As Slater paddled out to face Mitch Crews in round 3, a posse of contest organisers were quietly arranging the beach podium, and Fanning allowed dreams of champagne showers to edge in from his subconscious. These thoughts were quickly dispelled, as Kelly put on an utterly dominant performance, well worthy of someone striving for their 12th world title.
It wasn't quite firing for day 2 of the Billabong Pipe Masters, with a surplus of wind and Backdoor closeouts, however, as is often the case, this heavy imperfection made for a compelling a spectacle of implausible tubes and perilous doggy door exits. Two rounds were completed, including all the favourites and front runners, but crucially, the world title race remains undecided.
In his first heat, Mick seemed un-phased by the mounting world title pressure, comfortably defeating Kaimana Jaquias with a proficient reading of both Pipe and Backdoor. His round four heat against John John and Nat Young was a different matter, with Fanning receiving an interference call and finishing third. He now faces a round 5 bout against CJ Hobgood.
His rival, Kelly Slater, was on indomitable form, with two 17+ heat scores and a smooth journey through to the quarters. The world title remains Fanning's to lose (Slater has to win for a chance, and if Fanning reaches the Semis, its all over), but following yesterday's performance, and with a solid forecast for the next rounds, few would be comfortable betting against the hairless champ.
“I watched his heat yesterday and he was getting 8s on every wave and doing huge airs, so I was kind of freaked out. Days like this, you can’t be picky and I think I caught about 10 waves before I made one. I hit the bottom and was rattled until the end. John John Florence
“I was worried this-morning about the conditions,” Slater said. “John John and I were out trying to catch a couple of waves and I kind of thought ‘maybe we shouldn’t run, maybe we should wait and hour or two until it gets better.’ It seemed like it turned on during my heat and some kind of energy came through for me. I knew I had to make that heat, you can’t let those things escape your mind, that was the reality of the situation, but it’s not going to change how you go out there and perform. I had to go out there focused.”
John John was his usual sublime self, even when confronted with day one's poster boy, Gabriel Medina. “I was nervous when I found out Gabriel (Medina) was in my heat,” Florence said. “I watched his heat yesterday and he was getting 8s on every wave and doing huge airs, so I was kind of freaked out. Days like this, you can’t be picky and I think I caught about 10 waves before I made one. I hit the bottom and was rattled until the end. That last backdoor wave was really perfect and once I came through the section it was just perfect and easy from there.”
Moving to a more melancholic note, the reigning Pipe champ, Joel Parkinson, knocked out his close friend Dusty Payne, thus obliterating Dusty's chances of re-qualifying for the 'CT next year. The young Hawaiian has had another season plagued by knee problems, but won't receive the injury wildcard due to the horde of 'CT competitors whose bodies have also failed them.
“There were a couple waves out there that we didn’t make, but to be put in a position where you have to surf against a friend that you want on tour, and I want dusty on tour more than anything, it’s horrible,” Parkinson said. “I really wanted him on tour, he’s such a good talent and a good guy and a good friend. I told Dusty I wasn’t going to hassle him on any wave that I didn’t have priority for and I was even looking for waves for him when I didn’t have priority, thinking ‘maybe this one.’ I wasn’t going to just roll over though, you don’t really get many chances to win a Pipe Masters and you’ve got to have a go while you’re there.”
The forecast shows a solid swell filling in for Friday afternoon and thumping through on Saturday. With considerably more west in the direction, the focus will likely shift back to Pipeline.