Five rounds of the Billabong Pipe Masters have been held in two days in triple-overhead surf at iconic Pipeline on Oahu's North Shore. Standing out above a stellar field has been John John Florence, 19, who has scored two perfect 10s and on Friday defeated Kelly Slater, 39, in the non-elimination fourth round.
Now comes a quarterfinals rematch that might render the final anticlimactic.
Florence, a Pipeline local, is a rising star, and ratings leader of the prestigious Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. The Pipeline contest is the series' final jewel.
Slater, 39, has won 11 ASP World Tour championships and has dominated pro surfing for two decades. The Pipe Masters also is the World Tour season-finale. Slater clinched his 11th world title in the previous contest.
But the Floridian has plenty to prove; he was trounced by Florence in the best-two-waves format in the fourth round, 17.67 to 8.50, at Pipeline.
So the burning question is, how will he respond, after winning his fifth-round heat to force the rematch?
"I hope I'm not peaking too soon," said Florence, sporting a swollen and bloodied face from a wipeout and reef face-plant Friday. "I'm just going out there to get the best waves I can. It's so perfect ... it's the best Pipe in a long time. You just want to go on every wave.
"This is definitely a dream, just surfing these waves at my home break, beating Kelly ... This has definitely been the best year I've ever had."
Florence knows Pipeline better than most. He surfs the notoriously hollow break just about every chance he gets. Slater knows the break, too, and has won heats at Pipeline against far more established surfers than Florence.
But Slater, who won his first world title at age 20, less than a month after Florence was born, is realistic. "I see John John as the guy to beat," Slater said. "He's had two 10s and he's probably the best guy all around out here now. I lost to him earlier — it was kind of a non-elimination thing. But if I were to lose to him tomorrow, it's definitely no shame. I think he's better than everyone else in this contest."
This helps set the stage for what promises to be another eventful day of competition.
While the swell is expected to subside beginning Saturday, organizers are optimistic that the final seven heats of the Billabong Pipe Masters will get underway at 8 a.m., with the Pipe Masters champion and the Vans Triple Crown champion crowned at midday.
Which surfers do you expect to see at the top spots on the podium?
— Image of Kelly Slater in action at Pipeline on Friday is courtesy of Kirstin/ASP