We’ve said it before. At this point, it’s Gabriel Medina’s world title to lose. And what’s the only thing the 24-year-old world champion fears going into the Billabong Pipe Masters (an event in which he has to make the final to clinch the world title without relying on Julian Wilson and Filipe Toledo getting a lackluster result)? How about surfing’s bonafide wünderkind coming back after injury to his home break with nothing to lose? Or, one Robert Kelly Slater also mixing into the heat draw with a penchant for shaking things up? Or, both. Yeah, the 2018 world title race just got even more interesting.
According to the World Surf League, John John Florence, Kelly Slater, and Caio Ibelli have all confirmed they’ll compete in the 2018 Billabong Pipe Masters after each battled injuries during the course of the year.
Slater, as you may recall, has been up against a pesky bone issue in his right hoof since the 2017 J-Bay event. He surfed at the Surf Ranch Pro, but has said that even though he surfed macking Cloudbreak earlier in 2018 he wasn’t where he wanted to be competitively. Now, it would seem, the GOAT is back.
Florence suffered a bum knee during a freesurf in Bali, and Caio Ibelli broke his foot at Margaret River.
Going into Pipe, shakeups, it would seem, are imminent.
Quick reminder, here are the existing world title scenarios courtesy of the WSL:
“If Medina finishes first or second, he will win his second World Title. Only if Medina finishes third or worse will Toledo or Wilson have a shot. If Medina finishes third, one of them needs to win the event in order to win the Title. And if Medina finishes fifth or worse, Toledo or Wilson need to finish first or second to claim the Title.”
And here are the heat draws:
Heat 1: Jordy Smith (ZAF), Frederico Morais (PRT), Kelly Slater (USA)
Heat 2: Owen Wright (AUS), Yago Dora (BRA), Miguel Pupo (BRA)
Heat 3: Italo Ferreira (BRA), Joan Duru (FRA), Keanu Asing (HAW)
Heat 4: Filipe Toledo (BRA), Matt Wilkinson (AUS), Caio Ibelli (BRA)
Heat 5: Julian Wilson (AUS), Tomas Hermes (BRA), Wildcard
Heat 6: Gabriel Medina (BRA), Connor O’Leary (AUS), Wildcard
Heat 7: Wade Carmichael (AUS), Griffin Colapinto (USA), John John Florence (HAW)
Heat 8: Kanoa Igarashi (JPN), Sebastian Zietz (HAW), Michael February (ZAF)
Heat 9: Michel Bourez (PYF), Ezekiel Lau (HAW), Ian Gouveia (BRA)
Heat 10: Conner Coffin (USA), Jeremy Flores (FRA), Jesse Mendes (BRA)
Heat 11: Kolohe Andino (USA), Adrian Buchan (AUS), Joel Parkinson (AUS)
Heat 12: Willian Cardoso (BRA), Michael Rodrigues (BRA), Patrick Gudauskas (USA)