The roar of the surf shakes the foundations of beachfront mansions and tiny shacks alike on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii.
Each winter, the top 34 surfers in the world descend onto the 7-mile miracle for the most sought after trophy in professional surfing: The Pipe Masters.
The eleventh and final stop on the World Surf League championship, Pipeline instills butterflies in even the most seasoned of veterans. The wave is notorious for breaking in shallow water over razor sharp coral reef. Last season, world title contender, Owen Wright, suffered a traumatic brain injury in preparation for the event.
Four surfers remain in contention for the 2017 world title.
The clear fan-favorite is John John Florence, 2016 World Champion, who looked like he was going to go back-to-back at Supertubos in Portugal. Florence popped the clutch in the semifinals against Kolohe Andino and never regained momentum.
Florence’s third place finish left the door open for a late charge from Gabriel Medina, who’s unprecedented sweep of the European leg has brought him just 3,100 points shy of a second world title.
Medina became the first Brazilian World Champion in 2014, and knows what it takes to hoist the championship cup at Pipeline. In the last three years, he’s finished 13th, 2nd and 2nd. Medina’s looking to spoil Florence’s storybook ending.
Florence has been pegged to win the Pipe Masters since he began surfing the wave at age seven. The victory has alluded him and despite some impressive heat totals, he hasn’t put together a performance indicative of command over Pipeline.
South African, Jordy Smith, and Australian, Julian Wilson, have an outside chance for maiden world titles if both Florence and Medina lose out early.
SF State Gators and professional surfing fans are backing Florence for the 2017 World Title.
Big Wave Professional surfer and SF State Alum, Colin Dwyer, has his money on Florence.
“John’s my pick,” said Dwyer. “He’s got the home court in Hawaii and hands down is the best tube rider on tour.”
Diggy Valois, BECA major and employee at Mollusk surf shop, is hoping Julian Wilson can pull off a miracle but thinks Florence is going to win.
“Gabriel Medina has the momentum coming from Europe and has done just as well at Pipeline as Florence but I still think Florence will win,”Valois said. “It’s Pipe and Florence only has to make it to round 5.”
Florence hasn’t surfed to his full potential in the Pipe Masters despite being a clear fan favorite. Last year he placed 5th, and the year before, he lost in round five with a lowly heat total of 9.76. Yet this winter seems different.
Florence has the highest average heat score on tour with a 16.10 points, the ratings lede and the addition of a new coach: fellow North Shore native, Ross Williams. With Williams helping Florence with heat strategy, it will be difficult for Medina, Smith and Wilson to keep pace.
The waiting period for the Pipe Masters is from Dec 8 to Dec 20. For surf fans looking to watch the action, the Old Princeton Landing in Half Moon Bay, Ca, live streams all World Surf League contests.