Ryan Callinan (1st) and Benji Brand (2nd) Earn Wildcards Into Billabong Pipe MastersDec 12, 2018
Today, Ryan Callinan (AUS) won the Pipe Invitational, the 32-man trials event that awards the top two finishers a wildcard place into the Billabong Pipe Masters. In 6-to-8 foot NW swell, Callinan bested the four-man Final while Benji Brand (HAW) took second, both defeating Torrey Meister (HAW) and Soli Bailey (AUS) for the two coveted spots into the main event.
The Billabong Pipe Masters in Memory of Andy Irons is the final stop on the 2018 World Surf League (WSL) Men’s Championship Tour (CT), and now Callinan and Brand will have the opportunity to compete against the world’s best in the year’s surfing finale.
After today’s victory, former CT surfer Callinan will enter his third CT event in a row after being awarded wildcards into the Quiksilver Pro France and MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal earlier this season. The Australian, who has been on a tear through the back-half of the season, has already secured his re-qualification for the elite Top 34 next year and will surf the upcoming Billabong Pipe Masters pressure-free.
“It’s awesome!” Callinan said. “To be honest this whole day I haven’t really put together the best heats. I think in the Final was my highest heat score. But just to keep going through and to surf Pipe with no one else is fun and I can’t wait for the main event. I just want to get some good waves and, hopefully, Pipe turns on in the next few days.”
The strong wind swung side-onshore by the time the Final hit the water at Pipeline this afternoon, rendering conditions extremely difficult for the last four contenders and making barrels even more of a scarce find in the lineup. The first 15 minutes witnessed surfers exchange average waves and fail to complete maneuvers leaving the door wide open for all competitors.
Callinan found the first hollow section to seek shade and posted a decent 4.00 considering the conditions on offer, quickly backing it up with a couple of turns to slightly extend his lead over Meister, Brand and Bailey. While the three surfers continued to struggle with low numbers, Callinan added a 5.67 to his scoreboard with another fun looking lefthand barrel.
Ryan Callinan. Photo: WSL / Cestari
As time ran out for the field, Callinan claimed the win and one of two wildcards into the Billabong Pipe Masters. Brand with a quick tube on his forehand and a combination of two backhand turns built a 5.47 total that was enough for him to place runner-up in the Pipe Invitational and took the second wildcard as the highest surfer from Hawaii in the event.
Brand lived a very similar Pipe Invitational experience last year, placing second and claiming a wildcard into the main event. Defeated by current World Title contender Julian Wilson (AUS) back then, he will have a second chance to perform on home turf and potentially play spoilers in the World Title race against World No. 1 Gabriel Medina (BRA) when the Billabong Pipe Masters gets underway.
“It feels unreal, this is exactly what happened to me last year,” Brand stated. “I couldn’t believe it then and it’s the same feeling now. I’m really stoked! There are a lot of different little zones in the reef where it’s shallower and where it throws more with certain angles. The waves come in and I think spending a lot of time out here definitely helps so you can pick the right waves.”
Meister and Bailey, unfortunately, couldn’t play their cards right in the tricky lineup of blow-out Pipe and were left sitting on minimal scores all the way into the end of their 35-minute Final. They placed third and fourth respectively and will not get the precious invite into the last CT event of the season.
In the Semifinals, only Meister and Brand managed to find good waves in their respective heats. Meister found a quick barrel on his backhand and added a couple of turns to complete the ride for a 6.50 and the win. On the other hand, Brand found a picture-perfect Pipe wave, late dropped into a quick bottom turn and set up for a fast and deep barrel to claim an 8.87 and his spot in the Final. This excellent 8.87 was the highest single wave score of the day.
The Quarterfinals were a relatively slow affair until Ethan Ewing (AUS) completely stole the show in the final heat with a clinic on back-to-back waves. The Australian first started on the left, backdooring the first section to get locked in deep and exiting perfectly for a 7.67. He paddled back out in the lineup just in time to start on a right, which offered a long and hollow section for an 8.83 and the heat win. Ewing caught another long tube in the dying moments of the exchange but got clipped by the lip right before the exit. The former CT surfer suffered an ankle sprain in the process and unfortunately had to pull out of the event after being arguably the strongest surfer in the previous rounds.
Ethan Ewing on fire. Photo: WSL / Cestari
Competition had previously launched early this morning with a good ride from Makai McNamara (HAW) within the first few minutes as the North Shore local threaded a clean barrel on Banzai Pipeline for a 6.33, which would become one of the highest single-scores of the opening round of competition. The following heats slowed as conditions became affected by the changing swell and winds, unfortunately not offering substantial scoring potential. Joshua Moniz (HAW) changed that with a quick and deep tube at Backdoor as he found a small opening to make it out and claim a 7.83 and his spot into the Quarterfinals. Billabong wildcard Ewing locked into a dreamy backhand barrel of his own in the very last heat of the round and took a solid win into the Quarterfinals.
The next call for the Billabong Pipe Masters will be tomorrow, Thursday, December 13, at 7:30 a.m. HST, when organizers will assess the conditions and decide if the competition will run.
Full house for the opening day. Photo: WSL / Cestari