Irons, Hot. – The Billabong Pro, Jeffreys Bay.

Irons, Hot. – The Billabong Pro, Jeffreys Bay.

J-Bay. The halfway point of the world tour. It’s here where the holes opened in last year’s world title race, and our world champion fell right through one of them, eventually setting up that most famous nail-biting finish in Hawai’i. Not this time.

During an astonishing third consecutive third-round hit-up in the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay against local wildcard and former junior foe Sean Holmes, Andy Irons finally tasted revenge.

In inconsistent-but-clean four- to five-foot waves, Irons opened with a near-perfect 9.93 against the 25-year-old South African-scoring a freakishly long barrel he sneaked into following two loaded frontside turns. Nailing that all-important first wave is the kind of stuff they teach you in the menehune division, and it paid. Holmes looked good to retaliate with a final wave in the dying moments but came up just over half-a-point short. Some say he was ripped off.

Afterward, A.I. told the ASP’s globetrotting photojournalist Paul Sargeant: “I think, just the last two years, where he caught the first wave of the heat … that was what always bit me on the ass. This time I made sure I was sitting on the inside of him.”

But A.I. also arrived in South Africa a week early and blazed a trail to first place in the six-star WQS at Durban. Following that-and two seconds and two thirds from four WCTs thus far in 2004-you think there’s any possibility he wasn’t confident after defeating Holmes? Nuh-uh.

The ever-stylish Richie Lovett was his next victim, followed by former ‘Bong Pro runner-up Mick Lowe in the quarters, previous two-time winner Jake Paterson in the semis, and the loveable North Narrabeen terrier Nathan Hedge in the final. (Note: the Billabong Pro was Hedgey’s second consecutive final after recovering from a dislocated shoulder he suffered in Tahiti. Awesome stuff.)

Defending Champ Slater later observed from the sidelines that he figured Andy to have a certain “calm” that he felt himself during his own glory run in the 90s-the unfluffed presence to know just what to do to win heats and nothing more, no wastage.

Andy didn’t quite know what to say to that, although his sweetheart certainly reaped some praise from him: “Wow! That’s quite a compliment! But I think my girlfriend Lyndie has got a lot to do with it.” A.I. continued: “She makes me feel really at ease. She makes me feel like there’s nothing going on, nothing’s wrong, everything’s cool. I think she has a lot to do with my calm, my stability. And you know, I’m also a veteran, too! I’ve been doing this for like ten years now, so when the horn goes off, I know what to do.”

So, is anybody gonna stop him?-J.J.

Billabong Pro Results

1. Andy Irons (HAW) $30,000

2. Nathan Hedge (AUS) $16,000

=3. Jake Paterson (AUS) $10,000

=3. Sunny Garcia (HAW) $10,000

=5. Lee Winkler (AUS) $8,000

=5. Michael Lowe (AUS) $8,000

=5. Kelly Slater (USA) $8,000

=5. Greg Emslie (ZAF) $8,000