Losing the 2019 WCT Pipe Masters opener is a mistake. But the bigger mistake, by a longshot, was kicking Pipe from the end of the ’19 season to the beginning. (Was it a mistake, though? In the technical sense? I’d lay even odds that WSL, for reasons we can only guess at—pro surfing’s inner workings are less mysterious than Freemasonry, but just barely—intended to dump Pipe altogether in 2019.) So in other words I can’t vent about Pipe falling out as the season opener, because I’ve barely started in on the folly of losing Pipe as the closer. The Masters is pro surfing’s North Star. Everything else that happens on tour, up or down, good, bad, or ridiculous—Pipe ties it all together, sets a goal, keeps the whole show from sailing off for good into absurdity, or irrelevance, or insolvency. Just the thought of it. Just the anticipation. Average seasons can be redeemed by a great Masters event. Ranking pros have to step up at Pipe or live with an asterisk next to their name. The Masters is the strongest and brightest link pro surfing has with its past: Gerry Lopez on this end, Jeremy Flores on that end, with 45-plus years of spit-soaked highlights in-between. (Not every year, I know. But often enough.)
Pro surfing shot itself in the foot on the regular during the 1980s. World tour contests in South Africa when every other sport abided by an apartheid-era boycott. The “World Inland Surfing Championships,” at Allentown. And worst of all, from a fan’s perspective, bumping Pipe off the schedule from ’83 to ‘85. To my mind, the ‘80s have always been the low point on the pro surfing timeline.