The event window for the Vans Pipe Masters has officially begun. And as we await a start for the new, invitation-only specialty event, we have used these lay days as a chance to take stock of the competitive field. Featuring a range of diverse talents, the 60 surfers handpicked by Vans will face off in three non-elimination heats for a chance at scoring a place in the final and winning a portion of the $420k prize purse. With 50% of the invitees hailing from Hawaii, and both men and women in the draw, this specialty event will see progression and inclusion at the forefront. Free surfers, aerialists, and barrel specialists alike will be rewarded for their commitment, wave choice, style, and creative expression. Here we hone in on some of the most exciting surfers in the draw.
Bettylou Sakura Johnson
After falling off the 2022 Championship Tour in her rookie season following the mid-year cut, Bettylou Sakura Johnson is back with a vengeance. Fresh off a runner-up finish at the Haleiwa Challenger event, earning her an overall first-place finish on the 2022 Challenger Series and a spot back on the 2023 WSL Championship Tour, Bettylou is looking at a great opportunity at the Vans Pipe Masters. A chance to surf one of the world's best waves, not once, but three (potentially four) times, with only three other women out will provide invaluable experience for Bettylou ahead of the season opener at the Billabong Pro Pipeline in January. One of the brightest young Hawaiian talents, Bettylou will have the crowd backing her all the way and is looking seriously dangerous heading into this event and the 2023 Championship Tour season.
A standout at last year's Billabong Pro Pipeline, taking down CT giants like Jack Robinson, Joao Chianca finished 9th at his first-ever career event on the Championship Tour. With a renewed sense of confidence following his requalification for the tour in 2023, we're expecting Joao to bring that same ferociousness and determination to the Vans Pipe Masters. We'll be looking at João to put up some of the biggest scores of the event and start cementing his spot among the best of the best out at the Banzai Pipeline.
Perhaps one of the most highly anticipated rookies we've ever seen is teenage prodigy Caitlin Simmers. Renowned for her progression above the lip and her effortless style, Caity's approach to riding waves is completely unique. Though Caity has self-confessed limited experience out at Pipeline, we're sure that's not going to stop her from throwing herself over the ledge or taking to the air at this event if the opportunity comes her way. At just 17 years of age, Caity has already qualified for the Championship Tour, twice, most recently after finishing runner-up in this year's Challenger Series behind Bettylou Sakura Johnson. We can't wait to see Caity take on Pipeline before taking her rightful place on the world tour where she belongs.