Finn McGill has been turning heads all season on the North Shore. The 16-year-old Oahu native has been making headlines at every event this season, starting with a Finals appearance at the HIC Pro at Sunset Beach. On Monday he made put the finishing touches on his breakout season with a win at the Pipeline Invitational, the most competitive trials event on the entire Tour.
After four lovely lay days of fun but not-quite-contestable surf at Pipeline, the Invitational kicked off this morning in 3-4 foot Backdoor growers and Banzai Pipeline corners. Requiring nearly a whole day to run the stacked heats of 32 men, the Pipe Invitational acts as the devilishly difficult trials to make it into the 2016 Billabong Pipe Masters.
Also, if you still don't quite get how those 32 men even got into the Pipe Invitational, it goes something like this (there are five ways in):
1) The top 16 Hawaii surfers from the event results of the 2016 Volcom Pipe Pro. 2) The top four Hawaiian surfers next in line from rankings of the International QS year-end rankings. 3) The top five Hawaiian surfers next in line in the regional (Hawaii) year end rankings. 4) A WSL commissioner's spot, one spot used this year and awarded to Reef McIntosh. 5) Sponsor wildcards, (six spots, four to Billabong and two to Vans).
Thus, the 32 contestants fit into one of those categories. And then only the top two finalists in the entire event get spots in the Billabong Pipe Masters. But back to the Invitational...
Round One began more with a whimper than a bang with low heat scores as the swell filled in and conditions cleaned up. But clean up they did and by Heat 2, last year's Pipe Invitational winner, Jack Robinson, showed his true colors, flipping on his West Oz tube-sense, weaving through Backdoor gems.
In the Round One heat that followed, quiet killer Gavin Beschen found the morning's first real lefthander on the Pipe side of the peak, pig-dogging his way to a sturdy 6.83. He advanced with the young Brazilian, Victor Bernardo.
In Heat 5, 2004 Pipe Masters champion and event favorite Jamie O'Brien skated through with a win despite the heat being a little inconsistent, while Mikey Bruneau got a nasty interference call when he dropped in on Kaito Kino in the dying seconds. The mistake dropped Bruneau to third, launching Zeke Lau into second place to advance.
"It's a dream come true every year I get to surf the event," said O'Brien after his heat. "I really want to make the Final. If you're not in the Final or top two, you're not cutting it out here."
By the last heat of Round One, the North Shore's Finn McGill had clearly started his campaign in earnest, putting on a Backdoor clinic with Seth Moniz. The two young local boys duked it out, with Moniz getting the better of McGill. Still, both surfers advanced.
Out of the four battles in the Quarterfinals, Jack Robinson had the most spectacular one with a whopping 17.33 heat score total. Transforming into an absolute wave magnet, Robinson weaved through tricky, shallow Backdoor tubes with flawless technique and casual flare.
"It's a really tough field and just gnarly surfing against all the locals," said Robinson after the win. "They definitely don't lay down. In the whole trials, any one of them can beat a CT surfer."
In Heat 3 of the Quarters, Jamie O'Brien's Pipe Masters dreams were shattered by an in-form Josh Moniz who stayed active, collecting Backdoor scalp after scalp. McGill squeezed through the heat behind Moniz, catching only one wave with a score (6.33) strong enough to push him through.
Then, in a shocking turn of events during the Semifinals, a seemingly unstoppable Jack Robinson lost his steam and couldn't find a score higher than 3.8. Gavin Beschen and Victor Bernardo clinched the heat -- and with it, they earned the next two spots in the Final.
In the second Semifinal heat, after mostly looking like the Josh Moniz and Nathan Florence Show, Finn McGill snuck into a gorgeous Backdoor tube away from the two for a solid 9.5. It was just enough to launch McGill into the Final with Moniz.
And then, of course, the Final. Miraculously, the wind never did go sour and the increasing swell created a lot more activity for proper Pipeline. McGill got busy early, looking cool and confident, nabbing lefts and rights behind the peak, surfing with a maturity and wisdom well beyond his 16 years.
While Bernardo and Moniz couldn't quite tune into McGill's frequencies, Beschen found a couple that slid him into that coveted second-place spot. McGill simply continued his tear with an epic Pipeline set that spit its guts out, earning him an 8.6 and the win along with it.
As his friends carried him up the sand to the podium, McGill jokingly shouted for them to "throw me in the tidepool." Mercifully, they didn't.
Stay tuned for Round One of the Billabong Pipe Masters where Finn McGill faces Jordy Smith and Keanu Asing in Heat 4, while Gavin Beschen battles John John Florence and Jadson Andre in Heat 6.