Competitors entering the trials portion of the Gerry Lopez Mountain Dew Pipeline Masters were treated to a barrage of west peaks that made competing in the ten- to twelve-foot waves scary.
“It was the most treacherous Pipe I’ve ever seen,” said finalist Jesse Merle-Jones. “It was pretty heavy, because when you were paddling up a wave, the wind was so strong the spray would be in your eyes and you couldn’t tell how big the next one was gonna be.”
If the second heat of the day was any indication, anybody paddling out knew they were in for it when former Pipe Master Derek Ho took a bad fall, got his leash stuck around the reef, and came shockingly close to drowning.
Lifeguard Pete Johnson ditched his ski to help Ho, who lost his equilibrium and was swimming for the bottom. Ho suffered from a gash to the head, a concussion, severe shock, and water in his lungs.
Seeing this happen to a legend like Ho became a reality check to surfers like Jun Jo who spent his heat avoiding the huge west sets and getting pushed to the inside, “I guess you could say it was out of control,” said Jo. “After seeing Derek get hurt, anybody can get hurt. Everybody was telling everyone to be careful, which is rare.”
Placing in the final and moving on to the main event was O‘ahu’s Tamayo Perry in first, followed by Kaua‘i’s Bruce Irons, and Australian Zane Harrison in third. Barely missing out on a wildcard spot in fourth place was Jesse Merle-Jones, who had quite an experience himself.
“In the first wave in the finals, I got pitched over the falls– torpedoing my head straight into the reef, hitting my back and knee. I was underwater for so long my arms were starting to tingle, and I was in a cave. I couldn’t come up. I swam my hardest to come up, but my leash was tied to the reef and I was like, ‘This is it, I’m dead. I hope the jet ski gets me,'” Jesse remembers.
“I just relaxed–I tried not to panic. I couldn’t get my leash off because the current was sucking me in, and then a backwash came and lifted me up. I took my leash off, my board went in, and I started to swim in and Brock was like ‘You want to get on the ski? You want me to take you in?’ I was like, ‘No, I want to face this wave–I’ll surf it again.’ I don’t want to be forever afraid of it.
“I went in and paddled back out. There were only like ten minutes left in the final. Bruce and I were sitting out there and he was like, ‘You’ve got to get a good one.’ Then we waited, but there were no good ones left. That’s how it ended up–I missed the main event by one spot.”