Irons Posts Perfect 10 To Win

Thursday, July 22, 2004 (Jeffreys Bay, South Africa) Reigning two-time world champion Andy Irons (Kauai, HAW) today won the Billabong Pro with a commanding performance over Nathan Hedge (Narrabeen, AUS). The Foster’s Men’s ASP World Championship Tournament (WCT) commenced with quarterfinals this morning, running right through until the event’s climax.

Great 4-6 ft (2m) lines greeted the final day of competition, with only light winds blowing. A couple of whales once again graced the lineup and entertained the massive crowd onsite, as well as those watching live on www.billabongpro.com.

Irons, who had not progressed past a 9th placing at Jeffreys in previous years, overcame his local wildcard nemesis Sean Holmes in round three to gain momentum. From there, the Kauaian continued his charge towards an elusive Billabong Pro final, and once in, made his intentions clear from the outset. The 25-year-old picked off a great set wave holding priority, and following three clean barrels and a couple of big maneuvers, locked in the only perfect 10-point ride of the tournament.

The current ratings leader then scored another 6.83 to control the decider. With two runner-up finishes already to his credit this year, as well as another two equal thirds, today’s victory shoots him a massive 1,464-points ahead of his nearest rival in pursuit of a third consecutive world title.

“I’m feeling so good right now, said Irons. “I’ve never made the quarters here before, so to actually go on and win it is awesome. I want to congratulate ‘Hedgey’ too, on such a great performance. And I’d like to thank my beautiful girlfriend Lindy for supporting me the whole contest.

“It really paid off coming a week early to try some boards out and get used to the wave, he continued, of his pre-event strategy. “It’s a huge weight off my shoulders to do well here. Just getting past Sean was a real accomplishment, but to actually win here… I’m beside myself and so happy.

“Clutch timing, he remarked on his 10. “It was a perfect wave and I knew if I just rode the whole way it would be a high score, but I got some good turns off and three barrels.

“Nice, he added, of the ratings lead. “But like I’ve said, the tour is a marathon, not a sprint. There are so many contests ahead of us and I’m just going to try and keep my lead solid through until Hawaii. Hopefully I’ll come out on top again, but I’ve definitely got my work cut out.

For Hedge, who missed last tournament after dislocating his shoulder in the final of the Billabong Pro Teahupoo event in Tahiti, another runner-up finish is an amazing comeback achievement. The 25-year-old impressed all with his devastating backhand attack throughout the tournament, none less than those he eliminated along the way, and the result pushes him into #4 on the current ratings.

“It was nice to see a final out, but there wasn’t many waves in it, began Hedge. “A little disappointed now, but I’ll get over it soon. I made a little slipup on priority taking the wrong wave, and then Andy had it for the big set. There weren’t too many chances after that.

“I’m back and it’s game on for the rest of the year, he added. “I’ve solidified myself as one of the top surfers, not just making up the numbers like last year. I’ve never had to miss an event before, but it really put the fire in my belly to comeback. I put a lot of hard work into my shoulder and it’s paying off.

Equal third today were Jake Paterson (West AUS) and 2000 world champ Sunny Garcia (HAW). Both received US$10,000 by reaching the semifinals.

Paterson, the two-time consecutive (2000 & ’01) Billabong Pro champion, posted the highest combined total of this year’s tournament with 18-points yesterday, but against Irons suffered the slow side of an inconsistent heat. He opened his campaign with a strong ride, but never found a solid back up wave. Nonetheless, this result marks his best of the season and pushes him to 7th position on the current ratings.

“It was jt a bummer there weren’t more waves, said Paterson. “Andy was surfing really well, but I reckon I could have gotten him if I had a better chance. I love J-Bay, so I expect a good result for myself here. This definitely gives me a bit of confidence traveling into the rest of the tour now.

Garcia, who only returned to WCT competition three events ago after major reconstructive knee surgery kept him out of the water all last year, displayed some incredible power surfing at Jeffreys. A rampaging Hedge collected a couple of eight plus rides in their match though, stopping the 34-year-old Hawaiian.

“Normally I would say I’m disappointed, but I went out there and gave 100 percent, acknowledged Garcia. “I surfed the best I could, and Nathan was a better surfer today. Hats off to him. For me, this year was all about coming back and trying to get back in shape. So far, with the exception of Bells (Beach, AUS) where I had those migraines, I’ve got a semifinal, quarterfinal and a ninth. I’m doing a lot better than I thought I would this year. At 100 kilos I’m giving these small boys a good run for their money. Hopefully I get into better shape and make a final.

Finishing equal fifth in the Billabong Pro were Australians Lee Winkler (Coffs Harbour, NSW) and Michael Lowe (Windang, NSW), six-time world champion Kelly Slater (FL, USA) and South Africa’s Greg Emslie (East London).

Slater, the defending event winner, again seemed destined for a finals appearance following earlier performances. Against Hedge however, the Floridian trailed throughout, making uncharacteristic errors and even fell a number of times. Requiring an 8.17 for the latter half of the clash, the 32-year-old secured a great wave with a minute to go, and landed a series of three incredible floaters, but was then caught behind the section and lost any chance of posting the score. His third equal fifth placing of the year, pressure now mounts for him to give Irons a serious challenge for this year’s world title.

“Last year was just a dream contest for me and everything went my way, began Slater. “This year just didn’t quite feel like it. I thought I was surfing well, but didn’t get the waves in my heats, and I think the judges were pushing me to do more and it just didn’t work out.

“It’s obviously frustrating to try and catch up and either tie, or fall further behind three events in a row, he added, of the ratings. “We’re nearly halfway through the year and I’ve only matched him in one event. I wish we could go head-to-head more (laughs). I wish were on the same side of the draw, so we could put each other out instead of having to try and fight to meet each other at the end of the contest. I’m still expecting Andy to make the quarters and semis most contests, so I’m going to have to start winning some.

Emslie equaled his best WCT result by again reaching the quarterfinals at Jeffreys. Despite a strong start to his heat against Garcia, he was unable to emerge from the last couple of tubes and never found the additional 5.68 score required.

“It was real tricky heat, and bit a slow, reasoned Emslie. “I was just unlucky at the end. My last two waves went really tight in the barrel and squashed me. I was expecting more out those, so it’s very disappointing. Still, there’s a long way to go this year and hopefully I can get some more results on the WCT.

Billabong Pro Results1st Andy Irons (HAW) 16.83 — US$30,000
2nd Nathan Hedge (AUS) 8.0 – $US$16,000

Semifinals (1st>Final; 2nd=3rd receives US$10,000)SF1: Andy Irons (HAW) 13.84 def. Jake Paterson (AUS) 12.17
SF2: Nathan Hedge (AUS) 16.67 def. Sunny Garcia (HAW) 13.33

Quarterfinals (1st>Semifinals; 2nd=5th receives US$8,000)QF1: Jake Paterson (AUS) 10.66 def. Lee Winkler (AUS) 10.33
QF2: Andy Irons (HAW) 15.5 def. Michael Lowe (AUS) 8.17
QF3: Nathan Hedge (AUS) 16.66 def. Kelly Slater (USA) 14.17
QF4: Sunny Garcia (HAW) 11.67 def. Greg Emslie (ZAF) 11.33

Official ASP Ratings after Billabong Pro, WCT#51. Andy Irons (Haw) 5,016-points
2. Kelly Slater (USA) 3,552
3. CJ Hobgood (USA) 3,444
4. Nathan Hedge (AUS) 3,432
5. Mark Occhilupo (AUS) 3,396
6. Damien Hobgood (USA) 3,180
7. Jake Paterson (AUS) 3,096
8. Michael Lowe (AUS) 2,988
=9. Joel Parkinson (AUS); Sunny Garcia (HAW) 2,976
er Billabong Pro, WCT#51. Andy Irons (Haw) 5,016-points
2. Kelly Slater (USA) 3,552
3. CJ Hobgood (USA) 3,444
4. Nathan Hedge (AUS) 3,432
5. Mark Occhilupo (AUS) 3,396
6. Damien Hobgood (USA) 3,180
7. Jake Paterson (AUS) 3,096
8. Michael Lowe (AUS) 2,988
=9. Joel Parkinson (AUS); Sunny Garcia (HAW) 2,976