There is no better way to absorb the finer points of tube riding then by watching the Volcom Pipe Pro, from bed, with a joint in one hand and a coconut in the other, says Jed Smith.
The Volcom Pipe Pro is a masterful blend of underground surf culture and the crème de la crème of tube riding. I woke up severely hung over following a night out in which I’d celebrated my own day of tube glory on the south coast of NSW. On my bedside table was half a sozzled joint and after setting flame to it I switched on the event to be greeted by Chris Ward swooping down the face. In his signature balled-up stance, his hand skimming the wall through the decline, he hit the bottom and deftly readjusted his line up the face before zipping through three sections of Backdoor pit. As the ganja smoke filled the air, a message came through from Surfing Life editor, Chris Binns. He wanted to know what I was up to. I told him what, and he said he’d like it if my stoned observations on the day’s action were recounted into some form of article. I said, “sure, there’s even a coconut in my fridge (the event being in Hawaii). They were on special at Woolworths, recently.” He said, “I didn’t need to know that.”
THE BIG STUFF
Enough has been said about John John Florence at Pipe but fuck it, lets say it all again 'cos this is history we’re witnessing right here. The kid was basically born at Pipe and watching his tactile understanding of the tube reminds one of a baby feeling its way around the womb. John John’s second scoring wave in the final was a feat that only a surfer with a beyond-human understanding of Backdoor could have pulled off. On the take-off John John was a part of the lip. He was enmeshed with the cascading chandelier. As he free fell in the mess of foam, somewhere in there his fins grabbed the face and intuitively he managed to pull up and into a place where he knew there would be air. The inside of the tube is nothing more than a churning, foam-balling mess and two sections later, with no sign of John John, the spits and gurgles begin to emerge. There’s no chance of getting any speed or momentum, or having the physical form necessary to emerge, surely, but you know what happened.
Paddling out for a heat with John John you’re surely only praying to be spared humiliation. It’s almost boring to watch him surf six-foot Pipe. Well, at least he looks bored by it. The way he takes off on a mid-sized Backdoor nugget in his semi, drops anchor off the take off and just hangs out in there until the foam ball pushes through and, even then, continues to surf the foam ball out of the tube shows pure contempt for the competitive format and the wave. Later in the same heat, he sticks a late take off and pumps his way through a freighting spitter then follows it up with a wild double grab full rote air reverse, which he sticks onto the roof and just fails to ride out of. The win at Pipe – his third straight in this event - will be redemption for his poor showing at the Pipeline Masters, an occasion in which many said the kid showed his first signs of mental failings.
Josh Kerr is the most likeable guy in surfing right now. He surfs tubes with unrivalled aplomb and grins like some guy who’s been let in on the punch line of life. Let’s start with the 10 in the semi-final. It’s an under the lip take off on a radically lurching Backdoor dagger. But Kerrzy’s in the sweet spot. He knows the Backdoor wedge - what they look like and where to put yourself when they come - as well as anyone out here. The dagger disembowels while he’s still mid-face. In his balled-up stance he hugs an impossible scooping line through the descent before hitting the bottom, extending his body into a smooth pump, then another and - Spitsville! Ten points and $1000 from Electric. Interestingly, Kerrzy was also responsible for the turn of the event. With Backdoor offering that perfect horseshoe end section, which we’ve seen everyone from Curren through to Rasta and Parko own with sizzling roundhouses, Kerrzy emerged from a throaty tube in his semi to jam the lushest of double hand-drag laybacks on the closeout. With a third at the Volcom Pipe comp to go with his runner up to Parko at the Pipe Masters, Kerrzy undoubtedly owns the tube harder than almost anyone in the world right now. Taking into account his sizzling face game and punt game with it, there’s really no weakness in his surfing. He will be a formidable contender for this year’s title.
The most likeable guy in surfing right now, Josh Kerr. Photo: Bernie Baker
Lost Boys go to war(d)
Needing a 5.1 with a minute remaining, San Clemente elder statesman Chris Ward is desperate for a wave. He paddles ferociously at a Backdoor nugget that looks as though it could also be a left. Wardo wants to go right though, and everyone knows that, including Kolohe Andino, the San Clemente grom who would have one day trembled in the presence of this volatile anti-hero. Today, they share a board sponsor in ...Lost.
Right now, Kolohe is holding onto second and needs to block Wardo from getting this wave. Kolohe is out on the shoulder of the left, Wardo on the shoulder of the right, and they paddle straight at each other setting up a showdown on a jacking Backdoor/Pipe wedge. Will the (some say) overpaid, underperforming kid give it up to this desperate, charred hero of the underground? The wave jacks, the kid is in position, Wardo hammers down on him but Kolohe holds his nerve. Wardo appears to scream at him as he takes off though Kolohe makes the take off, pulls in, only for the wave to run off on him. He can only watch now from the foam as the second wave of the set gives Wardo an easy take off and doggy door exit for the score. Kolohe loses in the semi, Wardo locks in his second second place at Pipe (y’remember he lost the final of the Pipe Masters to Kelly Slater that one year when the water was brown?)
Chris Ward locked into second place. Photo: Tom Carey
Quarter Final One
John John Florence. Bruce Irons. Jamie O’Brien. Reef Macintosh. That really happened.
Big ups to Masatoshi Ohno
This legend of the Japanese underground is one of the smoothest, easiest-on-the-eyes surfers you will ever. Now in his forties, he is considered the Curren of Japanese surfing in terms of style and achievements. But it’s his small stature that makes him an absolute special for Pipe. He’s been doing his thing in the shadows of photographers for over decade now but his performance was yet another reminder of just how underrated this guy is.
A nice touch
The community feel of the event was warming. Jeannie Chesser, mother of Todd, friend to the Momentum generation, North Shore standout and all around good guy who passed away while charging the North Shore in 1997, was given the opportunity to present an award in her son’s honour. She chose old school Hawaiian tube-demon and now coach of the Hawaiian amateur surf team, Kahea Hart. He’d claimed a belt of scalps during the event but in an emotional speech, Jeannie said it was the way he surfed heats that he should be congratulated for. “He’s a hard charger and he surfed so well until he got an interference, but he wasn’t a cry baby about it. He got on with it,” she said. Fighting back tears, Kahea responded with an anecdote of his own about his early years on the North Shore in the ’90s, when Todd’s encouraging presence helped him to test himself at the Banzai. There were tears all round, so too with the similarly touching tribute to Hawaiian legend, Sion Milosky who passed away in 2011 at Mavericks.
Smiles all round for the finalists of the Volcom Pipe Pro. Photo: Bernie Baker
1st: $20,000 - John John Florence - 16.33 (8.43, 7.9)
2nd: $10,000 - Chris Ward - 14.8 (7.93, 6.87)
3rd: $6,500 - Josh Kerr - 13.83 (8.33, 5.5)
4th: $5,500 - 13.3 (6.87, 6.43)
H1: John John Florence (HI); Chris Ward (USA); Kolohe Andino (USA); Reef McIntosh (HI)
H2: Josh Kerr (AUS); Olamana Eleogram (HI); Conner Coffin (USA); Dusty Payne (HI)
H1: John John Florence (HI); Reef McIntosh (HI); Bruce Irons (HI); Jamie O'Brien (HI)
H2: Kolohe Andino (USA); Chris Ward (USA); Kahea Hart (HI); Masatoshi Ohno (JPN)
H3: Olamana Eleogram (HI); Dusty Payne (HI); Dale Staples (ZAF); Jesse Mendes (BRA)
H4: Josh Kerr (AUS); Conner Coffin (USA); Alex Gray (USA); Sebastian Zietz (HI)