It's hard to believe that the Volcom Pipe Pro is nearly a decade old. Over the course of its relatively short history, it's already created a great legacy. Due in large part to the efforts of the Volcom event production and behind-the-scenes crew, the VPP has gained a reputation as a surfers' event. It's as hard core as they come, yet still runs with the smooth efficiency of a top-shelf enterprise. That creates an environment which builds trust and loyalty from the surfers and is reflected in their performances. When you get down to the nitty gritty, everyone charges out at Pipeline and the show is better for it.
First things first: In the eight-year history of the Volcom Pipe Pro, there have only been four winners -- John John Florence (4), Kelly Slater (2), Jamie O'Brien (1), Soli Bailey (1). After narrowly missing out on his first Pipe Masters title back in December, you can bet Florence is looking to add another trophy from Pipe to his cache of VPP Warrior helmets. "I always really enjoy this event, it's here at home at my favorite wave, and that makes it such a great start to the year for me," he said. "The surf has been really good, historically. too. I think that's what I'm looking forward to most -- the chance to surf Pipe on a good day, with just a few other guys out. It's definitely a fun event, and hopefully I'll get to the Final with my brother and a couple of my friends." With Slater and O'Brien not currently listed as part of the draw (they could still potentially nab one of three remaining Volcom wildcard spots) and the event entering its ninth year, will a new name be added to the winner's list? The odds say yes, but are you gonna bet against John John?
With the newly expanded draw, event organizers added a fourth day of competition to the traditionally three-day event, with an event window of 13 days in which heats could run. Now that the north Pacific has finally cranked into gear, the North Shore's winter season has begun in earnest. More swell and more surf leads to more cobalt-blue, early morning tubes, more epic late drops and more brutal beat-downs, the likes of which the Qualifying Series rarely encounters. Lest we forget how serious a pulsating session at Pipeline can be, we must only point to 2017 Pipe Invitational winner and veteran VPP competitor (and Volcom team rider) Dusty Payne's recent horrific wipeout to illustrate Pipe's wrath. More on that here. Thankfully, it's looking like Payne fully recover, but it's a painful reminder that the wave is a double black diamond and still one of the most dangerous surf spots in the world.
Due to overwhelming demand for entries into the draw, Volcom and the WSL have expanded the list of competitors from 112 to 144 this year, nearly half of whom are locals. That's a huge contingency of Pipe specialists looking to snatch victory from the QS grinders, not to mention the added incentive of a bucket load of cash ($75,000 in total prize money) and bragging rights on the beach and in the lineup. The roll call is impressive: the list has everything from two-time World Champions to living legends to future world champs and everyone in between. Even a cursory glance down the event draw reveals an eclectic mix -- CT surfers like Sebastian Zietz, Conner Coffin, Ezekiel Lau and Joan Duru, to Hawaiian stars like Billy Kemper, Kai Lenny, Koa Rothman and the Moniz brothers (Josh and Seth), and the ever-present crew of hungry up-and-comers from the island.
The North Shore, in particular, has a hot batch of young rippers ready to do some serious damage, including Finn McGill and Barron Mamiya. Both surfers are just 17, and have each already won at Pipe -- McGill won the 2016 Pipe Invitational and Mamiya won the 2017 Pipe Pro Junior last April. "Most of the guys competing have way more experience than me out at Pipe, I just hope to catch some fun waves and make a couple heats," said a humble McGill, who grew up just a short bike ride away.
The event window runs from Jan 29 - Feb 10, with the morning call daily at 7:30 a.m. HST. Watch live on worldsurfleague.com, the WSL app, and at volcom.com/pipepro. In Hawaii, locals can check out live and replay broadcasts on Spectrum SURF Channel on digital channels 250 SD and 1250 HD.