nasty spill and showed up in the commentary booth the next day with his right elbow bandaged up. With 6-12 foot swell, Pipeline was pumping this year, the biggest it has been in years during the Pipe Masters contest. Kelly Slater reckoned that there hasn't been a good swell like this during the contest window since 2000 when Rob Machado won the event.

There were a lot of amazing stories at Pipe this year which I'm sure many of you have already heard about but you can read more about them here and here. The two stand-outs at the event were John John Florence, the 19 year old Hawaiian who grew up surfing Pipeline, joined the tour at the mid-year rotation and won the Vans Triple Crown title (the youngest ever), and Kieren Perrow, the event winner from Australia. Keiren was on the verge of falling off the World Tour, needing to make the Quarterfinals in order to qualify for next year's tour. I'm really happy for Kieran that he won.

Needless to say, I have come to enjoy watching professional surfing. Some might say I'm obsessed. I admit that I can drive my husband crazy with my recap of each heat. However, I just say that I'm a big fan. Yes, you get to see some of the best surfers perform at top surfing locations around the world but I think I enjoy the mental aspect of the competition more, not just the mental focus it takes to charge hard and be committed but the mental tactics and strategy - wave selection, how to use priority, etc.

For example, John John Florence was on fire during the event (and the two prior events of the Vans Triple Crown - The Reef Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa and the Vans World Cup of Surfing at Sunset Beach). Afterall, this is his home break and he dropped a couple of 10s during the event. In the Quarterfinals against Kelly Slater, he committed what many consider a rookie error. With about five minutes left in the heat, he had Kelly in a combo situation, meaning that the combined total of Kelly's two highest scoring waves at the time was more than 10 points behind John John's two highest scoring waves. That meant that Kelly needed the scores from two new waves to overtake the lead. This was the second time in two days that Kelly found himself in this situation against John John. Then, Kelly somehow summoned an amazing wave and scored a 9.7. As the minutes ticked down, John John held priority. All he had to do was stick to Kelly like glue to prevent Kelly from catching any wave that could potentially get him the 7.0 score that he needed. Literally, at the last second, John John let Kelly take off on a wave. The scores didn't drop until they were already on the beach - 7.9 for Slater. He won the heat and moved on to the Semifinals.

I think that knowing what the judges are looking for has helped me to enjoy watching contests. I now know that it's not just about the length of ride or the one cool maneuver that someone pulls off. It basically boils down to this: The surfer who performs the most committed maneuver, with the most speed, power and flow, in the most critical part of the wave gets the most points. Of course there's a lot of controversy as to what this actually means in the eyes of judges and surfers but that's the judging criteria. I know that it's much more complicated than that but as a novice surfer, it helps me look at and think about surfing more critically.

You're not necessarily going to see the most innovative or daring or high performance surfing during contests. The format of the events, with their timed 30 minute heats and judging criteria, limit some of the creativity and risk that you might see in a free surf session, but isn't that how it is with all professional sports to a certain extent?

If you didn't get a chance to watch the contest, you can watch the heats on-demand here. Definitely check out the John John vs. Kelly Quarterfinal. John John's Round 2 heat against Kai Barger was pretty good too. I'm looking forward to the 2012 World Tour which commences in February on the Gold Coast of Australia as well as following the women in competition too. Here's the rest of ASP schedule for 2012.



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