Words by Balyn McDonald
Photos by Andrew Shield

Welcome back!

Putting aside the fact that starting a season at Pipe still feels like beginning a multi-course meal with dessert, there’s a lot to be excited about this season: the promise of a healthy Medina and Florence going head-to-head for the season (and their R1 heat), Olympic qualification, precocious juniors finally converting their talent into results (I’m looking at you, Griffin, Jack, and Ethan), as well as the revolving doors of qualification, re-qualification, and rookie unknowns.

Let’s not forget the other big plus of a new season: fantasy surfing.

Let’s run an eye over the first event of the year, and set you up with a killer team.


As an ageing intermediate who’s never been to Hawaii, I’m hardly qualified to write about surfing Pipeline. Stats, sure, I can still smash those. But when it comes to detailing the nuances of the wave, I’m more comfortable handing over to surfing’s most respected historian, Matt Warshaw. His excellent encyclopedia of surfing (subscribe here) describes Pipe as a:

Beautiful but ferocious Hawaiian surf break located on the North Shore of Oahu, regarded since the early 1960s as the sport’s premier tube; site of the venerable Pipeline Masters competition. “First it intimidates you,” Kelly Slater said. “Then you find the balls to give it a try. Then you figure it out, and grow from the pride that comes with that. Then you get hungry for it.”Pipeline is best on a west or northwest swell, and like with the rest of the North Shore breaks most often from October to March. While “Pipeline” specifically refers to the left-breaking wave, it can also be used to include Backdoor, the right-breaking wave attached to the Pipeline peak that opens up when the swell comes in from the north or northwest; surfers will often take off side by side, one riding Pipeline, the other riding the Backdoor right.eos.surf

There are also numerous guides to Pipeline, including surfline’s mechanics of pipleinethe WSL’s breakdown with Gerry Lopes, and a Vision piece with Gabe. Then there’s GoPro guides from Kelly, John and Seabass.

For the purpose of our fantasy metrics and predictions, we focus on historical data from reef breaks, in both left and right conditions, with a weighting towards results in this particular event and for an average of slightly larger waves (6′-8′). These elements, as well as average place and heat score data for each surfer, can be manipulated and pored over in our table below.


With a little over 48 hours until R1 is due to start, the official WSL forecast isn’t up. That said, the first few days of the event look likely to have some solid overhead swell mixed with onshore winds. Tuesday looks cleaner, but with fading swell, while Wednesday/Thursday offer variable winds and smaller size.

We’ll obviously update as we get closer to the start.

Selection Notes

Pick ’em

John John Florence – the 2021 Pipe champ may be coming into the season with a lower-than-usual seed, but he’s a lock for any Pipe team regardless of his seeding. Name a metric for this event – average place, AHS, reef breaks, big waves, whatever – and he’s right at the pointy end. Is un-unpickable a word? At least he’s cheap this year.

Gabriel Medina – it’s crazy to think that, barring injuries and draw shuffles, Gabe and John will surf off in the first round. It’s great for fans, but not so great for the athletes (Leo especially). No goofy-footer has surfed Backdoor as well as him in recent history, and his record in big lefts reefs speaks for itself. Get him while he’s cheap.

Kelly Slater – he’s won more Pipe events than anyone, and – unlike a lot of his better metrics – we don’t have to go far back into his results data to find his last win. Kelly will come into 2023 with renewed confidence, and if you were thinking of using a BOOST feature on him at any stage this season, Pipe may be the safest bet.

Joao Chianca – he surfed the house down last year, losing in the heat of the event to John John in the round of 16. Look at his average heat score across those 3 heats in 2022, then remember that he also beat Jack Robinson in the round of 32. Joao is the real deal.

Moana Jones Wong – OK, sure, our fantasy game doesn’t include women until the mid-season cut, but it would be criminal not to mention Moana as a Pipe beast. Low seed, reigning champion, and red-hot form would make her a fantasy team lock.

Flick ’em

Filipe Toledo – Big. Lefts. Reefs. These are the words that drive a dagger into Filipe’s professional legacy. He’s definitely made improvements, and he could certainly improve on his career-best 5th (2014) at Pipe if he can get some playful backdoor, but there’s a bunch of cheaper fantasy options with better historical Pipe data than the 2022 champ.

Nat Young – he has a win ratio of only 33% across 5 Pipe events, plus a win percentage of less than 50 for Reefs and 6-8′ waves. Look elsewhere…

Jadson Andre  – 23 heats, 5 heat wins, one excellent wave (a 9.37) and NO excellent heats (total heat score of 16 or above). Jaddy just doesn’t bode well for your fantasy team at Pipe.

Ezekiel Lau – Zeke is a great pick for Sunset, but he just hasn’t been able to put it together at Pipe. His best result has been a 13th in 2017, but his win% and AHS are too poor, while his related conditions metrics aren’t much better. Plus his seeding is pretty low.

Caitlin Simmers – Caity rips, and I think she’s going to have a long and successful career, but I think a lack of size and experience will work against the 17yo in this, her first event.


Here’s the thing about data-driven fantasy selections: they almost always earn you a conservative, low-risk score. What they don’t guarantee is a winning score, a score that risks losing it all to rise above the pack with an against-the odds darkhorse. For that, you need to back yourself with a solid sleeper pick. Here are our best attempts at naming some contrarian diamonds in the rough:

Top Seeds

Ethan Ewing – I would never have put him as a Pipe contender this time last year, but after seeing his growth – both in confidence and ability – during the 2022 season, I feel like he could do well. Combine that with some of the clips he’s been dropping recently, and I’m starting to believe. Do you have enough faith to pick him though?


Matthew McGillivray – the mid-tier price range is stacked. You already have John, Medina, and Kelly, who have won 3 of the past 4 events here. For true a sleeper option, I’d suggest looking at Matthew McGillivray. His 17th at last year’s Pipe didn’t jump out at me, but his high-pressure qualification run at Margies, as well as an impressive Tahiti campaign, have me wondering if he’s worth a shot. The WSL ‘Fan Picks’ have him at on 29% of votes to win his R1 heat, so he fits the sleeper profile.

Low Seeds

Ian Gentil – I wanted to put Ramzi as my pick here, but his injury scare has me worried. Ian is a highly capable Pipe surfer who won’t bring some of the same static to his first event that many of the others may carry. He has a reasonably winnable first heat, so long as Miggy doesn’t go full Chopes-mode on him.

For a more detailed breakdown of the FSS Pipe event go to https://fantasysurfsessions.com.au/