A Pipe Masters encore or the real Pipe Masters? That's the question that makes the Volcom Pipe Pro so much more special than your typical five-star ASP event.
So let's pick it apart a bit: the Pipe Masters has all the luster and history. It has the likes of Kelly Slater and other heavyweight World Tour vets on its roster. And possibly most important, it's part of the Triple Crown.
This week's Volcom Pipe Pro contest, however, features 112 competitors -- a combination of qualifying series warriors and Pipeline specialists. Unlike the Pipe Masters, which only has a handful of locals, this field is wide open. To be fair, the Pipe Masters does have special privileges in comparison to other World Tour events, allowing more locals in the event. Nevertheless, in many ways this fact makes the Volcom Pipe Pro much more difficult to win.
The Pipe Pro is held in late January, which has much more consistent swell than December. Just when all the "normal" people on the North Shore thought they were going to get a break from the contest scene, a huge scaffolding is erected, setting the stage for more juicy drama.
As for the forecast? "It's looking good for Wednesday with a nice mid-size swell out of the west-northwest, which should provide good conditions for Pipe and Backdoor," says Contest Director Marty Thomas. "Another swell looks very promising Saturday and could reach heights of double- to triple-overhead."
Some big names, including Kolohe Andino, John John Florence, Bruce Irons, Dusty Payne, Jamie O'Brien and Reef McIntosh -- have returned to the North Shore for the contest (or, in some cases, never left).
"The field is really deep and whoever wins this event has major bragging rights. Not only that, but the top eight make it into Pipe Masters," explains Thomas.
With the waiting period running from Jan. 23 - Feb. 4, a prize purse of $130,000 and Pipe Masters slots on the line, the event has the surfers' attention. The winner receives $20,000, which is not a bad way to top off three days of getting spit out of barrels. Last year's event produced the most watched webcast in WQS history thanks to the pumping surf. Last year's winner, Florence, is looking to be the odds-on favorite coming off of a stellar performance at the Pipe Masters and taking down the Triple Crown.
The Volcom Pipe Pro is basically open to anyone from Kelly Slater to Love Hodel, and maybe that's why we should consider this event the working man's Pipe Masters. Pipeline is a special place that deserves all the attention it gets. It demands a combination of skill and courage that only the best wave in the world can bring out. May the best man win!