Gabriel Medina and Julian Wilson are already in danger at the Billabong Pipe Masters. The two World Title contenders are now facing dangerous threats in the form of wildcards Dusty Payne and Benji Brand in Round Two. Should Medina and Wilson survive, they're hardly on easy street. This is Pipeline. It's a wave that takes years to get comfortable at and decades to master, and spoilers are around every corner.
These four surfers have done just that, and have all got what it takes to go all the way. They may be well out of the race, heck, even outside the top 15, but none of the World Title hopefuls will want to face them.
"If I do well here I could be involved in the World Title race in some small way and I hope I am," Kelly said after his Round One win in the Pipe Masters. "But if I get there they'd better be ready, 'cause I want that trophy."
Kelly isn't so much a spoiler lurking in the field, as a high-powered land mine just waiting to explode the World Title race into smithereens. Kelly has won an incredible seven Pipe Masters titles, a dominance that no other surfer has achieved in any other event on the CT. Simply put, he is the greatest Pipe surfer of all time.
Kelly returned to the event yesterday after a five-month lay off following a broken foot sustained at J-Bay. By his own admittance his hoof is only 65 percent recovered and he's surfed just a handful of times since the injury. Yet, as his Round One form showed even when he is not operating at full capacity his knowledge of the lineup, history of success and incredible tuberiding ability make him incredibly dangerous.
The Polynesian roots of Michel Bourez helps make Hawaii almost like a second home and few in the field have had as much success on Oahu as the Tahitian. He is one of only a couple of surfers in history to win Triple Crown events at Haleiwa, Sunset and Pipeline and, of course, is the defending Pipe Masters Champion. However, 2017 has been an inconsistent year for the Spartan and he goes into the event as the World No. 16.
In some ways, though, that makes him even more dangerous. There is neither World Title nor Championship Tour requalification pressure and he will simply go into each heat trying to pack the biggest barrels he can find. No opponent, World Title contender or otherwise (such as John John Florence, who he beat last year), will hold any fear for Michel as he vies to be the first man to defend a Pipe Masters since Andy Irons in 2006.
If we look at the Average Heat Scores at the Billabong Pipe Masters for competitors who have surfed in the last three years, it's no surprise that Jeremy Flores comes in fourth, behind Florence, Slater and Medina. For when it's big, powerful and barreling, that is exactly the company that the Frenchman keeps.
His two CT wins have come at Teahupo'o and Pipeline and the 29-year-old has now logged 15 consecutive Oahu winters. Currently the World No. 19 his CT place for 2018 is in no way secure which only adds even more incentive to his pedigree at Pipeline. When we kicked off yesterday it was fitting that it was Flores who made it out of the first serious Backdoor pit of the event. Expect him to keep continuing to do that deep into the competition.
"I've wanted to win the Billabong Pipe Masters for ever and having come so close in the past, it would be the perfect way to go out. It would be a dream come true." That was Josh Kerr after negotiating his Round One Heat with another competent display of frontside and backside tuberiding.
It was back in 2012 that Kerr played a pivotal role in the World Title race. His defeat of Kelly Slater in their Quarterfinal made it possible for Joel Parkinson to go on to claim his Title. What was perhaps forgotten in the high drama of that day was that Josh Kerr had been hospitalized with suspected nerve damaged to his neck, but returned to storm to the Final.
With this being his final CT event, the dream now is to do one better than 2012. Beating a World Title contender on the way to achieve that dream won't phase him in the least.