Bruce battles and holds on by less than a point at the 2001 Pipe Masters.[IMAGE 1]
by Rik Iaconetti
Pipeline is black and white-you either want it, or you don’t, period. The first day at the fabled Banzai. It’s big enough, rough enough, and windy enough. Sponsors’ wild-cards, propped into position among the giants, crumble-none scoring over four points total in three rides. Past champions rise up like dragons, breathing fire. Local standouts, international barrel masters, and ASP heroes showed strong as well, but the young guns are the talk all day. Rocky Cannon, Jonah Morgan, Danny Fuller, Jamie Sterling, Mark Healy, and especially Jamie “Wunderkind” O’Brien all grabbed their moment in the sun, very early in their respective careers, and all shined very bright.
That first day was just so dramatic. Tommy Carroll, who has always been considered by insiders as the man regardless of age, finally got a fair chance, and it was obvious why he was there, charging deep and steep. He ruled. Slater and Healy battled for position their whole heat-Mark winning a mental victory, Slater the heat. A few favorites fell, mostly to poor wave selection and desperate loss of patience. Manoa Drollet, Carlos Cabrero, Cory Lopez, Brian Pacheco, and Shane Dorian-who was still badly injured, his foot sprained-all went down.[IMAGE 2]
Day’s end signals the mega heat. Occy (past champion at Banzai, former world champ), Bruce Irons (local favorite 2001, “The Bruce,” the Mick Jagger of surfing), and Naohisa Ogawa (who?). That’s right, a diminutive five-foot-nothin’, 100 pounds and nothin’ who has for years been one of the best-kept secrets at Pipe. He will go on absolutely anything. The surf grows bigger-ten-foot Hawai’ian sets; low, low tide; the “Ain’ts” reef between Backdoor and Off The Wall bone dry.
Occy uses his savvy and careful tactics to position himself, but that’s not the solution to the riddle of beating Bruce, who rockets off to an explosive start, scoring both sides at will-rights, lefts, all over it, jumping to a substantial early lead. Then it happens … a huge set, second-reef feather, inside jack-up to insane back-lit thunder dome. Huge. Ogawa, deep in the pit, paddles like a demon, spins, no hesitation, hangs on the wind-torn lip and falls into the hole. He fires his turn, poses high in the hook and rides through the tunnel, into the clear, into the collective hearts of everyone on the shore … into the battle. Bruce answers back with a backdoor beast.
Such is the merit and strength of the Pipeline Masters, being a select and prestigious invitational, a true representation of all who really rip there-kids, internationals, past champs, locals, ASP pros … the real deal.
Bruce sits on a comfortable early lead while Ogawa and Occy battle for second to advance, and then it happens again, another huge, huge, deep-west set-the biggest, meanest wave all day jacks up beyond vertical. And who’s right there, so deep it’s not even real? It’s a Dali painting, it’s impossible … it’s Ogawa. He spins, he charges it, no pause, no look down the line, he just goes. The entire beach stands up and howls, thousands of people together. He freefalls, catches his edge, drives it into the meat of the beast, pulls up and under, and sets his line. The monster throws way out over him, the beach howls even louder, he disappears, and … and … and … he explodes out the end, hands over his head, into glory, history, and the lead. Ogawa is carried up the beach on the shoulders of his fellow Japanese surfers-suddenly everyone knows who he is. Day one is over.
Day two. Due to time constraints-as in, the waiting period is over in eight hours-the remaining surfers will surf in four-man death heats instead of the proposed two-man duels-a different kind of drama.
First up is Tamayo Perry, Pancho Sullivan, another Japanese charger Takita Wakayuki, and Wunderkind O’Brien. It’s a three-man battle between the Hawai’ians, with Pancho and Jamie taking it narrowly. Next, Kalani Robb dominates a slow heat, with French Pipe and Tahiti specialist Didier Piter sneaking past Carroll and Mighty Mick Lowe. Then C.J. and Indo legend Rizal Tanjung grind past Sunny and Rocky Cannon. In rapid-fire succession, Johnny Boy Gomes (JBG) and Braden Dias blow out Patacchia and Rob Machado.
Then came the two best heats of the day. The first is a Slater-Andy rematch with Liam McNamara thrown in for spice. It’s full tactical warfare, eventually turning into a two-man battle as Backdoor comes into play. Liam has only the lefts to score and Cantrell-brilliant on day one-has a torn hamstring and is unable to keep up. Next heat features past Pipe Master Jake “The Snake” Paterson versus a pack of frothing kids-Healy, Fuller, and Sterling. Fuller dominates with beautiful selection and timing, Sterling breaks two boards but manages to claim second.
The last heats see Bruce continue to dominate, and Brazilian power-surfer Renan Rocha, Luke Egan, and young Oz wizard Mick Fanning come through.Quarters. Pancho and C.J. blast past two heavy Pipe chargers, Kalani Robb and Pipeline-posse top-gun Braden Dias. Then it’s Wunderkind again, feeling it, winning it, with the Frenchman just sneaking ahead of JBG and Rizal. Next Slater and Egan take outFuller and Rocha. Then it’s nuts time-both Irons brothers, Fanning, and Sterling. Are you kidding? Bruce grabs the early lead … again; Fanning and Andy battle. Andy gets him, and after a three-wave rapid-fire scoring run, gets Bruce as well. Sterling plays for the bigger lefts, gets two good ones, but is clipped on the exits of both. The Irons militia moves on.
Semi One is a tediously slow heat-waves are minimal. C.J. owns it with O’Brien in second, and Pancho and the Frenchman are left short. Then it’s Andy, Bruce, Luke Egan, and … gulp … Slater. Hello? Can you say … well, what can you say? Yet again, Bruce takes an early lead, but Slater gives chase immediately. Andy and Luke are behind from the outset. Luke can’t manage a good wave. Then Andy and Bruce catch a peak together. Bruce goes Backdoor and Andy takes the left … across each other! Bruce with the high line, Andy just under him, no call, Andy cartwheels, Bruce gets a small tube.
Silence.Andy needs a 4.1, gets a little left, rips two turns, horns sounds … it’s not enough. The heat finishes with Slater winning and Bruce in second. For the final it’s Wunderkind O’Brien, “the stranger” C.J. Hobgood, local hero Bruce Irons, and the ultimate contest warrior, Kelly Slater. The whole beach is standing. Bruce scores quickly, perfectly. Within five minutes he has three waves and is clearly in the lead. O’Brien goes for a huge air, C.J. a Backdoor line-drive, and Slater is looking to get back into the hunt. He does-he’s Slater. He methodically gets score after score, melting Bruce’s lead. It’s a two-man race as Bruce and Kelly hit the final straightaway running, toe to toe, punch for punch, tube for tube. At this point, C.J. and Jamie can only watch-they’re two waves behind.
Seconds to go, Slater needs but a middle-of-the-road score to win. Bruce is having flashbacks of a win stolen from him in the final moments years back by Paterson. A set comes. Slater’s there. Escaping Bruce’s block, he starts to paddle, it’s a left … but wait! O’Brien’s deeper! Wunderkind has position, he gets the wave, and Bruce gets the win by 0.65 points.
1. Bruce Irons, Hawai’i
2. Kelly Slater, Florida
3. C.J. Hobgood, Florida
4. Jamie O’Brien, Hawai’i