By no means was this perfect Pipeline. With a dwindling swell and a bit of that classic Oahu morning sickness, the Billabong Pipe Masters got underway Thursday, starting with the final heat of Round 5 and then into the Quarterfinals. After C.J. Hobgood’s final bow from the World Tour (going down to Gabriel Medina), Mick Fanning drew Kelly Slater in Quarterfinal number two.
Both Kelly and Mick put up some of the lowest scores of the entire competition, making it a battle of 2’s and 3’s. But because of the stakes, it was still a veritable nail-biter.
With two minutes and change on the clock, Mick needed a 2.67 to take the lead over Kelly. One of the better waves of the slow heat popped on the horizon and Mick had priority. He dropped in at Backdoor, the entire beach and viewers at home holding their breath. A warbly wall of whitewash was between him and the tube, but he pumped his way around it and ducked under two short but cavernous sections.
It looked like it was enough to get the minuscule score, but tension was still high. When the scores dropped, the wave came in at a 6.0, more than enough to take the lead over Slater.
The heat was just one of many major hurdles that Fanning has had to overcome this year – even in the past couple hours, alone. Yesterday, before paddling out to keep his dreams for a fourth World Title alive, he found out that his older brother had died. The entire surf community has shown their support for Mick and his family, including Kelly. Before the heat, he gave Mick’s mom a huge hug.
After the heat, Mick met with Rosy Hodge, wearing his emotions on his sleeve while also staying extremely strong under the circumstances.
“I just felt the sun come out,” Mick said. “Usually when the sun comes out, a wave comes. I’m almost in tears every time I paddle out. [I’m] just going through waves of emotion.”
Nearly losing her professional composure because of Mick’s strength under the hard times, Rosy Hodge, on the verge of tears, quivered her way through a send off: “Back to you, Ronnie [Blakey].”
Next up in Quarterfinal Heat 4, Adriano de Souza is taking on Josh Kerr. If Adriano wins, he keeps his World Title dreams alive, but if not, Mick will take home the gold making this one of the most eventful years in the history of surfing.