"These guys are really good -- some of the best surfers in the world are here."

Tom Curren
Three-time world champion

Tom Curren got covered up by this Backdoor wave yesterday at Banzai Pipeline during the Monster Energy Pro contest.

Field at Pipeline
whittled to 32

After beginning as part of an international field nearly six times in number, only 32 professional surfers remain with the chance to make their Pipe dream a reality.

That is the number of competitors left after the third of four competition days concluded yesterday at the 21st annual Monster Energy Pro at the infamous Banzai Pipeline.

A four-star World Qualifying Series event for which the winner's trophy and the prestige that comes with it mean as much as the $75,000 purse and ratings points available, the Monster Energy Pro champion will put his name among some of the best surfers ever at the revered North Shore spot -- names like Derek Ho and the late Ronnie Burns, and more recently Bruce and Andy Irons.

"It feels good to make it this far in any contest, but especially out at Pipe," said Hawaii's Raymond Reichle, who won his fourth-round heat. He made it into the quarterfinals here three years ago at only 16, but is actually just beginning his second year as a full-time pro. "This means a lot to me. Growing up here, wanting to be a pro surfer ever since I was a little kid -- doing it and making it in this contest feels really good."

Surf permitting, the Monster Energy Pro will conclude today. But if necessary, the event has a waiting period that lasts through the end of the month.

Conditions yesterday were far from ideal: Wave faces mostly ranged from 8-12 feet, and unfavorable winds were shutting down most of the barrels for which Pipeline is known by midday. But an occasional tube ride was still available during the later heats.

Jamie O'Brien also advanced to the final day of competition by squeezing into and then coming out of a tube at the section known as Backdoor. The 2003 event champ lives in a house right at the break and also won the more prestigious Pipeline Masters in December.

O'Brien wasn't able to combine his one good score with much else, however, and moved on with only 10.25 total points (out of 20 maximum) for his top two waves and a second-place finish in his heat.

"I wasn't freaking out, but it's hard to surf Pipeline when (the wind blows) onshore," O'Brien, 21, said.

"A win would be great -- it would just be adding another one to the collection," he added. "I've won it before; there's no pressure. I'd like to start adding them up, but it's hard -- you just gotta surf consistent ... and peak in the final."

Winning O'Brien's heat was Maui surfer Ian Walsh. Fellow Valley Isle surfer and last year's winner, Tom Dosland, also advanced.

Other Hawaii surfers to move on included: Kalani Chapman, Mikey Bruneau, Sean Moody, Pancho Sullivan, Jesse Merle-Jones, Dustin Cuizon, Kainoa McGee, Dustin Barca, Ola Eleogram, Brian Pacheco, Kamalei Alexander, Nathan Carroll, Evan Valiere and Makua Rothman.

Other big names with a shot at the Monster Energy Pro title include three-time world champion Tom Curren and 2000 Pipeline Masters champ Rob Machado, both of California.

Hawaii's Derek Ho, the other former world champ in the draw, failed to advance after finishing third in Curren's heat.

"I'm really stoked. Even if the waves are bad, it's great to get through a heat," said the 40-year-old Curren, 15 years removed from his last world title but still with moves to spare. "These guys are really good -- some of the best surfers in the world are here."

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