Tyler Wright, John John Florence take historic WSL season-openers

Wright becomes the first woman to win at the iconic Banzai Pipeline as Florence finally triumphs wins on his home break with 48-year-old Kelly Slater taking third.

By Rory Jiwani

A pair of two-time surfing world champions took the spoils at the opening event of the 2021 World Surf League season.

Tyler Wright made history, becoming the first woman to win a Championship Tour event at the Banzai Pipeline having been closed to men's CT competitions in the past.

The move, which came partly through necessity after the Maui Pro was moved from Honolua Bay due to a nearby shark attack, follows on from female surfers gaining pay equity two years ago.

It was a sweet triumph for Wright in just her second Championship Tour event back since suffering a debilitating viral illness.

"I definitely don't take this for granted, to have this opportunity today is truly special." - Tyler Wright after her Maui Pro victory

Tyler Wright (L) celebrates her Maui Pro win at the Banzai Pipeline with runner-up Carissa Moore (Photo: WSL)

In the men's event, local hero John John Florence scored his first career victory in the Pipe Masters.

Now fully recovered from a cruciate knee ligament tear, the Tokyo 2020-bound star beat 48-year-old Kelly Slater in the semi-finals before defeating fellow Olympic-qualified surfer Gabriel Medina to become Hawaii's first Pipe winner since Andy Irons in 2006.

He said, "I feel really good, especially just after the last couple of years and everything I’ve gone through with injuries and everything.

"To be here at the first event of the year, winning in my home break, I can’t picture it going any better." - John John Florence after winning his first Pipe Masters

John John Florence (L) beats Gabriel Medina to win his first Pipe Masters (Photo: WSL)

History at Pipeline

For the first time in WSL history, a women's Championship Tour event was held at the Banzai Pipeline on Oahu's North Shore.

There was one remaining quarter-final from when the competition was suspended over a week ago, with Tatiana Weston-Webb getting the better of American Sage Erickson.

The Brazilian fell to home favourite Carissa Moore in the semis with Wright comfortably beating her fellow Australian Sally Fitzgibbons.

Sporting the Progress Pride flag on her jersey, Wright just held off the four-time world champion to claim her first win since contracting influenza A followed by Post Viral Syndrome.

As well as reflecting on her 14th Championship Tour victory, the 26-year-old was able to speak on behalf of the women who were finally able to compete at one of the most revered venues in surfing.

She told WSL, "I feel incredibly lucky to be here. I think we wouldn’t be here without the women that came before us to pave the way.

"Today we are really standing on the shoulders of giants, I feel incredibly privileged to be here in the position that I am in.” - Tyler Wright

Florence ends long wait, Ferreira in the wars

Florence had looked in ominously good form before the competition was halted due to a COVID outbreak among WSL staff.

He picked up where he left off, but raised his game to account for 11-time world champion Slater - who told Olympic Channel recently that he felt like an uncle to Florence when he was a youngster - in the semi-finals.

The 28-year-old scored 9.23 and 8.93 on his first two waves to settle matters decisively.

Italo Ferreira hit the reef near Backdoor at the start of his quarter-final with Jeremy Flores.

The reigning world champion was bloodied but unbowed, somehow making it through to the last four despite injuring his head and hip.

He could not cope with fellow Brazilian Medina in the semi-finals, but fourth place represented a solid start to his title defence.

Italo Ferreira struggles after hitting the reef in his quarter-final at the Pipe Masters (Photo: WSL)

The final was a tense affair but it was Florence who came out narrowly on top, 11.77 points to 11.10, to fulfil his long-held ambition of winning at Pipeline.

"The Pipe Masters for me is the biggest event on the Tour,” said Florence. "I've grown up watching my heroes surf this event and win the world titles out there.

"Everyone who surfs pipe has their own little relationship with that wave, and so to be able to win a competition out there is a big feat. For me, it's one of my biggest goals."