Today, in 4-6-foot Pipeline, after seven years of only three different Volcom Pipe Pro winners, our big question was finally answered. Would this year reveal a new champion?
It did, indeed. 21-year-old Australian, Soli Bailey, joined the very exclusive club of Volcom Pipe Pro winners that includes only John John Florence, Kelly Slater and Jamie O'Brien.
And while Bailey was featured in our recent QS watch list for 2017 even we never would have guessed he'd run the table at Pipe. But that's just what Bailey did, winning every single heat he surfed in, and playing a starring role in some of Thursday's unexpected upsets, of which there were many.
Round Four featured a series of painful losses by local North Shore standouts like Nathan Florence, Mason Ho, Koa Rothman and Makuakai Rothman. Up until that point each of these guys looked like they were headed to the Final, possibly to their very first win.
In the Quarters favored young gun, Seth Moniz, was knocked out as well. It was a heat which certainly perplexed his peers watching from the team house balconies, as five days earlier, Seth had taken out both Bruce Irons and Kelly Slater, a statement surely proclaiming his aim to take it all the way this year.
But it was about this time when the overlooked threats like Soli Bailey, Argentinian Leandro Usuna and Brazilian David do Carmo were hitting their strides.
Completely dominating his heat with a sturdy mix of Backdoor tubes and man-hacks, Soli spelled out his motivation for the event.
"I'm stoked to get a few heat wins and move forward this year to get closer to what I wanna be: Which is on the Tour," said Bailey. "I'm just taking waves that I think look good and going from there."
The conditions, however, weren't making for classic Pipe or even Backdoor barrel-fests. On the contrary, most, like John John Florence in the Quarters, were turning their ways through heats, with an odd tube here or there.
"It's definitely really hard right now," said Florence about the surf. "You've got a current ripping through it and the north wind ripping through it too, making the bumps even gnarlier. Going out there I had barrels on my mind, but then I realized I wasn't going to find that in the heat, so I switched the mindset to turns."
It was in the Semifinals where the real shake-up happened that perhaps nobody saw coming.
While in rounds prior, Florence was skating through heats with his patented Pipe expertise, he couldn't quite find his lead in the Semis, hanging onto the 2nd place spot for dear life. Although Soli secured the top spot in the heat, a buzzer-beater set rolled through in the dying seconds. While Usuna bagged the first one, Griffin Colapinto caught the second wave which produced a gorgeous Backdoor barrel, earning Colapinto a 7.37, catapulting him to 2nd past Florence and Usuna and into his first Final.
"I think to win a World Title, you have to be as good as you can be out here at Pipe, said Soli after his heat headed into the Final. "So I'll take all the practice I can get."
Although Bruce Irons and Adriano de Souza both advanced during the Semifinals, they seemed to be surfing in two different heats as their styles were so distinctly opposed. While de Souza stroked into eight different waves, attacking rights with gut-dropping carves and wraps, Bruce patiently waited for two beautiful Backdoor growers, a strategy that was working brilliantly for his laid back style.
And then of course came the Final. Two past Pipe Masters, Irons and de Souza, paired with two young first time Volcom Pipe Pro finalists.
While Irons and Colapinto pulled into their share of Backdoor teepees, they couldn't quite find one that didn't clamp on them.
The surf was indeed difficult, peaky and hard to read, but it was Soli Bailey constantly fending off a vicious De Souza who paddle-battled Bailey for priority and ripped into the windy Backdoor runners with all his might.
After a solid little Backdoor tube (followed by a leash-snapping cleanup set), Bailey found his backup score with a lovely double-barrel-to-section hit earning him the highest score of the heat at 7.33. Maintaining his lead for the rest of the Final, de Souza couldn't find anything to answer back and the young Aussie was eventually lifted from the shoreline and carried to the podium.
Finally breaking Florence and Slater's Volcom Pipe Pro 6-year-hex, this win is humungous for Bailey. But as he said earlier in the day, ultimately, this win is getting him closer to what he wants: To be on Tour. The CT, that is. With 3,000 points in his pocket within one day, that surely isn't a bad way to start his campaign. And if the young man keeps surfing as strong as he did this event, that goal will be realized.