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It's that time of the year again when the World Surf League kicks off its tour, and professional surfing fans start frothing all over again. Last year there was some skepticism around the timing of the Pipeline event, with some thinking it was too late in the Hawaiian season. In contrast, others were somewhat unhappy that it started the tour off. Tradition always says that the tour ends in Hawaii, and Pipeline often decides the world title in waves of consequence. Having said that, let's not forget the ocean's whims and Bede Durbidge's win in 2007 in two-foot rights at Backdoor, with close-out re-entries on the sand scoring the highest points.

None of this mattered as the waves pumped last year, and Kelly Slater rose to take the win. He would celebrate his 50th birthday a few days later, and what's not to love about that?

There are a few wildcards that have Hawaiian credo. Still, one of the most critical elements in surfing an event at a place like Pipeline is experience. The wave has so many moods and numerous faces. So a surfer who knows all her moods through the experience of surfing the break for years has a clear advantage over many.

Gabriel Medina
5.00 - 5.50

It's going to be great to see Medina competing at Pipe. There is a little cloud of uncertainty about how motivated he is for the new season, but the word out is that he is gunning for a world title. Medina, at full tilt, is a ferocious competitor who is always ready to use the rules of competition to his advantage. Medina has been through a lot of upheaval over the last few years but seems to have emerged unscathed and ready for another crack at No. 1.

A previous winner in 2018 and a proven champion in all heaving left-hand reefs on tour, Medina will have a point to prove and will want to start off his year with the advantage of a first win.

John John Florence
4.50 - 5.00

One of Pipe's true locals, John John, can win at Pipe on any given day. His inherent knowledge of the break, and his flawless approach to every wave, whether Pipe or Backdoor, makes him a sure thing to make it through to finals day and take the win. At this stage, he is surfing without injury, but he has been suffering from injuries for a while now and needs to stay clear and focused on this first event. It's always exciting to watch John John at Pipe due to the element of surprise that he has in his surfing. When you least expect it, he will go for the biggest punt imaginable without any worries about the consequences. This unpredictability is what everyone loves.

Kelly Slater
9.00 - 12.00

Not everyone wants to see Kelly included as one of the top options for a Pipe win, but it is impossible to take him out of the picture. Even if last year's victory had extra luck involved for Slater, he has been winning events at Pipe since 1992 and has eight victories over the years. This is a testament that you cannot write him off anytime soon. If you considered the experience factor, Slater would be unbeatable. Riding Pipeline and getting the big scores are, after all, about nerves and placement. Taking off on waves that would make most mortals tremble and holding back through heavy sections to get maximum barrel time. He can also finish with a huge punt or two, so there is that.

Jack Robinson
7.00 - 9.00

Robbo's unique skill set is his uncanny ability in waves of severe consequences. The shallow the reef and the more sketchy the take-off, the better he seems to do. It's like he knows he has an advantage – no doubt from surfing The Box whenever it breaks – and he thrives on that advantage by going harder than anyone when most are pulling back. His confidence will see him as a serious threat at Pipeline, and his third-place finish on last year's rankings indicates that he is also dead-set on another world title campaign in 2023. Nothing really holds Robbo back at places like Pipeline. Yet, he has suffered a few agonizingly close situations where he has been eliminated by mere fractions of a point. Should the calls start going his way this year – and many think that his incredible talent will eliminate any doubting by the judges – he could win Pipe and go on to win his maiden world title.

Italo Ferreira
9.00 - 10.00

He is a little untested when Pipe turns into massive second reef roll-throughs – but Ferreira won the tournament in 2019 and took that victory with him to the world title. When he won the event, the waves were a solid but windy four to six-foot, and his best waves were technically ridden Backdoor barrels on his backhand. He was unbeatable and thoroughly deserved that victory for threading solid tubes over the Backdoor reef. His skill and talent in waves in the four to six-foot range might just be the single element that takes him all the way to a win. If the waves are smaller than that, another sub-set of surfers light up, but he could be pretty unbeatable in that comfort-zone range of four to six-footers.

João Chianca
18.00 - 23.00

In last year's Pipe Pro, Chianca was impressive and handled whatever Pipe threw at him like a master. In his rookie year on tour, his performance was scintillating. First, he eliminated Jack Robinson, and his performance in the round of 16 saw him amass a heat total of 16.74 for two excellent waves, including one heavy roll-in from Second Reef. Unfortunately, he was up against John John, who looked like he was surfing in a flow state and banked 17.77 points for the heat win. If Chianca finds his rhythm this year, he could be throwing out upsets to anyone coming his way.


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