WSL Champions Kelly Slater and John John Florence Put to the Test at Billabong Pro Pipeline
Round of 32 action started off in slowly building conditions and saw event wildcard Barron Mamiya (HAW) win Heat 1 against World No. 4 Conner Coffin (USA). Mamiya advanced to Round of 16 to fulfill his dream of surfing against 11-time World Champion Kelly Slater (USA), who dominated Heat 2 against rookie Jake Marshall (USA).
“I love Barron! He is a really great guy and an awesome surfer,” said Slater ahead of the matchup. “He is that kind of wildcard that you have no idea what he’s going to do out there. I think everyone recognizes him as one of the guys to beat. He’d be sitting at the top 10 of people you expect to do well at Pipeline.”
Mamiya applied pressure to the seven-time Pipeline victor throughout the first heat of the Round of 16 and was able to keep the lead on the scoreboard until the final seconds when Slater was gifted a buzzer-beater wave to take the win with a 9.23 (out of a possible 10).
“There was less than twenty [seconds] when I saw that wave. That’s why we do it, that’s what it’s all about. Just having a moment like that,” continued Slater after advancing to the Quarterfinals. “I know it’s early in the contest, but Barron’s the next generation out here and it’s just a pleasure to surf against him. I was trying to process the heat. I made a few errors on waves maybe in the first half, and he really capitalized. He was sitting really deep, [taking a] really aggressive line and I was sitting where I was lining up earlier because I thought there’d be some rights that would sneak wide. I just wasn’t feeling it and then I just calmed down and thought either a wave’s going to come through or it’s not, and I’d be happy for Barron. It’s just crazy thinking back on 30 years, how many times it’s happened to me and gone my way.”
Two-time WSL Champion John John Florence (HAW) also advanced to Round of 16 with ease after winning against rookie Jackson Baker (AUS). Florence then battled Brazilian rookie Joao Chianca, who defeated event favorite Jack Robinson (AUS) in the Round of 32 and put Florence to work on improved conditions. Shortly after Florence found Pipeline magic of his own to garner a 9.77, Chianca found near-perfection in a 9.87. Florence defeated the rookie with a 1.03 point difference and advanced to the Quarterfinals, where he will face Seth Moniz (HAW).
“It was a hard heat,” said Florence. “Joao’s wave was incredible. I was in the front seat watching it, and I was just happy and not happy at the same time. We had a good heat the other day, where we both got some good scores. So I was a bit nervous facing him again because he’s been charging out here. It looks like he really knows this kind of wave. So when the waves started coming I knew he was gonna be on the good ones too.”