Could This Be the Last Chance to See a Surf Champion Crowned at Pipeline?

Dec 14, 2017

Sets roll through at dawn on the first day of the 2017 Billabong Pipe Masters at Pipeline, Oahu.
Credit Tony Heff / World Surf League

The world title showdown continues for top surfers on the North Shore. Competition kicked off Monday for the Billabong Pipe Masters. Surfers and surf fans alike are anxiously waiting to see who comes out on top. But as HPR’s Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi reports, this may be one of the last opportunities to see a world champion crowned at Pipeline.

Hundreds of spectators lined the beach earlier this week at Pipeline watching the best surfers in the world compete in the last event of the surf season.

Spectators pack the beach for round one of the 2017 World Surf League Billabong Pipe Masters at Pipeline, Oahu.
Credit Tony Heff / World Surf League

Mastering the barreling waves at Pipeline is seen as the perfect gauge of a surfer’s skill and talent.

But speculation has been brewing over a possible schedule change that could see the surf season ending elsewhere.

North Shore waves break both ways allowing surfers the ultimate opportunity to showcase their skills.
Credit Tony Heff / World Surf League

Jodi Wilmot is the World Surf League’s regional manager for Hawai’i and Tahiti Nui.

“You know, we’re actually. We haven’t made any formal announcements yet,” says Wilmot, “We have board meetings here this week, and I expect that probably come January, we’ll be in a better position to talk about where we’re going. It takes a lot of global coordination.”

Kelly Slater, the 11-time world champion and 7-time Pipe Masters winner, came out first in his heat in round one of the Billabong Pipe Masters. His participation in the event was uncertain after he broke his foot while surfing in South Africa in July.
Credit Damien Poullenot / World Surf League

Wilmot says part of the impetus for a possible location change was giving surfers a chance to rest.

“You look at most professional sports – there’s an on season and an off season. Surfing has never had that,” says Wilmot, “And it’s actually a very arduous sport because these folks are going around the world multiple times a year. You have athletes with injury management and fatigue and things like that, that we’re really trying to be mindful of.”

The Billabong Pipe Masters has been around since 1983. Over the years, the WSL has forged strong bonds with its host community.

Spectators will still have an opportunity to watch professional surfers compete at Pipeline, but it may not be the wave to crown a champion.
Credit Tony Heff / World Surf League

“So things from having people on the board of the local chamber of commerce to working with Farrington High School Business Academy to help career training and mentoring for students looking for jobs in the future,” says Wilmot, “And then a lot of donations. Work with local schools. Work with local community organizations. Environmental things, beach clean-ups and coastal dune plantings. We do a lot of stuff.”

John John Florence of Hawaii ready for round one heat 6 of the 2017 WSL Billabong Pipe Masters at Pipeline, Oahu.
Credit Tony Heff / World Surf League

She is quick to reassure us that any change would not eliminate Hawai’i from the schedule.

“Because we have so many great events around the winter in Hawai’i, you’re not going to see a reduction in the number of events or anything like that,” says Wilmot.

Reigning World Champion John John Florence advances directly to Round Three of the 2017 Billabong Pipe Masters after winning Heat 6 of Round One at Pipe, Oahu.
Credit Damien Poullenot / World Surf League

Professional surfers will still have the opportunity to surf Pipeline and spectators will still get to watch them rip. But if the change does go through, Pipeline will not be the wave to crown a world champion.  Here’s current world champion John John Florence.

“I’m not sure yet, but I think if it’s not ending here, it’ll be starting here,” says Florence, “But either way a starter or an end at Pipe is just as good.”