Defending Pipeline Pro champion Jack Robinson and fellow Australian big gun Ethan Ewing have made strong starts as the brutal Hawaii event got under way to kick off the World Surf League season.
After two lay-days due to strong wind, two rounds of the season-opening event were completed in heavy swell, with the north shore wave face nudging three metres.
The men were first in the water, with six Australians, as well as Sydneysider Connor O’Leary who now surfs under the flag of Japan, in action through the opening two rounds.
Robinson, who finished last year ranked No.5, pipped 11-time world champion Kelly Slater to win his heat.
The American posted the highest score of the heat, but the West Australian lodged two consistent waves for a total of 12.27 to top Slater’s tally of 11.67.
Indonesia’s Rio Waida was a distant third.
“I was all fired up for that heat, me and Kelly and Rio. It was a good heat,” 26-year-old Robinson said.
“I had butterflies before the heat and I was trying to let them fly – first heat, first day. It’s good to be back.
“I’ve got to enjoy it, embrace it, especially right now I have a baby and my whole family here.”
Robinson next faces Moroccan surfer Ramzi Boukhiam.
World No.2 Ewing looked headed for a certain victory in heat five, but Maui wildcard Jackson Bunch found a gem in the dying seconds to score 8.77 and jump from third place to first.
Queenslander Ewing still advanced directly into a third-round meeting with Slater, while Bunch will tackle O’Leary.
Callum Robson lodged the best score of the day to win the second heat, squeezing through a deep barrel to post a 9.0.
That gave the northern NSW surfer the win with a score of 13.67 ahead of three-time world champion Gabriel Medina (12.33), with another Brazilian Deivid Silva third.
“I didn’t want to sit and wait for too long, and that first wave made me realise I needed some waves with more draw to them, then I got that nine, which I was stoked on,” Robson said.
Newcastle’s Ryan Callinan was another heat-winner, while Queensland’s Liam O’Brien and Championship Tour newcomer Jacob Willcox from Western Australia booked places in the round of 32 via the knockout round.
Reigning world champion Felipe Toledo could only muster a two-wave total of 1.77 in his heat, then withdrew from the elimination round, citing food poisoning.
His heat was won by teenager Shion Crawford, who scored 9.27.
Another Hawaiian, Pipeline specialist John John Florence, dominated his heat with a combined score of 15.20, which was the best of the day.