John John Florence surfs during the Billabong Pipe Masters on Dec. 19, 2019 in Haleiwa, Hawaii.
The Pipe Masters title is back in Hawaii, and John John Florence was the man to do it.
Florence became the first Hawaiian since Andy Irons in 2006 to win the prestigious event, held annually at the world-famous Banzai Pipeline on Oahu’s North Shore. Florence topped Brazil’s Gabriel Medina Sunday in the final of the World Surf League season opener, 11.77-11.10, grabbing a late wave without priority to take the lead for good.
Winning at the Pipeline was an elusive dream for Florence, who grew up on the North Shore watching the competition himself. He clinched an Olympic berth at the event last year, when it was the season’s final competition, outdueling fellow American Kelly Slater for the second and final spot. Florence again topped Slater earlier on Sunday in a closely-contested semifinal.
Florence will hope to replicate the hot start he had last year as he goes for his third career world championship. Florence won two of the first four events on the Championship Tour in 2019 before injuries forced him to miss five events for the second year in a row. That ended his world championship hopes but a fifth-place finish at the Pipe Masters was enough to hold onto his Olympic spot. Kolohe Andino, who was eliminated in the Round of 32 of Pipe Masters, will be the other men’s surfer in Tokyo for Team USA.
The Championship Tour won’t move far for the second stop in January, moving to the North Shore’s Sunset Beach for the Sunset Open.