Changes in the invitation list due to injuries give aspiring pros a shot at fame and fortune at the world’s most prestigious surf event.
In just the last few days, three surfers with invitations to the Billabong Pipeline Masters have withdrawn from competition, reshuffling the invitation deck and setting off a wave of wildcard mania. With 64 surfers in the draw, the Top 45 are automatically seeded and 19 wildcards have a shot. But when seeded surfers Neco Padaratz dropped out due to an injury and Travis Logie opted not to attend, new spots opened for Jamie O’Brien and Mark Occhilupo, two of the most electrifying surfers at Pipe. Then top ranked Jordy Smith suffered a Grade 2 Medial Collateral ligament tear at Sunset.
“Jordy’s withdrawal changed all the heats on Round 1 as everyone moved up a slot,” says Triple Crown Director Randy Rarrick. “Torrey Meister replaced Jordy, so the match-ups are all revised.”
Suddenly the whole suit of wildcards looks more like serious challengers than lucky hopefuls. Jamie O’Brian is an undeniable frontrunner, a contender to the throne of Pipeline itself. His affinity for Pipe is beyond compare, and his performances this winter have been awe-inspiring. Another wildcard favorite is Kalani Chapman, whose appetite for big waves and heavy situations makes him a constant threat at Pipe. Torry Meister and TJ Barron are also dark horses with a lot of horsepower. And Tahitian Manoa Drollet can ride big tubes like few others. But the most interesting wildcard is Dusty Payne. Leading the Triple Crown ratings, the Maui phenom’s been absolutely on fire.
“It’s hard to say exactly how honed his Pipe act is, says Rarrick, “but given what he did at both Haleiwa and Sunset, he could be a standout performer in the competition here.” Besides the top 45, the four wildcards are Shane Dorian, Laurie Towner, Kalani Chapman and Jamie O'Brien. The lone alternate for this group is Reef McIntosh. Like last year there are no trials for the Pipe Masters. Many of the top wildcard options will be based on the performances from last January’s Monster Energy Pro.
Joining these pros will be the 14 Hawaiian Pipeline Specialists which include Dustin Barca, Makuakai Rothman, T.J. Barron, Ian Walsh, Marcus Hickman, Jessie Merle-Jones, Nathan Carroll, Ola Eleogram, Kekoa Balcaso, Daniel Jones, Mark Healey, Kamalei Alexander, Tory Barron and Dave Wassell. Alternates for this group are Evan Vallere and Danny Fuller. The Triple Crown contender is Dusty Payne and the Tahitian invitee is Manoa Drollet.
The Billabong Pipeline Masters will utilize the over-lapping heat format from round one onward until the semifinals, when the event will switch to man-on-man. This cuts out a complete day of competition requiring three days instead of four to finish the event. The competition is currently slated to begin this week with the arrival of a solid north-west swell.