After more than four long months, the beginning of the Championship Tour season is finally here, and it all kicks off with one of the most entertaining events of the season. In what is a momentous occasion, both the men and the women will begin their respective years at Pipeline, one of the most intimidating waves in the world. For the first time in history, the women’s event has been scheduled alongside the men’s at arguably the most renowned wave in the world, and this is how that event is shaping up.
No surprises here – Carissa Moore enters the event as the runaway favourite to take it out. The five time world champion added yet another trophy to her overflowing cabinet by winning the first ever WSL Finals event at Trestles last year, in a year in which she made it to the semi-finals at each and every event. That extraordinary level of consistency suggests that she will almost certainly be there or thereabouts when the whips are cracking at Pipeline, as does the fact that she finished second here last year. That was the first time a women’s event had been held at Pipeline, making this one of the only events in the world she hasn’t won; she’ll be confident that she can change that.
The woman who beat Moore here last year was Tyler Wright, and she may just be the biggest threat once again in 2022. Unfortunately that was the only final that the 2016 and 2017 world champion made throughout the course of last year, but nonetheless 2021 was a step forward after a trying few years for Wright. At just 27 years of age she still has plenty to give, and with her level of talent is capable of challenging for more world titles again in the future, and possibly this year. A win at Pipe, where she’s shown that she’s more than capable in the past, would be a great way to get herself in the mix.
Another Aussie in with a strong chance at this event is Steph Gilmore. With the event window opening up on her 34th birthday, Gilmore is one of the more seasoned competitors heading to Pipeline, and though the seven time world champion is past her best, a fifth place finish last year suggests she’s still got a fair bit left in the tank. She also finished fifth at Pipe last year, but she’s always been a good surfer in heavy conditions, so she should be suited by the pounding barrels of Oahu’s North Shore.
The Next Tier
Caroline Marks was just one spot away from competing in the WSL Finals last year, and it would be a huge surprise for her to miss out again in 2022. Still just a couple of weeks shy of her 20th birthday, she’s been the most exciting young talent in the world for a number of years and has shown how good she is more and more often each year. Consistency is her main issue and a ninth place finish here last year suggests she perhaps didn’t love the conditions, but her talent is undeniable and she is more than capable of swooping past all of the above names and claiming a famous win.
If Tatiana Weston-Webb has managed to get over the uncharacteristic stumble on her final wave of the last event at the WSL Finals in September which very likely cost her a first world title, she’ll be a big chance of taking out this event. She was terrific all season in 2021, and her performance at Pipeline which saw her make it through to the semi-finals was just one of many excellent results throughout the course of the year. She’s got the ability, the history at the wave and the motivation to start the year off on the right foot, and will be a dangerous surfer at this event.
Sally Fitzgibbons is another quality surfer who hasn’t yet won a world title, and there might not be a single person in the world who would begrudge the 31-year-old breaking that drought this year. She’s been the perennial bridesmaid throughout the course of a sparkling career, and added yet another close-but-not-quite result to her extensive list of them last year when she finished third. Still, it was a positive season in the sense that she’s obviously still got plenty left to give, and having started it with a semi-final appearance at Pipe she’ll be expecting to once again be there at the business end of this event.
Malia Manuel might not quite have the talent of many of the above names, but the Hawaiian has home ground advantage on her side. The Kauai-born 28-year-old used that to her advantage last year, making it through to the quarter-finals in her home event in what was her second best result of the year. Having never won a Championship Tour event she is undoubtedly a roughie in every sense of the world, but come season’s end it will be a surprise if the two Hawaii events are not among her best performances of the year, so don’t be surprised if she exceeds expectations.
Carissa Moore is the deserved favourite, but when they are both at their best Tyler Wright is one of the few surfers in the world who can match it with the Hawaiian, and showed how well she can surf Pipeline by winning here last year. The 27-year-old Australian is primed for a big year, and it would be no surprise to see her come out and finish in the top five and make some serious noise at the WSL Finals – in fact, assuming an injury-free year, it would almost be a surprise if she doesn’t do that. She knows just what it takes to win at Pipeline, and can hold onto her record as the only female surfer to win a CT event at the famous break by going back-to-back here in 2022.