Kauai's Gabriela Bryan and the North Shore, Oahu's Makana Pang were victorious at the Wahine Pipe Pro and Pipe Pro Junior, where plenty of action and drama played out in the picture-perfect split peaks of Pipeline. A WSL women's QS 1,000 and a men's Junior QS, the competition took place over two days during Easter weekend and saw pristine conditions at the world-famous break.
This is Bryan's third consecutive professional win for 2018 and she has steamrolled to the top of the regional rankings in both the women's Junior and QS divisions. Her breakout year began at the Sunset Pro Junior, strengthened in Tahiti two weeks ago during the Papara Pro Open, and reached new levels at the Wahine Pipe Pro.
"This win is very special, especially to have it here at Pipeline," said Bryan. "The waves were firing this morning and they're still firing now, just a little bit smaller but it's still pumping. It's really fun and I'm just super happy to get a win here. Everyone was charging, the girls were just going for it. It's amazing, the level is just through the roof, I've never seen it like this."
Bryan, 15, took a commanding lead in the Final after she knifed into a set wave with commitment and drive on a Backdoor right. She combined the ride with power turns to open the heat with a 4.75, but North Shore's Moana Jones -- who earned runner-up -- was quick to drop into a nice left to highlight her backhand and jumped ahead with a 6.15.
Sets lined up to provide excellent opportunities for the other two finalists, Kauai's Savanna Stone and Leila Riccobuano of Honolulu, but the best rides came from Bryan and Jones during the 30-minute heat. With five minutes on the clock, Bryan committed on a heavy wave that had beach goers holding their breath. After sticking a critically late drop, Bryan drove down the line and pulled into the barrel and despite it closing on her, judges awarded the wave a 7.0.
"I didn't have first priority, I think I actually had third, and the two goofy-footers had first and second so I knew that they were looking at the lefts," said Bryan. "The right at Backdoor just looked super good and I knew that I needed to pull in and hopefully make it and I pulled in and I made it pretty far. For a second I thought maybe I would make it out, but I got clipped at the end, but it was pretty cool."
Jones waited with priority after Bryan took the lead and, needing only a 5.61 for the win, pulled into a Backdoor right and unleashed a series of maneuvers on her backhand. She earned a 5.55, just shy of the required score, and took runner-up.
In the men's Pipe Pro Junior, barrels pumped through the lineup and Pang opened up the exchange with an excellent 8.25 after blasting out of a classic Pipe barrel.
Barron Mamiya, defending event winner and eventual runner-up today, answered back with his own excellent ride, an 8.40, after fighting his way out of a long right-handed tube to overtake Pang. Third-place finisher Kainehe Hunt from Kauai scored a 6.90 on his first wave for a Backdoor ride, but the heat was a sizzling back-and-forth battle between Pang and Mamiya.
"It was crazy, Barron's definitely my best friend and always surfing out here," said Pang. "Every time I paddle out here it's with him." Pang also mentioned that he draws inspiration from his friends, including Mamiya and other event standouts like Kalani Rivero and Ryder Guest, and of course hometown hero and two-time World Champion John John Florence.
"The win feels unreal. I surf here every day, it's the only spot I surf if it's over 4-foot," Pang continued. "I'm always out here with all of my friends and it just feels amazing to finally win a contest. I'm inspired mainly by all my friends. And my dad, my mom and my coach Kid Peligro, who I train ginastica with, have all helped me get here. It feels great."
Rapid-fire action kept fans on their toes throughout the men's pro junior Semifinals as Hawaii's best young talents traded waves in the flawless conditions. Hunt and Mamiya took down North Shore's Wyatt McHale, who had the regional junior lead heading into the event, while Pang and fourth-place finisher Malakai Martinez from Costa Rica also advanced into the Final after ousting reigning World Junior Champ Finn McGill, another household junior name, from the North Shore.
The opening ride of the Men's first Quarterfinal was a perfect 10-point ride by Mamiya, for a proper 10-foot, under-the-lip air drop into a Backdoor barrel. His fierce attack set him apart from competitors as he demonstrated a world-class performance that many touted as Championship Tour (CT)-level surfing.
Eli Hanneman, 15, earned the day's second perfect 10-point ride after threading through three sections of a draining Backdoor tube and advanced behind Mamiya, but was eventually knocked out of the competition in the Semifinals.
In Quarterfinal 2 of the Wahine Pipe Pro, standout Keala Tomoda-Bannert from Kauai paddled into the best wave of the women's event, a 9.0 on her backhand, to validate the talent and commitment from Hawaii's up-and-coming wahine. With confidence and poise, the Kauai surfer dropped cleanly into a left-handed Pipe barrel and emerged with the spit to complete the ride and take the heat win.
However, after charging a solid 8-foot Backdoor wave later in the heat, Tomoda-Bannert collided with the reef and suffered a head injury that saw her transported to a nearby hospital. She was unable to claim her place in the Semifinals and returned home to rest and recover. Tomoda-Bannert ended with a seventh-place finish following a runner-up result to Bryan two weeks ago in Tahiti at the Papara Pro Vahine Open.
This concludes the 2017/'18 competitive surf season for the WSL Hawaii/Tahiti Nui region and athletes will reconvene in October for a series of events once the North Shore reawakens from a summertime wave lull. In the meantime, regional surfers will travel to international locations to gain points and prize money on the QS, and fans can stay tuned to WorldSurfLeague.com to witness elite-level athleticism as CT surfers hunt for a World Title.