2014 Volcom Pipe Pro Preview
The world's best Pipeline surfers gear up for the Volcom Pipe Pro
The Volcom Pipe Pro has become one of the most hotly contested events on Hawaii's North Shore—second, many say, to only the Billabong Pipeline Masters, which is the final event of the elite ASP World Championship Tour. The differences between the Volcom Pipe Pro and the Pipe Masters are few but extremely important in both the approach the surfers take at this famous spot, and the experience the viewer gets while watching.
First off, the Volcom Pipe Masters, which is set to run Jan. 26 to Feb. 7, is an ASP Five-Star event, meaning it's one of the year's first big-time opportunities for surfers attempting to qualify for the premier World Tour for 2015. Second, the Pipe Pro uses four-man heats, while the Pipe Masters uses two-man, priority-based heats with a switch-off four-man format throughout the event. Four-man heats at Pipeline are especially intense. The take-off zone is fairly tight, the paddle battles are insane, and when/if there's an interference, the consequences can be dire because Pipeline and Backdoor are considered two of the heaviest waves on the planet.
Another crucial factor that makes the Volcom Pipe Pro intense is that it attracts some of the best surfers from the World Tour as well as hungry surfers on the World Qualifying Series who are looking to qualifying for the World Tour at any cost. (And, of course, the field also includes local Pipe specialists.)
In other words, many people believe that the Pipe Pro's field is better than the Billabong Pipe Masters', even though Pipe Masters is technically a higher-rated event. "The field at the Volcom Pipe Pro is heavy," says past Pipe Pro champion Jamie O'Brien. "Not only do you have to surf against four guys, but most of the time, those four guys you're surfing against either surf Pipe really well, or they're ready to do anything they have to do because they either want to make their mark at Pipeline, or make the World Tour."
To put it simply, with the Volcom Pipe Pro, there's a little bit more grit, making it more of a super cool little brother to the Pipe Masters, rather than its red-headed stepchild.
You also typically get insane surf at the Volcom Pipe Pro. "It's definitely one of my favorite events of the year," says John John Florence, consecutive winner of the last three Volcom Pipe Pro events. "I love Pipeline at this time of year, and for some reason, the waves always seem to be so good for this event. The field of surfers is great in this contest because you get a lot of locals and guys you surf with a lot at Pipeline on freesurf days, plus I have a lot more friends who get to do this event as opposed to the World Tour events."
John John Florence is an obvious favorite for this year's Pipe Pro, with three wins in his pocket, but this year seven-time Pipe Masters champion Kelly Skater has thrown his name in to the ring, officially entering the event for his first time. Last year, Slater found himself in the commentary booth kicking himself for not entering.
What might be the best aspect of this year's Volcom Pipe Pro? If you've looked at a swell chart in the past few days, you've no doubt seen a swath of purple moving toward the North Shore like a giant blob of grape jelly slowly moving across your kitchen counter. This means there are big waves—and a lot of them—on tap for the event. "The 2014 Volcom Pipe Pro is already forming in to one of those must-watch events," says Pipeline specialist and Volcom Pipe Pro commentator Dave Wassel. "I haven't been this excited about a surf contest in a long time, and I can honestly say I'm like a kid waiting for Christmas Day. Bring on the Volcom Pipe Pro!"—Chris Coté