Tuesday 6th December, 2011 (Banzai Pipeline, Hawaii, USA): The Billabong Pipe Masters in Memory of Andy Irons is set to unfold from December 8 through 20, 2011 and with a big swell looming on the horizon, the world’s best surfers could be battling massive Pipeline on the opening day of the waiting period.
The final stop on the 2011 ASP World Title Series and the third jewel of the Vans Triple Crown, the Billabong Pipe Masters utilizes a unique overlapping format which hosts an expanded field to accommodate the talented list of Hawaiian Pipeline specialists.

Kelly Slater (USA), 39, freshly crowned 11-time ASP World Champion, was admittedly more relaxed entering the upcoming Billabong Pipe Masters after securing the 2011 ASP World Title in San Francisco, but is still anxious to tackle the dangerous barrel after nearly a year out of the North Shore lineup.

“In theory, having won the title in San Francisco takes the pressure off a lot, but there’s a big swell coming,” Slater said. “There’s been nothing to prepare on and I haven’t been there even if there was. It’s going to go from zero to 10 here pretty quick in the next few days and there’s not going to be a whole lot of waves to free-surf beforehand. The pressure is off, so I don’t have to worry about that, but the anxiety building up to surfing the Pipe contest is a lot. I haven’t felt it until sitting here today thinking about it, but it’s exciting and I can’t wait to get in the water. The pressure’s not there (for the ASP World Title), but there is the excitement, the anxiety and getting rid of the nerves after a year of not surfing Pipe.”

Slater, who has won several elite ASP event victories at Pipeline, also explained that the massive swell expected to ignite the infamous reef instantly changes a competitors’ heat strategy in comparison to smaller first-reef Pipeline typically seen in previous years at the Billabong Pipe Masters.

“It’s a whole different deal, you kind of have to make a decision,” Slater said. “Everyone would love to get one of those second-reef bombs in their heat. The truth is, they are heats and you get scored so the chance of getting out there and getting a second reef wave and maximizing your scoring potential at Pipeline probably isn’t going to happen. It’s been a long time since someone’s had a second-reef Pipe wave in a contest, but it’d be nice to see.”

Taj Burrow (AUS), 33, 2009 Billabong Pipe Masters Champion, has been putting his time in at Pipeline in preparation for this year’s contest, but feels the smaller swells on offer earlier this year have done little to prepare him for the serious swell expected to deliver on the opening day of the waiting period.

“It looks like the surf is only going to get better, so I’m getting excited,” Burrow said. “I’ve been surfing out there a lot, but it’s mainly only been rippable little turns, so I’m looking forward to getting some barrels. It’ll be fun. Big Pipe is pretty intimidating, it’s scary for sure, but it’s awesome at the same time. I’m excited to surf such an incredible wave with just a few guys out.”

Burrow, who won the first event of the Vans Triple Crown, the Reef Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa, stumbled at Sunset Beach, but is hoping for Redemption at the Billabong Pipe Masters to keep his hopes alive for the prestigious Hawaiian title.

“I was definitely thinking about the Triple Crown on route to Hawaii,” Burrow said. “In the past Joel Parkinson won it a lot, and it seemed like he won it with ease and I noticed a few of the guys weren’t doing it this year. Triple Crown was something I really wanted to do and I want to win it. It’s looking like a good race with John John (Florence) and Adam (Melling) getting some good results, so it should prove to be an exciting finish.”

John John Florence (HAW), 19, winner of the Vans World Cup at Sunset Beach, is currently leading the Vans Triple Crown ratings entering the final stop at his home break and is chomping at the bit to battle the world’s best surfers despite the pressure that comes along with competing in front of the local crowd.

“It should be fun, we haven’t really had a Pipe swell this year and it’s looking like this will be the first real swell, so no one has had the chance to surf it yet,” Florence said. “There’s definitely pressure. I live there and surf there everyday and I don’t want to lose first heat. I want to have fun out there surfing with only three other guys in the water, it’s amazing.”

Gabriel Medina (BRA), 17, who joined the ASP Top 34 after the midyear rotation, has been in stunning form while scalping two event victories and the young Brazilian is looking at this year’s solid swell as an opportunity to build crucial experience in bigger surf.

“I’ve been to Hawaii five times, but I haven’t surfed Pipe much because it’s always so crowded,” Medina said. “Hopefully I can get some good waves this year with two or three guys in the water. I don’t have a lot of big wave experience, but I’m excited and I’m going to do my best.”

Due to the expanded competition at Pipeline, the ASP has awarded two wildcard spots to surfers next in line on the ASP World Rankings, Kolohe Andino (USA), 17, and Willian Cardoso (BRA), 25. Both surfers will receive ASP World Rankings points for their campaigns at the Billabong Pipeline Masters.

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