When three of the world’s best barrel riders are all injured just before the barrel riding event of the year, you take notice. Kelly Slater broke two toes and confirmed others are sprained, Taj Burrow’s shoulder is giving him serious issues, and CJ Hobgood suffered a gruesome cut to his foot in Portugal that required stitches. The 2014 Billabong Pipe Masters is either going to be an event devoid of world-class barrel riding or a show of grit and strength in the face of ailment. My money’s on the latter.
With a world title on the line, there’s no way Kelly Slater won’t surf. He said as much on Instagram after the incident was made public: “Three weeks or so of healing in a walking boot and a couple more weeks of some rehab but should be ready to go by the #PipeMasters waiting period.” Letting someone walk away with a W is simply not the Kelly Slater way. Gabriel Medina is going to have to earn it the old fashioned way at Pipe, right in Slater’s wheelhouse.
Surprising news out of 17-year tour veteran Taj Burrow’s camp is that he will withdraw from the Pipe Masters after a nagging shoulder injury became too much to bear. Rumor has it this was a product of his and Mark Mathews’ risky business at The Right. According to the ASP, Taj is scheduled for shoulder surgery in Los Angeles after which a three-month recovery period is mandated.
He told Stab Magazine, “It’s still bearable to do stuff, but it’s just been bugging me and I’m really sluggish when I’m paddling…I’ve been getting annoyed with it and thought this was the best time to get it fixed, I really wanna get it over and done with while I’ve got some downtime.” And downtime he has as 2014 won’t be his year for a world title as he currently sits at number 9 on the WCT rankings. No doubt bummed on the way things have shaken out, other competitors who would’ve drawn Burrow have to be silently psyched as his prowess in the barrel could’ve spelled the end for them at surfing’s ultimate finale.
The most visually appealing (if blood and gore are your thing) injury heading into Pipe belongs to CJ Hobgood. After having his foot sliced open during a free surf in Portugal, he withdrew from the competition at a crucial time of the year for collecting points. He received 12 stitches on the sand and, according to an interview with Hobgood by the ASP, his stitches came out yesterday as he withdrew from Haleiwa. His goals are set moving forward, though: “I am just hoping to walk without discomfort by the end of this month. Still entered in Sunset, but the focus is to get as good as possible for Pipe.”
This event has serious implications for the hobbled Hobgood as his current standing is number 23 in the world. Only the top 22 requalify for 2015. Regardless, CJ remains positive. “It’s all speculation ’til I try and surf on it see what it feels like and…hoping to try that in early December. If there is a will there is a way. [This is] my lifelong dream and the reason I wanted to be a pro surfer was the excitement and challenge that Pipe brings.”
While we never know how quickly, or slowly, an injury will heal up, Pipe needs Kelly and CJ back in fighting form as it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting of an event without the two at 100%. Even if they’re not completely healed, chances are they’ll man up and paddle out. As CJ put it, “You just never know until you try to surf on an injury.”