Stop No. 1 on the World Surf League (WSL) 2024 Championship Tour (CT), the Lexus Pipe Pro Presented by YETI, was held in three-to-five foot waves at Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu. The women’s Opening Round was completed mostly at the rights of Backdoor, an equal mix of barrels and turns determining the results.
With bigger surf forecast in the coming days, the next call will be on Friday, February 9, at 7:45 a.m. HST for a possible 8:03. a.m. start.
Picklum and Wright Set the Tone as Women’s Season Debuts
A standout on last year’s Hawaii leg, Molly Picklum (AUS, above) picked up right where she left off, easily finding the day’s best waves. Two great Backdoor barrels punctuated with powerful carves delivered the top scores. Opening with a 7.33 (out of a possible 10), Picklum built to an excellent 8.50 to collect a solid win. In her heat, Tatiana Weston-Webb (BRA) was on the hunt for big barrels but couldn’t quite find an exit, while rookie Alyssa Spencer (USA) focused on big backhand turns to take the second advancing spot into the Round of 16.
“There’s definitely been tough heats this morning and I was fortunate enough to get waves,” Picklum said. “This year I’m definitely focused on the World Title, the Gold Medal at the Olympics is in there, and just all in all having fun and showcasing my surfing.”
Two-time World Champion Tyler Wright (AUS) was comfortable getting barreled at Backdoor in the day’s opening heat as she put two good scores on the board for an easy stroll into the Round of 16. Behind her, the two North Shore locals, Bettylou Sakura Johnson (HAW) and Luana Silva (BRA), had to resort to turns. The pair fought a good battle, eventually landing in favor of the Brazilian and sending Sakura Johnson into the Elimination Round.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever feel a sense of confidence out here,” Wright said. “But I really value going out there and sitting in the ocean, looking at my markers and feeling how the ocean is moving and the energy in it. It gives you a lot of feedback and when you’re in a heat you already have an established relationship with what the lineup is doing. I’ve put a lot of energy in the pre-season and I really want to focus on doing my best.”
Americans Get the Job Done in Early Pipe Matchups
The reigning World Champion Caroline Marks (USA, above) managed to advance through a wave-starved first heat unscathed, opting to secure minimal scores with her backhand turns. A slow 30-minute heat left India Robinson (AUS) and local Pipe specialist Moana Jones Wong (HAW) scratching their heads as they looked for opportunities. Eventually, it was the Hawaiian who advanced to second position, sending Robinson into the treacherous Elimination Round.
“Wearing that yellow jersey obviously brings a lot of confidence, it’s the color everyone wants to be wearing,” Marks said. “Pipeline has many different faces and the wind plays a really big factor, plus there’s a rip going through the lineup so depending on where it is during your heat it changes things. A win’s a win and you never know the next heat could be really fun, so I’m feeling really good overall.”
The 2023 Rookie of the Year and World No. 4, Caitlin Simmers (USA), displayed impressive versatility as she went from pushing progressive backhand turns on a clean Pipe left to locking into a stylish cover up at Backdoor, taking out her first heat win of 2024 along the way. Kauai’s Gabriela Bryan (HAW) took the second advancing spot and relegated Isabella Nichols (AUS) to a potential early elimination in the season opener.
“It feels like we got all four seasons in one heat,” Simmers said. “It seems pretty normal for here and I kind of expected it this year so I was more prepared. Obviously we’re at Pipeline so I’m trying to get barreled but I saw a lot of people yesterday only getting one score and I went out in the freesurf trying backside turns making sure I had a plan for a backup.”
Appearing in her first ever CT, rookie Sawyer Lindblad (USA, above) was able to get her Tour career underway with a convincing win in the Opening Round. The San Clemente local found a gem at Backdoor, emerging from an extended backhand barrel to collect her best score of a 7.00. Backing it up with a couple of turns, Lindblad kicked off her debut season among the world’s best with a bang.
“That was actually the first backside barrel I’ve made out there,” Lindblad said. “I’ve gotten the lip in the head so many times practicing for this event. Before the heat I was talking to my coach Shane and he told me to just keep going, cause I tend to hop off when I think I’m too deep and on that one I saw I could just keep going and somehow I made it through.”
CT Veterans Moore, Peterson, Weston-Webb Relegated to Elimination Round
Brisa Hennessy (CRC) took out the second heat of the day, sending the reigning event winner, five-time World Champion Carissa Moore (HAW), into the Elimination Round. While Moore was uncharacteristically quiet in the lineup, the Costa Rican found two good scores for both a tube and a combination of turns on the rights of Backdoor.
“It’s crazy in this sport how people can be in rhythm or be out of it and luckily today was my day,” Hennessy said. “I really had to dig deep and face my fears to get to where I’m at today, and work on personal growth and who I wanted to be in and out of the water. I went through a couple of health issues but I think it’s all about mindset and I refuse to be a victim of my fears and things that bring me down. So I’m coming to this year with just a new positive headspace, and I’m just honored and grateful to be on this platform and be able to surf again.”
With veterans Moore, Weston-Webb (above), and Lakey Peterson (USA) in the Elimination Round, tension will be at an all-time high when the event gets back underway. As conditions continue to degrade tomorrow, event officials have already called the competition OFF Thursday and the next call will be at 7:45 a.m. HST on Friday, February 9, 2024.
For highlights and updates from today’s competition at the Lexus Pipe Pro, please visit WorldSurfLeague.com.
Lexus Pipe Pro Presented by YETI Women’s Opening Round Results:
HEAT 1: Tyler Wright (AUS) 11.67 DEF. Luana Silva (BRA) 7.67, Bettylou Sakura Johnson (HAW) 4.33
HEAT 2: Brisa Hennessy (CRC) 10.66 DEF. Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 6.66, Carissa Moore (HAW) 5.23
HEAT 3: Caroline Marks (USA) 5.84 DEF. Moana Jones Wong (HAW) 2.97, India Robinson (AUS) 2.60
HEAT 4: Caitlin Simmers (USA) 9.67 DEF. Gabriela Bryan (HAW) 8.13, Isabella Nichols (AUS) 2.06
HEAT 5: Molly Picklum (AUS) 15.83 DEF. Alyssa Spencer (USA) 9.17, Tatiana Weston-Webb (BRA) 6.83
HEAT 6: Sawyer Lindblad (USA) 10.77 DEF. Johanne Defay (FRA) 5.30, Lakey Peterson (USA) 4.70
Lexus Pipe Pro Presented by YETI Women’s Elimination Round Matchups:
HEAT 1: Carissa Moore (HAW) vs. Bettylou Sakura Johnson (HAW) vs. Isabella Nichols (AUS)
HEAT 2: Lakey Peterson (USA) vs. Tatiana Weston-Webb (BRA) vs. India Robinson (AUS)