The highly anticipated XL swell arrived for Day 4 of the Volcom Pipe Pro and athletes competed in hefty conditions that dished out barrels, closeouts and wave faces in the 18-20ft. range. On a day that was difficult to distinguish what wave was a high-scoring dream or an elimination nightmare, there were plenty of casualties, including Championship Tour (CT) surfers John John Florence (HAW) and Sebastian Zietz (HAW), as well as Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) and regular Pipe standouts Seth Moniz (HAW) and Koa Rothman (HAW).
The fearlessness from surfers was nothing short of warrior-like and fans watched as they battled strong surf and currents with total commitment during the QS 3,000 event.
Hawaiian Ezekiel Lau (HAW) ran away with the best score of the day, an 8.0 for a hollow, albeit foamy Pipeline barrel. He took a hard drop, pumped under the lip, then used the sheer force of the wave to muscle through the exit. The degree of difficulty metered high on the judges' scale, since Lau navigated a tricky foam ball throughout the duration of the ride and was not predicted to emerge.
"It was weird, I'm pretty sure I had the biggest board in the heat and I was sitting further in than everyone," commented Lau. "I knew I just needed the big board to roam and get around to the place I needed to be and luckily it got me in that spot and I got that one (8.0) so I'm pretty stoked and happy to be in the next round, hopefully it's a little friendlier."
2018 marks Lau's second year on the CT and while he is known for his classic power surfing and dedication to training for year-round competition, today's conditions truly tested the best and even Lau came up the beach breathless.
"You definitely feel safer on land, it's just really hard to judge what's going on and there's so much water moving, a lot of energy and swell so you're kind of just winging it," Lau continued. "You're paddling out not knowing what to expect so everything is adjusting, and just doing your natural game…That's what contests are, you have to adjust and adapt to the conditions and overcome whatever obstacles in front of you. The best one that can do that is going to find themselves (a win) on that last day."
The biggest upset of the day saw 2x World Champion JJF eliminated after Round 4 Heat 8 when he dropped from advancing position down to third just as Robson Santos (BRA) earned his backup score with only minutes left on the clock. Santos and freesurfing Volcom wildcard Noa Deane (AUS) will move into Round 5, meanwhile Florence will hunt for better surf around the North Shore.
"Conditions are really big today," Florence said post-heat. "The forecast has been saying it's going to be huge and didn't know if it was going to be too big or if was going to be good size, and it kind of ended up being a little bit too big today, a lot of wash through sets made it really hard to be in the spot. It's fun though, it's a different kind of game out there, kind of a little cat and mouse. I didn't get lucky enough to get any of those little ones, but it's all good I'm going to go surf somewhere else, it's probably firing right now."
Defending event winner Soli Bailey (AUS) opened the morning with a 6.33 to set the scale, then back it up with a 1.37, which was enough to see him surf again once competition resumes. Mason Ho (HAW) advanced behind Bailey and the two will surf in Round 5, Heats 3 and 4 respectively.
After winning the Volcom Last Chance Qualifier on Day 2 of the competition, Jamie O'Brien (HAW), had another opportunity to prove his expertise at Pipe and ended up finding the highest single wave score of Round 4 Heat 14. A thick inside section on his backhand earned him a 7.27, but his backup score of a 2.27 wasn't enough to move into first and Costa Rica's Carlos Munoz won the heat with a combined two-wave total of 10.50.
Because today's unruly conditions did not improve, contest organizers called the competition off by 1:30pm HST after going on standby following the final heat of Round 4.
"The large swell we saw today, which at times closed out Pipe, will ease overnight," said WSL Hawaii/Tahiti Nui Tour Manager Marty Thomas. "Tomorrow is looking very good with surf heights in the 8-10ft. range, ideal size for Pipe and Backdoor. With the winds forecasted to be light, southerly and offshore, we should see epic waves for the Final day of the Volcom Pipe Pro."