When it came to the Billabong Pipe Masters, Gabriel Medina stole the show. His domination of Pipeline under intense pressure was a performance for the ages. Has a World Title ever been won more emphatically? Julian Wilson was also praised for his guts, technique and determination. Without him to push Medina, the spectacle would not have been raised to the epic levels it was.
However, as the results sink in and Medina's spot in the pantheon of surfing settles into its permanent place, there were other performances that are worth highlighting. With Pipeline throwing massive barrels for the event, its capacity for making and breaking reputations was even more accelerated.
As Shane Dorian said, "Pipeline can make you look like a fool. If you are in the World Title race and you come to Pipeline and you don't know what to do, it's not a good look." Jordy Smith and to a lesser extent Filipe Toledo were two surfers whose performances at the 2018 Pipe Masters added to their reputation.
On the surface, Toledo did not have much of an impact on the event. Yet his performance in Round 2 winning over Pipe specialist Benji Brand and his hard fought loss to Kelly Slater showed a new level of intent from the young Brazilian. Much has been made of his need to strengthen his skills in waves of consequence and the evidence from the competition suggests that while it might be a work in progress, there has definitely been progress.
"Filipe asked me for a few pointers and advice on surfing Pipe," Slater said during the event. "It wasn't too much or too technical, just some tips on where to sit in the lineup and the type of waves that can score big out there. It's just a shame we surfed together early. I was hoping he might have a say in the race a bit later."
Toledo came within a split-second of having more of a say. In his Round 3 heat against Slater he was clipped exiting a huge Backdoor barrel. If he had hung on it would have been a definite 10-pointer. Yet even that wave showed how far he has come. The green shoots are as visible as his work ethic and picking Slater's brain was a shrewd move. He knows he will need those shoots to sprout if he is ever to match Florence, Wilson and Medina in a Pipe showdown for a World Title.
"I'm proud of my performance and it's great to surf a real Pipe day," Toledo said. "That's what we came here for. I put in a good performance and that's what I want to build on."
A surfer Toledo could look to for inspiration is Jordy Smith. Smith's Semifinal finish was his best ever result at Pipeline in a decade of competition. It was a reward for the South African's recent willingness to dedicate more time to the wave.
"Jordy Smith has done some of the best carves we have ever seen in surfing. He has done some of the biggest airs in history," said Ross Williams, WSL commentator and current coach of John John Florence. "However a huge shack at Pipe is so addictive. It's a healthy addiction and I think Jordy might have started to get it."
Williams' old CT sparring partner and Pipeline legend Dorian agreed. "There are no shortcuts at Pipe," he said. "I've been watching all the freesurf sessions over the last 10 days and only half of the CT guys have been out there. The guys that were surfing, and Jordy was one of the standouts, have all done well. He has improved dramatically in the last few seasons."
"Time in the lineup is everything really," said Smith. "In the past, I've been out of my element and did not know where to sit, which makes it hard to pick the right waves. I'm more relaxed out there now and I have a much better read on the line and the speed of the wave, which is everything."
If Smith started to make inroads at Pipe as he approaches 30, then Toledo, at 23, has time on his side. Medina and Wilson showed Smith and Toledo just how much ground they have to make up. However, they both look to be in a much better position to do so than before the 2018 Pipe Masters started. Bring on the 2019 season!