PIPELINE, Hawaii (Saturday, Dec. 9, 2006) – As howling winds have islanders on surfing's Mecca, the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii battening down the hatches for the second day in a row, organisers have once again called another lay day for the Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters.
It is hoped however that conditions will improve over the next few days and will enable a start as the 64 competitors lining up for round one are champing at the bit to tackle the world famous Pipeline wave.
Adding an exciting dimension to one of the most prestigious sporting events on the planet, 21 wildcards will be thrown into the draw at the 2006 Rip Curl Pipeline Masters, held from December 8-20, 2006.
The final event on the 2006 Foster's ASP World Tour, the Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters will be the deciding factor for surfers still looking to qualify for next season's "Dream Tour".
With the top-15 surfers on the ASP World Qualifying Series (WQS) already determined and the top-27 qualifying spots from the Foster's ASP World Tour still up for grabs, these 21 wildcards will no doubt wreak havoc on the increased 64-man field.
Kekoa Bacalso (HAW), who is the current ASP World Junior Champion, has already experienced success at this elite level of competition with wildcard berths in the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, where he defeated Nathan Hedge, and at the Rip Curl Pro Mexico where he defeated Shaun Cansdell (AUS).
Both of those event runs however were abruptly ended by an in-form then seven-time world champion Kelly Slater (USA) but with the added benefit of competing in his backyard at Pipeline, look for Bacalso to lead the deep Hawaiian field into battle against the Foster's ASP Top-45.
"I'm really focused on finishing the year strong seeing as how it is the last event of the season," Bacalso said. "Every time I surf an event out at Pipe I get my best waves of the season because it's usually so damned crowded that it's nice to surf with just three guys out.
"The Hawaiian contingent (16 of the 21 wildcards) is gnarly," he said. "Pretty much all the Pipe specialists are in the event. The top 45 are going to take it to us, but I guarantee there will be some big upsets."
An example of how destructive the locals can be was indicated when Kalani Chapman (HAW) took numerous top tour scalps to make the finals in the 2005 Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters.
This year the powerful goofyfooter will face Australians Philip MacDonald and Darren O'Rafferty as well as Brazilian Pedro Henrique in heat two of round one.
Of all the non Foster's ASP World Tour competitors Owen Wright (AUS), despite him being only 16 years of age, could prove to be the dark horse at Pipeline given that he has shown enormous potential in surfing heavy waves both back home in Australia and here on the North Shore.
The youngster is surfing in his first top tour event and realises that he mustn't be fazed by his more seasoned foes, some who are twice his age.
And given that one of his regular surfing spots in Australia is named "Aussie Pipe", due to its similarity to its Hawaiian namesake, Wright felt confident that he could make an impact.
"It feels great to be seeded in the event – I have nothing to lose," an enthusiastic Wright said. "I'm used to surfing Aussie Pipe and other big, hollow lefthanders with my dad and my brother so I'm stoked to go out there and see how I go."
In addition to Bacalso, and Wright, other wildcards threatening the draw are Hawaiians Randall Paulson, Chapman, TJ Barron, Evan Valiere, Makua Rothman, Hank Gaskell, Dustin Barca, Jamie O'Brien, Nathan Carroll, Ian Walsh, Tamayo Perry, Ortiz Solomon, Aamion Goodwin, Jamie Sterling and Reef McIntosh, Tahitian Heiarii Williams, Australian Ben Dunn plus former Foster's ASP World Tourer, American Rob Machado and lone wildcard Brazilian Bruno Santos.
Organisers will return to Pipe tomorrow morning at 7am (local time) and will make another call regarding the start of the event.