Arriving at Pipeline I turned into my usual entrance and simultaneously caught a glimpse of those perfect a-frames rolling in. Finally. Redemption for the event we had almost given up on.
I looked to my left, then glanced to my right, catching eyes with the close-knit crew who’d become my makeshift family over the last couple of tumultuous weeks. We all smiled without uttering a word, it was about to be a f**king great day.
They say there’s no flowers without the rain and I tend to agree with that notion. With a week of grinding bitterness happily disappearing in the rear view mirror, today felt sweeter than a home-cooked blueberry pie. For me, the cherry on top being: the girls finally getting what they deserved – a chance to showcase their skills on a legit Pipe day.
At this point, it’s hard to turn a blind-eye, if the women are given more, they will give us more. While higher scores were dropping like Bingo numbers throughout the girl’s quarterfinals, one Pipe queen was heard to mutter, “I wish my heat was today. It was so small when we ran, I wanted me and Carissa to be in the final together.” Didn’t they all dream it would play out that way.
As I watched Bettylou Sakura Johnson – somehow – emerge after the spit on the wave that earned her that 9.7, it was clear that a version of the Finals Fantasy had become real for a gritty few. “This is why we do turns out here, the last couple days we’ve been in the mindset of okay, just try and squeeze through to get to the end goal. So it was amazing to get these conditions,” Caitlin Simmers shot at me with a characteristically cheeky and point-proving smile. And, as I looked up at the heat in the water, Johnson’s bold embrace of Backdoor and Pipe felt evermore poignant, given what the women had been asked to work with leading up to today.
As the girl’s semi-final took its form in the shape of two 18 year-olds, a 21 year-old and a 24 year-old, it became hard to ignore the real-time generational shift unfolding to the tune of Pipeline’s feathered peaks. It was crystal clear to us all: the future of surfing is bright, and we were circling it, like moths to a flame.
Our luminescent lightbulb came in the form of Molly Picklum and Bettylou, who went head-to-head in a semi-final that rivalled the competitiveness of a Superbowl Sunday. You honestly couldn’t take your eyes off the horizon for a second without missing excellent score after excellent score. The two battled it out in a way that made me fall in love with Pro Surfing all over again. And honestly, the decibel levels on the beach when Molly Picklum scored that 10-point Pipeline ride injected the atmosphere with enough adrenaline to power the island of Oahu. On a genuine Pipe left, Molly had taken off late, wrenched a rail through a bottom-turn and snuck under the guillotine lip, before chasing the high-line exit. It was a technically challenging treat for the eyes that made you want to crank the volume up on Little Richard’s classic track “Good Golly Miss Molly.” The back of her Red Bull helmet was inscribed with the personal mantra, “A wild heart knows,” and it certainly did.
The heart palpitations just continued from there. Barron Mamiya ran circles around Connor O’Leary right as the nail-biting heat between Picklum and Johnson lapsed. As the wind slacked and Pipe turned into a blue-velvet playing field, it took the one dubbed The Dark Prince of Pipe less than five minutes to notch up a heat total in the excellent range. The lefts were pretty, but the rights were draining and Barron gorged, well aware that waves like that were typically shared with a near triple-figure lineup.
Spectators, commentators, and Kanaka Solutions security crew alike audibly gasped and cheered in synch as Mamiya owned the Pipe stage like a brooding Broadway star. Poor Connor O’Leary got a lesson in local knowledge as Barron took home the highest two-wave score of Pipe this year, a whopping 18.84.
“That was definitely the best heat I’ve ever had in a CT, ha ha,” stated Mamiya, dropping the ice-man mode to let a little excitement show, post-heat.
As the finalists came together: John-John Florence against Barron Mamiya; Caitlin Simmers against Molly Picklum, I could hardly believe a whole eight hours had passed since the heats had begun running in the cool morning twilight. We were finally at the climax of all this, a volatile two weeks had boiled down to four surfers and 70 minutes. And what a ‘fun-filled’ finale it was, as Joe Turpel might phrase it.
Picklum and Simmers put friendship to the test as they ferociously went at each other in the final. Molly drew first blood, shrugging off a tomahawk lip and a ruffled surface to hurl through a Backdoor slab. The 9.27 looked to have put her in a commanding position but Caitlin hit back with a chandelier-dodging runner at Backdoor for an 8.33. Then, as the swell lulled, Simmers played a deft hand by smashing the lip twice on a Backdoor right. The back-up only earned her a 3.83 but it was enough to nudge in front. Simmers maybe has the edge on Picklum for turns and it may have been hard for Molly to match the ride with manoeuvres. In any case Molly was intent on another keg, that’s the mood she was in. Despite only needing a 3.5, Picklum couldn’t find the exits on any of her final rides and crafty Caitlin secured a famous win. Fronted by Strider for the obligatory in-water interview, Caitlin was too ecstatic to do anything but let her gut do the talking. “Pipe for the fuckin girls,” she exclaimed, succinctly summing up everyone’s feelings with a bumper-sticker quote.
Then she turned into the perfect spokesperson. “This wave’s terrifying. I respect everyone who wants a part of it and everyone who doesn’t want a part of it.” That one, at least, will keep the sponsors and WSL chiefs happy.
“I was so nervous, Molly’s one of the best out here, so I was definitely really really scared. But it was fun, Molly’s my friend, so having heats against her is just sick,” Simmers later giggled beneath her freshly placed crown.
Post-heat Simmers was on a roll as she spoke to me in that blasé So-Cal twang. “I feel like it’s always been a thing that girls can surf Pipe, but in the last couple months, and today, it’s pretty clear that girls can get blown out of barrels too. And, it’s so amazing to watch, Molly got a 10 today and Bettylou got that 9.7.”
We were blissfully unaware that we were in for one last hurrah as Barron and John John, two Pipe virtuosos, hit the water. It was really like a two round battle. John got the better of the first exchange after he and Barron paddle-battled like Gladiators. Baron won the scramble but JJF snuffed out the better wave – the second one.
In the second set, JJF went first and slouched through a Pipe hollow, but just as he was stand-talling through a no-claim-claim, Barron was free-falling from way-deep, driving over a lump and exiting with an avalanche of spray. Again the second wave was superior – only this time it was way better and the judges rewarded it with a ten.The cheer that erupted as Mamiya somehow conjured the Houdini exit and emerged from the spit would have got its own parallel perfect 10 score if it had been being judged. JJF couldn’t conjure a comeback and Barron hooted wildly after the result was made final.
“I knew right when it happened, I was like, that has to be a ten. If it’s not, I’m going to be so baffled, because that was the best wave I’ve gotten in a long time,” he smugly chuckled after the heat. Barron also summed up the triple-cherry moment perfectly. “To finally win it, especially with John out there and to get a ten in the final… I’ll definitely never forget that wave for the rest of my life.” Pipe champ, perfect ten, beat JJF in the final. Yep, quite a day. Oh, and world number one. That’s four cherries.
A Hawaiian boy had proudly won in Hawaiian waters, it felt right. Mamiya, a little more humble as he paid tribute to home turf. “It’s definitely a great feeling winning in front of your friends and family and getting to sleep in your own bed as a local and be at home. It’s an insane thing to go through.”
“I grew up here so I’ve always looked up to John and watched him surf out here. It’s a big moment to share a heat with him and get a win. It feels awesome. The next generation of surfers, the young ones on tour, we’re hungry to win comps. And, we’re not scared to take on those bigger names. I think it’s going to be a very good year.”
I shot him a laugh, “What’s that 80k going towards then?” I quizzed.
Mamiya laughed harder, “Probably taxes.”
Credit where it’s due, the WSL pulled this one back and played a deft final hand at Pipe.
The CT tour will continue with the Hurley Pro Sunset Beach that commences this Monday – February 12th – on the North Shore; where we’ll see if the youth of tomorrow can keep their firm grasp on those coveted yellow jerseys.