Competitors entering the trials portion of the Gerry Lopez Mountain Dew PipelineMasters 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 sostrong the spray would be in your eyes and you couldn’t tell how big the nextone was gonna be.”
If the second heat of the day was any indication, anybody paddling out knewthey were in for it when former Pipe Master Derek Ho took a bad fall, got hisleash stuck around the reef, and came shockingly close to drowning.
Lifeguard Pete Johnson ditched his ski to help Ho, who lost his equilibriumand 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 likeJun Jo who spent his heat avoiding the huge west sets and getting pushed to theinside, “I guess you could say it was out of control,” said Jo. “After seeingDerek 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 TamayoPerry in first, followed by Kaua‘i’s Bruce Irons, and Australian Zane Harrisonin 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– torpedoingmy head straight into the reef, hitting my back and knee. I was underwater forso long my arms were starting to tingle, and I was in a cave. I couldn’t comeup. I swam my hardest to come up, but my leash was tied to the reef and I waslike, ‘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 becausethe current was sucking me in, and then a backwash came and lifted me up. I tookmy leash off, my board went in, and I started to swim in and Brock was like ‘Youwant to get on the ski? You want me to take you in?’ I was like, ‘No, I wantto face this wave–I’ll surf it again.’ I don’t want to be forever afraidof it.
“I went in and paddled back out. There were only like ten minutes left inthe final. Bruce and I were sitting out there and he was like, ‘You’ve gotto get a good one.’ Then we waited, but there were no good ones left. That’s howit ended up–I missed the main event by one spot.”