The Vans Pipe Masters is almost here. Hitting our screens on 8th December, this surf competition will conclude a fantastic year of surfing! We’ve seen women compete at pipeline for the first time, Steph Gilmore win an 8th world title and emerging talents on the world scene. This year sees drastic reimagining in the format of Vans Pipe Masters. The changes in the competition structure could change the way surf competitions are run and even the surf spaces we inhabit.
Some of you surfers amongst us, may prefer to participate in the act of surfing instead of watching it. That’s fair enough! But if we can hold your attention for a little longer then you might be interested to hear why we’re shouting about the Vans Pipe Masters Competition and what it might mean for the future of surfing.
Firstly… What is the Vans Pipe Masters?
The Pipe Masters, arguably the most watched surf competition globally, started 50 years ago in 1971. It’s held at the infamous Banzai Pipeline in Oahu, Hawaii, known for its perfectly barrelling waves, creating the space for the ultimate surf competition. In 1997, Vans took ownership of the event and now in 2022 they’ve overturned the traditional structure of surf competition with a reimagining of the judging criteria and the selection process for competitors. What will happen at the Vans Pipe Masters this December is unprecedented in the history of surf competitions.
So why is this competition different? And why does it matter?
The selection process for competitors will favour emerging talents and showcase all styles of surfing.
Traditionally, 90% of the competitors chosen for the Pipe Masters are Championship Tour (CT) surfers. For a quick run down, the CT is the most elite surf competition, run by the World Surf League (WSL). The best female and male surfers from across the globe compete for the world title, surfing 11 different Surf Spots during the season. This year Vans will only be selecting 20% from the CT with the remaining 80% being made up of surfers not on the Tour.
Surfing on the CT is elite and relatively inaccessible, with only 32 surfers selected to compete on the circuit each year. Changing the ratio of competitors at Pipemasters in favour of non-CT surfers opens up the field for upcoming and alternative surfers to showcase their talents at arguably one of the heaviest waves in the world – Pipeline. Through this change the competition space is becoming more accessible to a wider range of talented surfers from a range of generations and age brackets. Expect to see this wave ridden on boards other than your average toothpick shortboard. This could get interesting!
NB: The Vans Pipe Masters Competition is independent of the WSL and CT events.
50% of Surfers will be Native Hawaiians
This is significant. 50% of both female and male competitors will be Hawaiian surfers celebrating the talent in the region where the competition is held.
Despite being a region with world class waves, Hawaii’s presence on the competitive surf scene is small relative to it’s Australian and mainland US rivals. Dubbed the birthplace of surfing, increased representation of Hawaiians at Vans Pipe Masters gives opportunities for local surfers to gain international recognition. It also puts community and respect for Hawaii’s rich cultural heritage at the forefront of the competition.
Women will be competing for the first time!
This will be the first year in it’s 50 year history that women have competed at the Vans Pipe Masters. This opens the opportunity for women to showcase their talent and inspire the next generation of female surfers. Given this is arguably the most watched surf event in the calendar, having women on the stage is crucial. This signifies that the presence of women in surfing as important and promote equality within surfing spaces.
The judging criteria of waves
As you may have seen in images and videos, Pipeline is renowned for it’s perfect barrels. To drop and tuck into a barrel here over critically shallow reef gets you noticed. Typically in a competition, getting barrelled increases scores dramatically. But the Vans Pipe Masters is restructuring the judging criteria. For this event, manoeuvres like aerials, impressive turns or air reverses will count in equal measure to a barrel if performed to a high calibre.
You may question this change, surely isn’t the perfect barrel the pinacle of the surfer’s experience? Whilst getting a barrel is a feeling you’ll never forget, for some of us who surf, watching barrel after barrel on the screen isn’t relatable in our pursuit of waves. To watch diverse surfing at pipeline opens up to a wider audience of viewers. The scoring also creates an environment of play and experimentation not seen before. Instead of surfers jumping off the wave after a barrel, they’ll be riding the wave to the very end, maximising every open face.
Hopefully we’ll be watching waves at Pipeline ridden like never before. Perhaps this could change the way we approach riding waves? It’ll be interesting to see which surfers come out on top during the competition! Whether it’s pipeline legends like John John Florence and Moana Jones-Wong or will the comp give rise to a new group of pipeline surfers.
We’re excited to see this competition play out with stark changes to the competition structure. Perhaps this could have the impact of regenerating surfing at local and national levels. The competition will kick off on 8th December ending 20th December. You can watch it at https://pipemasters.vans.com/
If watching the women at pipeline inspires you to get in the sea, then check out our range of courses!