Kelly Slater found his way back in the winner's circle for the first time in two years with a victory at the Volcom Pipe Pro, going the distance in an epic showdown that took place in picture-perfect conditions.
"The waves were flawless," a smiling Slater said after taking the win. "That was what you grow up dreaming about as a kid. To win this contest is great, but we were all just surfing through heats to get some waves...They were the show."
While the Volcom Pipe Pro has an incredible seven-year history of scoring pretty solid surf, it's been a stingy event when it comes to handing out winner helmets. Heading into the final day, only Jamie O'Brien, Kelly Slater, and John John Florence have earned them, with John John being especially greedy with four.
However, at a QS3000 event in Hawaii the hidden threats are everywhere, beginning right at home with the locals, who did their usual job of nabbing the a good chunk of the spotlight.
I can't believe we get paid to do this. - Kelly Slater
Young guns Makai McNamara, Mason Ho, and Eala Stewart all put on remarkable displays, representing Hawaii's next generation well. But they also inflicted some damage on their local legends. Florence and Dusty Payne both fell victim to McNamara. And while O'Brien and a rejuvenated Bruce Irons advanced to the Finals using their patented brand of Pipe performing, they dodged bullets along the way.
It should be noted that Florence was putting on his usual Pipe clinic right up until his Quarterfinal loss.
Meanwhile, McNamara's most impressive feat came in the Semis. After getting called for an interference he patiently waited out the back for a bomb, knowing he'd need a 10 to advance. Remarkably, he found one of the biggest bombs of the day and made an impossible drop before pulling into a massive cavern. He came out with arms defiantly raised, knowing he got the score he needed to advance.
Of course, there were the outside threats, too, led by a crew of Australians that included Jack Robinson, Tom Whitaker and Soli Bailey, who all delivered impressive performances. Whitaker bested the bunch with a Semifinal finish.
Then there were surprise packages, none bigger than Marco Giorgi of Uruguay. Giorgi has been competing on the QS for years, but Tuesday was arguably his coming out party: He sent Robinson, Koa Smith, and Kai Barger up to the viewing balcony.
Ultimately, Giorgi's incredible run ended at the hands of Irons and Slater in the Semifinals, but his name is now certainly on the radar.
The Finals were almost what you'd have predicted on paper, with Slater, O'Brien and Irons all in the mix. For Irons, his return to the Finals is another sign that his healing process is reaching a healthy phase. For the first time since losing his brother five years ago, Bruce looked like Bruce, and the fans loved it.
McNamara, meanwhile, was enjoying his biggest coming out party to date. He had a legitimate shot at forcing an upset after nabbing an 8.67 in the Final. But the 20-year-old, who wasn't even alive when Kelly won his first Pipe Masters, couldn't manage to find a backup wave.
Slater was his usual Slater-self at Pipe, bending into all kinds of yoga positions while threading both the lefts and rights. By taking the win, he secured his 10th career victory at Pipeline which now includes seven Pipe Masters, two Volcom Pipe Pros, and one Da Hui Backdoor Shootout.
On the victory stand, Slater put the whole day in perspective. "It was unbelievable. I can't believe we get paid to do this."