John John Florence and Kelly Slater are Ripping Pipeline Right Now–But Only One Will Go to the Olympics

Day 2 of the Billabong Pipe Masters turned into a John John and Kelly show. Thursday promises to be a showdown.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games has been rescheduled to begin July 23, 2021 and end Aug. 8, 2021. The Paralympic Games have also been moved to Aug. 24, 2021. 

  kelly slater

Kelly Slater


For announcers, surfers and local visitors alike, Day Two of the Billabong Pipeline Masters brought forth comparisons to the great golden days of contest surfing in the 1990s. Along with a world title to be sorted out between three Brazilians, a South African and an outside shot American (California’s Kolohe Andino), the menu for Wednesday was highlighted by Hawai‘i surfer John John Florence, former Floridian Kelly Slater and hot local rookie Seth Moniz as tightly bunched competitors for the remaining U.S. Olympic slot.


The swell filled in overnight and the surf jacked up to classic Pipeline size with optimal conditions in the morning heats. The waves ranged from a guesstimated 6 to 12 feet, forming barrels but also closing out quickly. The first of the 16 two-man heats started at 8 a.m. The time in each heat expanded from the 32 minutes of the day before to 48 minutes.  


SEE ALSO: 11 Things Locals Need to Know About 2020’s First-Ever Olympic Surf Competition at the Tokyo Games

Seth Moniz and Jack Freestone
It’s a split peak for Australia’s Jack Freestone (left) and O‘ahu’s Seth Moniz in their respected heats. Moniz battled Maui’s Billy Kemper in heat 7 while Freestone went up against Jack Callinan.


By mid-morning, anticipation was building not just for Florence but for Slater. But nobody expected what came next—except all those who’d seen Slater win 11 world titles and weren’t ready to write him off with an “OK Gen-Xer.” Looking more like a 27-year-old than a 47-year-old, he pulled off tube after tube like an escape artist. He scored a perfect 10 on a ride where he repeatedly disappeared into tube sections of such duration that the crowd on the beach rose up screaming. Add in two more tubes in the same heat and suddenly it seemed quite possible that Slater might not only end Florence’s Olympic bid but could win the contest.


kelly slater  and gabriel medina on day 2 of the billabong pipe masters.
Video: world surf league’s facebook page


By the time Florence took the stage two hours later, O‘ahu’s Seth Moniz had beaten Maui’s Billy Kemper, no mean feat given Kemper’s Jaws Big Wave Championships title. Moniz thus kept himself right in the mix with Slater and Florence for the Olympics, too.

  seth moniz


Florence didn’t waste any time, hopping on a wave for a quick tube to get an early score in—3.17—and avoid working from behind another local, Ezekiel Lau, who’d ripped off a 9.73 wave the day before and had just come in second in the Sunset Beach Vans World Cup a few days before. Florence’s second wave was big and if there were any worries about putting everything on his restructured knee, they were settled by the time he pulled out of a long, almost inescapable tube. The 8.0 score put Florence way out in front and also seemed to unsettle Lau, who pulled into tube after tube only to have the waves break on his head. With 20 minutes to go, Florence led by 11.17 to 4.26.


SEE ALSO: Hawai‘i’s John John Florence Joins Surfer Lineup at the Billabong Pipe Masters

kelly slater


Florence used his priority to goad a frustrated Lau to go for a wave that again ended up unmakeable. A moment later, taking a sheer straight drop down a 15-foot face, Florence dug his rail in and leaned low and deep into the barrel’s inside wall, stalling his speed and prolonging the tube ride into a near-perfect 9.70.


the facebook post from the world surf league says, "john john florence with the comeback claim 💪"
video: World surf league’s facebook page


Out ahead with a 17.70 score, Florence, one announcer said, “just took control of the wave with his mind. He’s in his happy state.”


Indeed, as the slow-mo of his 9.70 wave showed, Florence displayed the balance and catlike reflexes of a gymnast while using every body part for leverage—from an arm flung up and above his head to the hand he dipped into the inside wall as a trim tab to cantilevering his body sideways at the same time as he stuck his, well, posterior into the back of the barrel, a maneuver that stalled his speed and prolonged his time in the tube. As he emerged, he struck a victory pose—hands clasped behind his back, chest thrown back—prompting Australian announcer Barton Lynch to remark, “it looks like the sailor’s back in port.”

  billy kemper



A few minutes later, as if to punctuate the joy he felt, he went and did it again and scored a higher second wave, 8.80. This boosted his score to an 18.50 out of 20, while Lau never could find his line and was buried in more tubes than Florence caught for a disappointing 4.50.


Pausing for interviewers on the beach after his heat, Florence grinned. “It’s absolutely beautiful out there,” he said. “The waves are perfect. And I’m so excited to be barreled again.”


To keep his priority position on the remaining U.S. Olympic surfing spot, now all Florence has to do is finish ahead of Slater through the next four rounds. But if Florence should fall, and Slater win in the same round and the one following, he’ll be the one walking in the opening ceremonies at Tokyo.

  seth moniz


More and bigger swell lies ahead for tomorrow, Thursday, and if necessary, on Friday or over the weekend. Maui’s Jaws Big Wave Championship also has the green light and will be called Thursday at 7:30 a.m., so watch for Billy Kemper and others to head off to Pe‘ahi.


You can watch the competition tomorrow live on World Surf League’s Facebook page. See video of today’s competition on


Read more stories by Don Wallace