Last year's six-man World Title race came to a high-drama finish at the Billabong Pipe Masters, making the event an instant classic. Pipeline dished out heavy doses of pain and pleasure in 2015, but amidst the triumphs and tragedies Pipe delivered plenty of magic too. Here's a quick glimpse of why the 2015 Pipe Masters won't soon be forgotten.
The World Title Race
While Pipe has seen its share of World Title showdowns, never before had six surfers all had a viable shot at the crown heading into the event. The 2015 race was the tightest ever. Not surprisingly, two of them (De Souza and Medina) ended up in the Final together, with Mick Fanning, the third, making the Semifinals. It's safe to say they all wanted it. Sadly, Owen Wright had to pull out of the event due to the injury he suffered during a warmup session.
The Danger is Real
Wipeouts are part of the process at Pipeline, but there's no such thing as a routine one, as Owen Wright and Bede Durbidge reminded us. Wright's traumatic brain injury occurred during a pre-event warmup session, and he's still on the road to recovery. Bede Durbidge, on the other hand, suffered what looked like a run-of-the-mill spill during his Round Three heat. But he slammed the bottom hard during the tumble and resurfaced in agony. After being rushed to the hospital he discovered he'd broken his pelvis. One year later, Bede is just getting back. The 2016 Pipe Masters will be his first CT event of the season.
John John's Backside Brilliance
Growing up a stone's throw from the famous reef, John John has been dominating Pipeline for quite some time. With four Volcom Pipe Pro titles to his name, and a runner-up finish in 2013 at the Billabong Pipe Masters, he always enters a favorite. Things looked good for Florence early, too. He racked more than 19 points during his Round Three match against Taj Burrow with back-to-back 9s. But an inspired CJ Hobgood, surfing in his last event as CT surfer, eliminated Florence in Round Five, leaving that giant hole in John's record. Now that John's got his title locked up, he'll be doing all he can to remedy the situation in 2016.
CJ Hobgood's Career Send Off
After more than 16 years on Tour, CJ Hobgood picked the 2015 event at Pipeline to be his career capper. He made the most of it too. In his opening round match with Kelly Slater and Taj Burrow he bagged a beautiful 10-point ride to take the win. But he wasn't done. He took out Italo Ferreira and John John Florence on his way to the Quarterfinals. But just when his dream run looked like destiny, he got tagged for an interference in his match with Gabriel Medina. Fortunately, Hobgood had already made his point, and he walked away satisfied.
Long Live the Ho Family Dynasty
Mason Ho grew up under the tutelage of two Pipe Masters. His father Michael won in 1982. His uncle Derek in 1986. Last year, competing as an injury replacement for Owen Wright, he lived up to his name with a series of commanding performances that earned him a trip to the Semifinals. In his Round Four match he faced two former Pipe winners in Joel Parkinson and Jeremy Flores. Unfazed, he snagged this 10-point ride for the win.
The Super Heat
When three of the world's best surfers meet in a non-elimination heat at pumping Pipeline, you watch. Mick Fanning, Kelly Slater, and John John Florence put on a show for the ages last year in what turned out to be one of the best matches of the event. While much of the focus was on the ongoing Slater vs. Florence Pipe rivalry, it was Fanning who earned the win thanks to a 9.93 on his final wave.
Fanning Forces the Issue
Mick Fanning was operating on a higher plane after learning that his brother, Peter, had passed away back home in Australia. The fact that the tragedy happened while he was hunting for a World Title seemed especially cruel, but in true Fanning form, he never quit. In fact after taking the aforementioned Super Heat he faced Slater again in the Quarterfinals, and for the second time in a row Mick delivered with some last minute heroics, holding serve in the race for the title.
De Souza's Dreams Come True
When Fanning defeated Slater, the title race was narrowed down to two. Adriano de Souza was the last man standing in his way. The Brazilian firebrand had been a silent threat all season, and was considered a long shot coming into Pipe, having never finished better than 9th there. But he spent the month leading up to Pipe learning from local legend Jamie O'Brien, and the lessons payed off. De Souza squeaked past Josh Kerr to advance to the Semis. And when Fanning lost to Medina in the first Semifinal, the door to De Souza's dream flew open if he could just get past Mason Ho. He did, and clinched another title for Brazil. To celebrate, he defeated Medina in the Final, earning Brazil's first Pipe Master crown to go with his World Title trophy.