There are no guarantees when it comes to surfing Pipeline and that’s why world No. 1 Gabriel Medina was in a tense situation with under 10 minutes left in his third-round Billabong Pipe Masters heat early Sunday afternoon in front of an estimated 5,000 fans at Ehukai Beach.
Medina, locked in an intense world-title race with two others, was trailing and faced elimination, but caught a late wave with about five minutes to go in his back-and-forth heat against Hawaii’s Seth Moniz. The wave in classic, big and clean Pipeline scored a 6.60 and it pushed him past Moniz, 14.30 to 11.83.
Wave faces got as big as 20 feet.
No. 2 Julian Wilson of Australia nudged past Brazil’s Miguel Pupo, 8.43 to 7.00, and also got through to the fourth round to keep his world-title hopes alive.
No. 3 Filipe Toledo, the only other contender remaining for surfing’s biggest prize, got the toughest draw possible and was eliminated from obtaining his first world crown by 11-time world champion Kelly Slater, 15.60 to 6.77, in the final heat of the day.
Medina, who is ranked No. 1 on the World Surf League’s championship tour and won it all in 2014, dodged the proverbial bullet. Had he lost to Moniz, he would have been pretty much out of contention, leaving it in the hands of Wilson or Toledo (before he was eliminated).
The Pipe Masters needs one more day to complete, and it could be as soon as tomorrow. A call will be made by organizers at 7:30 a.m. If Medina finishes first or second in the contest, he can clinch the world title. Wilson will have to go deep into the event and hope Medina stumbles.
Earlier in the day, Toledo was in trouble in his second-round heat against Hawaii’s Benji Brand, but caught a late left-hander to win, 12.70 to 11.76. But his prize for that was a matchup against Slater, and that didn’t end well.
The Vans Triple Crown race — the best surfer combined in the three season-ending contests — is still being contested. Honolulu’s Ezekiel Lau, who won the second leg, the Vans World Cup, is no longer in contention for the Triple Crown title after losing his second-round heat to Brazil’s Jesse Mendes, 5.40 to 3.93.
Mendes and Australia’s Joel Parkinson, who won the first leg, the Hawaiian Pro, are Nos. 1 and 2 in the Triple Crown standings. Both also made it to the fourth round, as did the only two others who can win the Triple Crown — South Africa’s Jordy Smith and France’s Joan Duru.