Nick Carroll: A Beautiful Round at Pipe, a 10 for the GOAT
COASTALWATCH | NICK CARROLL
Pipe on screen is pretty hyper, I know, but in the flesh, the scene is pretty chill.
At 8.30am on round three morning, maybe five hundred people are spread up and down the beach, sitting wherever, and seemingly not in a hurry to do anything. That’s the trippy thing about pro surfing — the gnarliest event in the sport is really just a day at the beach.
A short dark man has an easel set up on the sand, right in front of the event HQ. This is Hilton Alves, originally of Guaruja, Sao Paulo, Brazil, and now resident of Kahuku. Hilton taught himself to paint and began working professionally 20 years ago. He specializes in large wave murals, and has painted them in places like Singapore, Miami, LA, Houston, and here too. He also has a program he calls Surf Art Kids, during which he’s painted around 45 murals in Hawaiian schools.
But why here, today? “I was trying to paint pictures (of CT events) off the computer,” Hilton says. “But I’d have to look at the computer, then back at the painting, back and forth. Then I’d end up just looking at the computer.
“So I thought, just come down here and paint what’s right in front of me.”
Which he is. The quarter-finished work features a classic NW swell Pipe teepee, framed with long outside swell lines and the sand in the foreground cresting slightly to the right, just the way it does while a swell erodes it from the left.
When you’re down low on the sand, Pipe is bigger and heavier than on any screen. It rears up like something out of a Japanese horror movie, then it moves. The whole stretch moves. The swell angle right now is a little too north, but it’s still relentless and dynamic.
Amongst it all the surfers are putting on a show. They’re so good at that — claiming here and there, playing out situations. Ryan Callinan falls while emerging from a barrel, refuses to let go, and the ensuing tumble turn to coffin ride gets an appreciative clap from the crowd.
Today is supposed to be about the world title race. Italo, the leader, gets a small scare from Jadson, but just a small scare. Ricardo Christie, injured and way out of this race, knocks Filipe Toledo clean out of it too. Ric is surfing with the freedom of a man with nothing to lose, but I am fascinated by his shorts. They have open pockets! And a pull-tie! The company, Asuwere, does sustainable clothes on a swap-out membership basis. “They’re not a surf brand,” he says. “It’s just a couple of mates from NZ. They’re just walk shorts but I tried ‘em in the surf one day and thought, 'Yeah!'”
He pauses. “Good shirts!” he says and starts laughing at his salesperson-ship. Well now the world knows about Asuwere’s pocket boardshorts and good shirts.
Kelly comes down with his board mate Travis Lee and Travis puts the GOAT’s backup boards in the competitors’ rack. They have Webber Soar fins in the front boxes, the long thin high aspect ones, but his actual heat board, a 6’6” Tokoro, has a conventional quad set. He runs down the beach access and gets a cheer.
Right then what looks like the best heat of the day is tangling with suddenly improving surf. Seth Moniz and Billy Kemper are throwing bombs back and forth — two great surfers who know the spot. More west sets are sweeping away Hilton’s little sand mound every six minutes or so. Seth closes it out with a really beautiful legit Pipe bomb, comes in with Billy, and they give each other a hug.
The value of double-up heats is then swiftly illustrated. Kelly Slater and Gabriel Medina are on opposite sides of the draw, so they can’t be in the same heat till the final, but now they’re in the water together. Kelly begins with a six second double cover-up on a left and pulls an improbable floater off the end.
Thirty seconds later Gabriel gets a full throated Pipe barrel. Once upon a time someone calculated the average time Gerry Lopez used to spend in the tube here, and came up with 4.2 seconds. Gabriel’s wave is right in that zone. Then he does a HUGE boost off the end section. Even he looks a bit shocked at making it.
A guy next to me says, “We’re so used to seeing Kelly stomp on other people’s moments. You don’t often see the opposite.”
By now all that north wonk is gone and the tradewind has smoothed everything out, and more glimpses of the approaching swell — which hit the back buoys off Kauai at 23 seconds four hours ago — can be seen in its increasingly perfect shape.
Then Kelly gets the wave of the contest.
A solid eight footer that sits up perfectly for the Backdoor reef. Kelly’s foe Joan Duru goes left and gets a nice short barrel. Kelly goes right and in, and it looks good, very good indeed, but then it races off into the cloudy water around Off-The-Wall. People have been getting pinched down there all morning.
But seven seconds passes, and the fucken guy comes out of it.
“I had a look at it,” Kelly says a half hour later. “It looked like a wave I got during the first Backdoor Shootout. I thought, 'Oooh, it’s the Wave!' I kept my eye on Joan because he had priority. I thought, 'I don’t need to look at the right again, it’s already there, so I’ll watch him.' But Joan was totally focussed on the left. I couldn’t believe my luck. I was racing along, got toward the end, and kept looking for a doggy door. I was going down the face looking, then it’d pitch out again, so I’d have to go up again. I thought, 'I can’t believe I’m going to make this.' Then I thought, 'Don’t think that, just make it first and you can think that later.'”
I take a photo of him and tell him, “That’s such a cheesy grin.”
“Ho ho,” he says, “I’m gonna have that cheesy grin all day.”
Medina does a couple of impossible things to win a great heat with Imai DeVault, who shrugs off yesterday’s deer in the headlights stuff with a completely flawless long left barrel and a 9.57, which for some reason reminds me of Fanning’s 9.7 in 2013. Maybe the day is echoing now with great Pipe days in the past. And it just gets better. John Florence piles barrel after barrel on Zeke Lau’s shoulders, his casual ease feeling almost cruel in the context of Zeke’s year vanishing into the mist of all that spit.
But the wind swings. “Look at it,” says Barton Lynch, watching from high up in the event tower. “Look at it coming.” It blows in, a sea-breeze from the west, and within minutes, Jordy Smith is stuck looking for a wave in the mess. He makes a move on one and his opponent Jesse Mendes, behind him and holding priority, paddles too and holds up his hand. Priority interference.
It’s a shitty way to end a year for Jordy, and some of the vibe disappears with it. But not on the beach. People are beginning to pick up and move off up toward Beach Park. Hilton is still there, putting the finishing touches to his by-now immaculate portrait of this god’s gift of a surf spot. “Maybe back on Friday,” he says.
(The event got the last two heats of the round done later in the afternoon, when Michel Bourez beat Deivid Silva and Kolohe Andino got Sebastian Zietz. Kolohe’s still in the title race. Seabass is out of the CT for 2020.)
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