Round 3 of the 2015 Billabong Pipe Masters could be underway as early as tomorrow morning. The World Title contenders will all paddle out to either continue their quest or pack their bags as each will face a do-or-die elimination Heat. None of these Heats of consequence, however, will be more analyzed, monitored or anticipated than R3H5: Jamie O'Brien vs. Mick Fanning.
As deep and layered as the continental shelf it will be decided above, this matchup is pulsing with history. Title scenarios loom over Fanning like an axe ready to fall; a loss in R3 would leave the door wide open for a subordinate and they are all ready to pounce. JOB feels the familiar weight of a Brazilian nation bearing down on him, but today, it is nothing but good vibrations.
While Mick has never won a Pipe Masters, he is widely recognized as one of surfing's greatest and most accomplished competitors. A student of the game, Mick is cunning, fast and knows the judging criteria cover-to-cover. Jamie O'Brien, on the other hand, embodies a fractional hunger for the podium, but also a unique advantage. He's a North Shore überlocal, one who has won a Pipe Masters through experience, raw talent and an intimate relationship with the break. Many have been severely injured or killed here at surfing's Mecca, but Jamie toys with the wave like a child at a water park.
The two represent marginal poles in every aspect except efficacy. So who will win? The dominant force of will and technique or the gifted, laissez-faire prodigy? This superficial question will receive its superficial answer on judgement day, but beneath the surface, dynamics pull in every direction.
O'Brien and Fanning are good friends and have been since childhood; it's no secret that Fanno's defeat would be a crushing blow to his World Title campaign. None know this more than the Brazilians - and not just the competitors, but the entire nation. Brazil will be standing in JOB's corner for the bout, as this is their best chance at a second national champion in as many years. During Heat 5 there may be no greater hero for Brazil than Jamie O'Brien and although he and Mick are friends, Jamie's been mentoring his World Title rival Adriano de Souza.
De Souza came knocking in 2010; without a major sponsor and no means of supporting a long term stay on the prized North Shore he consulted the Prince of Pipe, Jamie O'Brien himself. Adriano made the bold request to live at Jamie's house and, somewhat surprisingly, his wish was granted. For the last five years this alliance has developed into a Pipeline apprenticeship, with JOB slowly unveiling everything he knows to the ferociously ambitious de Souza. The two have undoubtedly become close.
But this didn't stir a headline in de Souza's home country. For the most part, no one knew of the gracious gesture from one of surfing's modern "bad boys." We know this because a few years later, Jamie O'Brien did make headlines in Brazil.
At the 2013 Billabong Pro Tahiti, Jamie 'O was surfing in the trials against Ricardo dos Santos (rest in peace) when an altercation emerged in the water. The infamous aquatic scuffle resulted in some minor injuries and a suspension for both surfers, but RDS took to social media and escalated the issue on a national scale. O'Brien was requested to take a picture apologizing with his head down and though there are more subjective storylines beyond this (including the "truth" behind the quarrel), dos Santos had successfully earned JOB full antipathy from his home country of Brazil. Jamie O'Brien was a public enemy number 1 do Brasil.
Today we're on the eve of potential action, and none with more sleep to lose over it than Jamie O'Brien. R3H5 may be the most viewed Heat in surfing history; to win would end a childhood friend's run at the 2015 Title, sending him home to pray for a favorable outcome rather than deciding it himself. To lose would cripple the chance for his protégé to earn his first World Title. For JOB there seems no beneficial outcome, but perhaps beating Mick Fanning would bury the hatchet with Brazil - forgive and forget. History is written by those who have hanged heroes, and Jamie O'Brien has his hand on the lever.
#VaiJamie? Keep an eye out, it'll be trending.