Surfing’s Billabong Pipe Masters was saturated with a Santa Barbara connection.
Celebrating its 50th year, the prestigious contest at the world-famous Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, is widely acknowledged as a proving ground for surfing’s elite. The event is dedicated to the memory of Hawaii surf champion Andy Irons.
Like several other sporting events around the world, the Billabong Pipe Masters was forced to shift in response to COVID-19 issues. On Dec. 11, the World Surfing League suspended the competition for a few days after athletes and members of its staff tested positive for the virus.
Once it was back on, the Billabong Pipe Masters came to a suspenseful finish on Dec. 20. North Shore local John John Florence beat out 11-time world champion and former Montecito resident Kelly Slater in the semifinals before cinching a tight 0.67-point win over two-time world champion Gabriel Medina of Brazil in a suspenseful head-to-head final.
It was the first Pipe Masters title for Florence, a back-to-back WSL world champion in 2016-17 and a two-time runner-up of the Pipeline competition.
Also competing for the coveted cup was Santa Barbara’s Conner Coffin, who is in his fifth year on the WSL Championship Tour. He was knocked out in the 32nd elimination round.
The WSL women’s tour also surfed at Pipeline after its Maui Pro by Roxy was moved from Maui following a fatal shark bite incident on a recreational surfer at the contest site of Honolua Bay.
Santa Barbara’s Lakey Peterson and Ojai’s Sage Erickson were both a part of history as they surfed in the very first Pipeline women’s contest. Both surfers were knocked out in the quarterfinals — Peterson by a mere 3.07 points in a battle with Sally Fitzgibbons of Australia, and Erickson by Brazil’s Tatiana Weston-Webb (Brazil).
Beyond the 805-area surfers, many of the pros in both the men’s and women’s contests were riding locally made Channel Islands surfboards or Pyzel Surfboards, shaped in Hawaii by Santa Barbara-born surfer Jon Pyzel.
Florence and Maui Pro champion Tyler Wright of Australia rode Pyzel boards, much to the delight of Pyzel, founder, owner and shaper of Pyzel Surfboards.
“I want to thank them for trusting in the boards and for helping make me work harder to be a better shaper,” Pyzel, a Santa Barbara High alum, said. “They were constantly breaking down their performance barriers and giving me the best feedback I could ask for. Beyond their phenomenal surfing, Tyler and John are just great people, and it’s amazing to watch them thrive.”
Pyzel has been alongside Florence throughout his rise to stardom. He began shaping his boards when the Pipe Master, now 28, was just 5 years old. The two have been working together ever since.
This is a significant year for Pyzel, who has been working hard for decades, building his company from the ground up. His interest in shaping first took off during his teen years under the apprenticeship of Carpinteria shaper Matt Moore. He moved to the epicenter of surfing, Oahu’s North Shore, in the early 1990s, first shaping for Jeff Bushman before launching his own company.
Pyzel still proudly calls Santa Barbara’s Hammonds Reef his home break. He returns to the South Coast each year for both business and fun, surfing in the annual Rincon Classic with friends and stocking up the racks at surf shops up and down the coast with his best-selling boards.
With the Santa Barbara connection in full force at Pipeline, we can only hope to see more of the area’s famed surfers such as Parker Coffin, Dane Reynolds, Yadin Nicol and others representing on the world stage.
— Mara Pyzel is the younger sister of Jon Pyzel and a resident of Haleiwa, Hawaii, and Santa Barbara