North Shore lifeguard/pro surfer Dave Wassel said it best about this year's Volcom Pipe Pro: "This is the whole Triple Crown in one event. From top-turns to fun sandbar points to all-out crazy Backdoor to all-out crazy Pipeline."
And today's phase? Well, that would be the last one on the list of Mr. Wassel's description, i.e. "all-out crazy Pipeline."
Yes, the field of competitors in Round Three of the Volcom Pipe Pro must've added a GoPro or some other extravagant gift to their crisp dollar bills beneath their pillows last night. Because the tube fairy certainly whisked her tube-fairy dust upon Pipeline, bestowing the boys with flexing, intense 6-8-foot Pipe and Backdoor teepees.
Though grazed with a cool offshore south wind, the surf was still detonating, doing that thing that Pipeline does where it's hard to tell if it's not the best barrels ever, or just completely friggin' terrifying.
Early on in the event, however, the big question remained: Will someone new finally step up and take the crown away from the only three winners in the past seven years?
After the performances today, it's looking like it could actually happen. That is, if anyone can stop 4X event champion, John John Florence.
In Florence's Round Three heat, though Balaram Stack put on a hell of a show for 2nd place, John appeared to skate through with typical John John-cool. Business casual, we'll call it.
"It can be hard to relax out there in a heat, but at the same time, you're surfing perfect Pipe with no one out," said Florence. "It's definitely more relaxing out there than on a normal day where there's 100 guys and you're trying to catch a wave, trying not burn someone and trying not to get hurt."
Then, directly following Florence's, came the heat of the event (as of yet).
In their previous heats throughout the event, Seth Moniz and Bruce Irons have shown an evident hunger and dominance. A hunger that seems to be transforming into a path to the Finals, and potentially, a win. And wouldn't you know, in Round Three the two found themselves in a heat together, alongside Imai DeVault and last year's champ, Kelly Slater.
Now, iconic names like Bruce Irons and Kelly Slater in a heat at macking Pipeline might scare a 19-year-old kid like Seth Moniz. So you'd think. But in a career-defining show that shook the beach and had the crowd on their feet in disbelief, Seth rose to the occasion and went toe-to-toe with an in form Bruce. At Backdoor…you know, that patch of reef that Bruce has pretty much owned for the past 15 years.
Indeed, the two traded Backdoor 9's and back-up 8's with Seth edging past Bruce in the end, the two advancing passed DeVault and Slater, who unusually, couldn't quite find his footing in the heat.
"My first wave was just a really crazy left, the kind you look for, but it just breathed me off the board," said Slater. "Then my last wave I didn't make was probably the worst wipeout I've had all year. I was pretty worried I was going to hit the bottom. I wasn't happy I lost, but I was happy I didn't get hurt [laughs]."
According to Slater, he was actually fixing the time on his watch, which gave him a bit of a delayed-start at the opening of the heat.
"Paddling out I saw Kelly fixing his watch and he didn't notice the sets coming, so I just paddled past him while his head was down," said Moniz. "Then that set came, Bruce got the first one and I got the next."
"Kelly got caught slippin'" joked Irons.
The other two gentleman in everyone's conversation over who might go all the way are Mason Ho and Makuakai Rothman.
In tune and energized, Mason Ho continued his dream run today, picking up in Round Three where he left off yesterday, stroking into a combination of both Pipeline and Backdoor beauties, one after the other.
Riding a noticeably longer board than the rest of the field, Mason described his strategy after the win.
"Basically, with a bigger board, you just make the job easier. You can run around, and turn this big, chaotic crazy wave into a shorebreak or something. You can just start playing with the wave more."
Then, of course, following Ho's success and looking incredibly strong and dominant in the lineup was Makuakai Rothman. Feeding off his mind-blowing perfect 10 at Backdoor yesterday, Rothman had another cracker of a heat, reaffirming his talents on his backhand at Pipeline.
"That was just amazing," said Rothman after his heat. "The waves are phenomenal today. They are the kind of waves that you draw on your notebook in school as a kid."
With Slater and O'Brien out of the running, this group of previous Volcom Pipe Pro finalists and focused Hawaiians like Moniz and Rothman bring us potentially closer to a new champion.
If any of the surfers in Round Four have any cash left for their pillows, the tube fairy says it's 50 cents extra to keep the wind from going Kona (west-southwest). Pay up, guys, it's been working so far!