Yes! We have an amazing setup to finish our year. With a crazy Title race on its last lap and lots of swell on the horizon, the 2015 Billabong Pipeline Masters is looking like it will be the ultimate show. I know we are all caught up with Mick Fanning, Adriano de Souza and Filipe Toledo's points, but we still need to focus on who will win this event. We need a sure pick from Tier A, solid picks Tier B, and potentially the most important picks of all, the underdogs in Tier C.
With a great forecast on offer we should see a traditional looking lineup at Pipe and heavy Pipe favors brave surfers. I'm looking to load up my team with guys who love to put themselves right under the hood at Pipe, maximizing the surf with nothing but evil little smirks on their faces.
The men who can comfortably put themselves in the right spot when those thick slabs come marching in from second reef will be marching through heats. Plus, true Pipe Masters are able match guts with technique. The big winners will comfortably slide down the face and tuck into the barrel with the lip chasing them down. These are the players you want on your team when the waves are pumping at Pipeline.
This is the last event of the year to go big. Pipe is a venue where you can select a handful of dark horses that can really help our cause. Congrats to EduardoMattei_dut who's got himself in the lead over everyone on the planet... so far! Here's to the rest of us trying to go big in the last event of the year.
Tier A: Gabriel Medina (BRA)
I like the way Gabriel competes at Pipe. He's gutsy and smart, a deadly combo for surfers that come up against this steely competitor. He knows how to navigate his way around the reef at Pipe, which is pretty amazing considering he's a relative newbie on the North Shore. Gabby seems to figure out surf spots within a couple of sessions. That is an instinct that not many surfers have, and it's key to surfing well at Pipe in a contest.
Medina not only knows the wave well, he competes with as much wit as I've seen out there. He really keeps the odds in his favor by collecting high-percentage waves, giving himself big scores with makeable barrels. I'm not unimpressed with his Backdoor game either, making him solid on any given day at Pipe. I don't know if he will be able to get the World Title this year (check out the scenarios here) but I like his chances at making it to the Final. Medina will be calm and focused while guys like Mick, Filipe and Adriano will have a lot more on their minds. Start 'em.
Tier B: John John Florence (HAW)
Big John is arguably the best guy at Pipe. Guys like Kelly Slater and Jamie O'Brien are right there but I think John John is the dude. The kid toys with heavy Pipe as if he's hanging 10 in Waikiki. No one makes it look as easy with sick style. Dropping in as late as it gets, sliding into bomb after bomb with an insatiable appetite, John has a highlight reel from this wave that is ridiculous.
My only fear for him in terms of making it to the Final is his will to push as hard as he can in every heat. Unlike Gabriel, J.J. will throw caution to the wind when he only needs an average score. The good news? Throwing caution to the wind at Pipe is business as usual for Florence. This is the guy to beat, the overwhelming favorite in this event. Start 'em.
Tier C: Clifton James Hobgood (USA)
Maybe an emotional pick, sure, but C.J. is a proven beast when it comes to hollow waves. You combine that with the fact that this is his last Championship Tour (CT) event, his last Pipe Masters ever, and you know he will be extremely motivated. The forecast looks slightly scary, a bonus for C.J. as he thrives in heavy surf.
C.J. has one of the best bottom turns at Pipe, allowing him to take off really deep and draw different lines from his opponents. I love the way he seems to always get a huge pump into the barrel as he pulls in on his forehand. His technique has delivered some of the best barrels we've seen in competition over the years and I'm sure C.J. would like to go out with a bang, delivering one more batch of highlights. He had an amazing run in Tahiti but for the most part it's been a tough year for C.J. in terms of results and scores. This is his swan song, and you can bank on him going out with style. Start 'em.
Tier A: Filipe Toledo (BRA)
First of all, I'm a huge fan of Filipe. It's obvious he's one of the best surfers in the world. What he's done this year on Tour is simply incredible. The airs and whips have been next level, putting everyone to shame multiple times. But that's the beauty of our sport, we have different waves on Tour that suite different surfers. If you're going to win a World Title you either need to be perfect in your strong events or good in all venues.
Toledo's ability in heavy surf has been the thorn in his side. It first became a talking point when he lost his heat at the Box at Margaret River this year and again when we went to the Pacific events in Fiji and Tahiti. Filipe is young, giving him lots of time to learn how to tackle this big wave thing. Problem is, the big wave thing is usually something you're born with. But honestly, who cares? Cool, humble and funny, Filipe is a star on Tour for a long time. And because he's such a cool cat, everyone will be pulling for him to charge this year at Pipe. Still, he'd be a risky start for your team. Sit 'em.
Tier B: Matt Wilkinson (AUS)
This is a tough tier to sit someone as everyone is solid. Shoot, it's hard to sit anyone on this Tour! Wilko is one of those surfers who says he's over surfing scary waves and then goes out and hucks himself into a crazy one. He's had amazing waves in heats at Teahupo'o, for example, but I think Hawaii is a different animal.
Pipe supplies a large playing field with many tricky lineups that can be difficult to navigate. Matt has been to Hawaii enough to know what's going on, but you really benefit if you live here or at least spend copious amounts of time in this lineup. Pipe is a surf spot that's extremely difficult to practice at, as the local crowd is nearly impenetrable. Wilko looks solid on the Jeep Leaderboard, allowing him to cruise into next season so it's possible he will surf his heats without the urgency he might need to win. If you're looking for sure things in Tier B your task is pretty easy with guys like Kelly, John John, Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) and Nat Young (USA). Sit 'em.
Tier C: Glenn Hall (IRL)
Glenn Hall is a fighter. Just as he's done this entire year, Micro will surf his heat at Pipe with grit and determination. But Glenn's focus is slowly transitioning from athlete to coach. We've had some big stories this year involving retirement with Freddy and CJ but Micro is deserving of a good standing O as well. Even though it's been a tough year there have been some rad moments for Glenn: He took down a couple of giants with John John at Lowers and the infamous heat with Gabriel at Snapper.
I believe Micro will be an awesome coach, delivering the perfect tone for surfers who need a swift kick in the bum. So cheers, Micro, to an epic year and whatever you decide to do next year I know you'll be happy you don't have to be sat in these stupid articles anymore! But yes, sit 'em.
Dark Horse: Bruce Irons (HAW)
Bruce is on a mission. It's no secret that he has produced some of the best surfing at Pipe for many years now. With his motivation and headspace in a state that reminds us why Bruce is heralded as one of the best ever at Pipe, he's primed to be the ultimate spoiler. He'll have his work cut out for him, though, as the competitors he's against are tactically sharp and tough to cruise past.
Bruce will need to tap into his database of winning with smart decision making. Pipe is a place that can cause you to wait for the perfect wave while your competitor sneaks off and gets a nugget under your priority. If Bruce keeps tabs on his opponent he'll be able to expose them when it counts. You know A.I. would be screaming for him to smash the competition! The addition of Bruce into the main event, the forecast on deck and the World Title race down to the line, this is one of the most anticipated Pipe Masters in history. If Bruce wins this event you can go ahead and lock in that theory.
Set your Fantasy surfing picks for the Billabong Pipe Masters and watch the action unfold live here daily and on the WSL app beginning December 8. Plus, visit the World Title page to get psyched for an epic finale to the 2015 season.
Ross Williams spent 10 years as a CT competitor. Currently, he's a WSL analyst and contributes a Fantasy surfing column before each event on the elite Tour, as well as provides up-to-date Fantasy intel each morning at 7:30 a.m. local time on the Dawn Patrol Morning Show. Follow Ross Williams on Twitter (@rosswilliamshi) and Instagram (@rosswilliamshawaii).