There's some serious unfinished business for Gabriel Medina and John John Florence this year at Pipeline. While both have now achieved their World Title dreams, they're both missing one of surfing's most coveted crowns, the Billabong Pipe Masters.
That's not to say that Florence or Medina won't win this year. Gabriel narrowly missed out last year when he finished runner-up to 2015 World Champ Adriano de Souza. As for JJF, most everyone knows his story by now. It's literally his backyard, he's won four Volcom Pipe Pros at the same spot and he's on the record saying that he badly wants a Pipe Masters title.
Medina has quietly racked up back-to-back Finals appearances at Pipe, only to fall short in both. In 2014 he lost to Julian Wilson. And last year he was Adriano de Souza's final victim. Needless to say he's looking to finish the job this year.
John John has just as much motivation to win. Pipe is, after all, his backyard. The place where all his dreams began. He was watching it live with sandy diapers on. Florence has won four Volcom Pipe Pro titles, which are certainly prestigious, but don't have the same weight as the Pipe Masters. He was runner-up to Slater there in 2013, and has failed to reach a Final since. This year he's hoping to remedy the situation.
Slater is the most dominant surfer ever out there, with seven Pipe Masters wins to his name. And since most of Kelly's CT wins these days are coming when it's big and hollow, he is always going to be the safest bet.
Yet, despite the obvious favorites listed above, Pipeline is a fickle beast. Case in point? There's been a new champ every year since 2009 (Burrow, Flores, Perrow, Parkinson, Slater, Wilson, De Souza).
In its own deceptive way, Pipe levels the playing field. If you've got the guts and determination to throw yourself over the ledge on a bomb, big scores await. Nothing trumps experience, wave knowledge, and positioning. But if you've got the stones, Pipe will spit you out of the barrel of a lifetime and you will be rewarded.
In the end, the story that it tells is that it's an incredibly difficult task to win the Pipe Masters, unless your name happens to be Kelly Slater or Andy Irons. Combined, they won a total of eight trophies during the period from 1994 and 2006. Irons won four in five years between 2002 and 2006, his roll broken only by J.O.B. in 2004.
In less than a week, Florence, Medina, Slater, Wilson, De Souza and 32 other surfers will paddle out through the crack in the reef at Pipe, hoping to add their names to a growing list of unlikely characters who call themselves Pipeline Masters.
Watch live daily from Dec. 8 - 20 on the WSL website or app starting at 7:30 a.m. HST.