After a few days of devilish onshore winds and large northeast swell, the ever-critical Round Two heats popped off Sunday in playful 3-4-foot, glassy Backdoor Pipeline.
Not that Round Two is ever a walk in the park, but being the season's very last CT Round Two of the year, there were a few heats going down that could make or break respective surfers' careers. Specifically, Heats 11 and 12 where both Nat Young and Keanu Asing fought tooth and nail to requalify for next year's Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour.
Another presently delicious storyline is how the Billabong Pipe Masters is the last event for the tight Rookie of the Year race going down among Caio Ibelli, Stu Kennedy and Conner Coffin.
But enough setup, let's get into this drama, shall we?
For one, all four wildcards and Pipe trialist winners in Round Two -- Bruce Irons, Frederico Morais, Finn McGill and Gavin Beschen -- got straight-up dismantled by their CT opponents.
"It was a bummer, because I was actually his biggest fan," said Andino after beating Beschen, the Pipe Invitational runner-up. "I mean, I grew up drawing on his boards as a small kid; he's like an uncle to me."
Shortly after those few matchups, in Heat 9 Conner Coffin and Jack Freestone had a certified rookie-brawl with Coffin getting the better of Freestone, finding a few deep Backdoor tubes and finishing them off with monstrous man-turns that'd make Macho Man Randy Savage flinch in his day.
As Caio Ibelli and Stu Kennedy both fell in their Round Two heats, the win put Coffin a little closer to winning the prestigious Rookie of the Year award for the 2016 season.
The main event heats of Round Two, however, were heats 11 and 12, where Nat Young battled Jadson Andre for Young's 2017 CT requalification and Keanu Asing battled Kanoa Igarashi for his.
Under pressure and surfing the notoriously tricky righthander on his backhand, Young stepped up to the plate and truly excelled. He bagged back-to-back backside tubes with impeccable positioning and form, advancing past Andre to Round Three, and in the process, he further secured a spot on tour for next year.
Keanu Asing, however, was not as lucky and couldn't find his rhythm against Kanoa Igarashi. To lock the win, Igarashi found a sneaky double-barrel in the last minute of the heat, both bouncing Asing completely off the Championship Tour, while giving his friend Ezekiel Lau (No. 11 on the QS) even more hope for a last-minute qualification, depending on Igarashi's next couple of heats.
In Round Three Kolohe Andino, who is ranked No. 5 on the CT, continued his tear for the day and knocked out Kai Otton in the process. Not only did he end Otton's run at the Pipe Masters, but he also knocked the veteran Aussie surfer off the tour for 2017, as well.
A few heats later, John John Florence got matched up with his own coach, Bede Durbidge. The Australian tour vet, who's been on the sidelines most of 2016 with an injury, was part of the reason that Florence won his first World Title this year. Still, Bede's star student showed him no mercy. Florence, desperately wanting his very first Pipe Masters win, breezed by his sensei.
"Bede's such a legend and such a good guy, so it's amazing to see him back out in the water again," Florence of their matchup. "But I still took this like a normal heat because I want to do well and advance in this event."
Florence's advancement also brings him even closer to winning this year's Vans Triple Crown of Surfing.
In a pivotal Heat 10, shortly after Nat Young defeated Adriano de Souza in the heat prior, Kanoa Igarashi fended off former Pipe Masters champion Julian Wilson. While Igarashi's win helps him move closer to double-qualifying (and helps Ezekiel Lau get closer to qualifying, as well), if Young keeps making heats, it won't matter for Lau.
Thus, as it stands, if Young falls in Round Five, Igarashi would still need a semifinal finish to bump Lau into qualification. A tall order, indeed, but so was beating Wilson.
Lastly, while Conner Coffin was looking in form and ferocious against Freestone earlier in the day, in his Round Three heat Kelly Slater was looking far more active and hungry, combo-ing Coffin halfway through before Slater locked the win.
This officially puts Coffin out of contention for 2016 Rookie of the Year, an award which will go to Caio Ibelli.
Tune in Monday at 7:30 a.m. HST for the next call and potential round of action at the Billabong Pipe Masters.