The much anticipated billabong pipe masters got rolling on Tuesday. Even more anticipated for many — John John Florence made his return to competition.
It was a cloudless day for the final event on the men’s World Surf League Championship Tour. Florence, the North Shore’s own was competing for the first time since rupturing his ACL in late June at the Rio Pro. Florence was the hottest surfer on tour at the time. Now, over five months removed from full reconstructive surgery, he’s back.
As for the results of his day, after not seeing a wave to his liking for well over half the 30 minute heat time-frame, Florence got called for a priority interference as the clock was expiring in round one. He finished in third. But John John would advance through the elimination round later in the day, so he’ll be surfing in the round of 32.
“It’s super good to be back competing again,” Florence told Rosy Hodge of the World Surf League. “It’s hard. It’s a lot harder than it was coming back last year because last year I had time to kind of warm into it. This year I’ve had a few sessions here or there. Just trying to get the knee moving. But yeah, I’m just stoked to be in the water and surfing and getting little barrels. The knee is feeling super good. I’ve only surfed a handful of times before. I’ve just been surfing in front of my house. It was nerve wracking getting back in the jersey this morning. Like, ok, here we go. But once I caught a few waves you don’t even think about it anymore.”
The top two surfers in each country make it to the Olympics. John John is still in second place among Americans even after sitting out much of the season, with GOAT Kelly Slater close behind. Florence said qualifying for the 2020 games was a big part of why he came back this week.
One of the biggest moments of the day was in heat nine when Kamehameha graduate Ezekiel Lau scored a 9.7 on a beautiful barrel.
“It was a really good wave,” Lau told KHON2 sports anchor Ren Clayton. “I was just waiting. I had priority and I just made sure I waited for the best wave. And when that wave came I knew it was the one. So I just made sure I was in the right spot. When I got it I was just like, ‘hold on, make sure you come out.’ And I did. So I was pretty stoked.”
Lau sits in fifth place in the Triple Crown of Surfing right now after placing runner up at the World Cup of Surfing just over a week ago.
“That’s everything,” said Lau. “I wanna be able to take a triple crown title to Sunny (Garcia). I’m surfing in honor of him. And I’m trying to challenge all that energy into doing well here.”
Most surfers from Hawaii see the Pipe Masters as the pinnacle of the sport. Lau is no different.
“This would be everything,” said Lau. “This is the biggest event for me of my life. I’ve been fortunate to be here the last three years and I’m looking to put on a strong performance here this year.”
Lau did safely advance to the round of 32, as did all six hawaii surfer today. Lau and Florence will go head to head in the next round.
Maui’s Billy Kemper, who won the pipe invite yesterday to get into the Pipe Masters scored a 9.4, which helped him win his heat.
Early projections are that the Pipe Masters should continue tomorrow.