“There's nothing like (the Pipeline Masters) for showcasing the sport at its absolute staggering best," says Nick Carroll.
Once upon a time, well, until two years ago, the most prestigious surfing contest in the world was the Pipeline Masters, a tuberiding event held at Pipe on Oahu’s North Shore.
The Pipeline Masters was created in 1971 by the wonderful Fred Hemmings, one of the pivotal figures in surfing whose contribution to the game was largely ignored ‘cause of his conservative bent, and won that year by Jeff Hakman, followed by two years of dominance by Mr Pipe Gerry Lopez.
The Pipeline Masters was a contest whose crown was almost as gilded as a world title. Slater would win it seven times, as a twenty year old in 1992, and aged almost forty-two in 2013. Andy Irons won four times, 2002 through 2008, and it hosted multiple world title showdowns, the most precious Andy v Kelly in 2003 and Italo v Gabriel in 2019.
In a wild and fitting last breath, it gifted victory to John John Florence in 2021. The Hawaiian took his iron hard-on and blew the achey pressure in his balls into his first, and only, Pipe Masters crown. Fitting that his little brother Ivan, who also grew up at Pipe and who looks like a roughed up Mason Ho, scored a ten in the event and finished third.
Then, and as you may recall, a hammer was taken to this precious cultural relic when the WSL, and Vans who own the intellectual property rights to the Pipeline Masters, couldn’t swing a mutually satisfying agreement with Billabong for ‘em to continue as naming sponsor of the event.
See, because the WSL’s wanted to start the 2022 season in Hawaii and end it at Trestles in September, they had to run the 2021 Pipe Masters in January. Therefore there couldn’t be two events in the same year so the usual December slot wasn’t used.
This meant that for 2022, the WSL had to juggle the events and come up with new dates and names.
The Volcom Pipe Pro got dropped in favour of Billabong taking over that slot, renaming it, awkwardly, Billabong Pro Pipeline.
The Pipeline Masters still runs on its usual dates, December 8-20, 2022, but it’s an invite-only event with a focus on Vans-sponsored surfers. Cash is good, broadcast is fun, the gals get their share of the waves and loot, but it ain’t no Pipeline Masters.
This year, Vans ain’t even pretending to invite the best in the biz.
Problem here is the confusion the switcharoo brings to surfing history. A week before his fiftieth birthday in 2022, Kelly Slater, looking like an old-school bull dagger with his thick neck and shaved head, won the Billabong Pro Pipeline.
It should’ve been his eighth Pipeline Masters title, and plenty of newsrooms were labelling it as such.
Between sobs Slater said, “I committed my life to this.”
But it wasn’t a Pipeline Masters title.
And, despite Wikipedia being edited to include Billabong Pro Pipeline titles, it still ain’t and never will be.