Pipe Masters Feature

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Andy Irons’ dream season came to a flawless end in the remaining minutes of the final heat of the thirty-second annual Pipe Masters. In need of a 6.85 score to overtake leader Shane Dorian, A.I. snagged a meaty Backdoor peak, pulled up and under the lip at the last second, stood in the barrel for a full three seconds before being spit out, and proceeded to do one of the most powerful cutbacks of the entire event. The score? An 8.4. The crowd of 5,000 went ballistic, “the whistle” at the Volcom house began blowing nonstop, and Andy netted over 60,000 dollars. You see, he had to win the entire event in order to take the prestigious Triple Crown out of Joel Parkinson’s grasp. By winning the contest, Irons received 30,000 dollars. By winning the Triple Crown–a culmination of three Hawai‘ian events at Hale‘iwa, Sunset, and Pipeline–he received 15,000 dollars and the keys to a brand-new Ford Ranger truck worth over 15,000 dollars. By the way, you couldn’t dream up a harder final. Reputably the fastest surfer alive, super-Aussie Mick Fanning, Shane “Back” Dorian (he’s freakin’ named after the place), and some guy named Kelly Slater (five-time Pipe Masters champ) rounded out the last heat. How did one of the most difficult contests on Earth end up with such an exceptional field of finalists? To answer that question we’ll start from the beginning–the Xbox Trials.

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The trials, or the contest to get into the contest, are usually just as hard fought as the big show, perhaps more so. Thirty-two surfers from five different countries battle it out for only two spots in the main event. They’re chosen based on their Pipeline history and who they’re sponsored by–a nightmarish political process that can leave many feeling excluded. There’s no money awarded, no rating points at stake, just pride and respect from their peers. The surfers who are rewarded with an elusive slot in the trials are hungry and ready to go on anything the ocean throws at them.

Take the Japanese contingent of Naohisa Ogawa and Takayuki Wakita, for example. These helmeted kamikazes seemed to be magnets for the nastiest and thickest waves Mother Ocean served up. They didn’t let the crowd down, either–they went. While unsuccessful in their attempts, they definitely pleased those watching with their impossibly deep late takeoffs followed by death-defying closeout barrels. Tahitian Manoa Drollet got perhaps the best wave of the trials with a maxed-out Backdoor bomb, from which he miraculously appeared after being swallowed whole for what seemed an eternity–the guy laughs at waves that make 99 percent of surfers crap themselves. There were plenty of guys in the trials who could kick some top-sixteen ass, but only two would have the opportunity. Those two were Rob Machado and Brian Pacheco.

After so many years of seeing Rob on the World Championship Tour it was strange to see him in a trials event. With all his years of experience in competition, the others really had no chance against Rob. He patiently waited for only the best waves, surfed them flawlessly, and won heat after heat. Brian Pacheco has less experience in competition but made up for it with his Hawai‘ian warrior mentality and powerful approach to surfing. Pacheco’s surfing was otherworldly, his style impeccable, and his wave selection perfect. The trials’ final also included Pipe-local Jamie O’Brien and Bali ace-tuberider Rizal Tanjung. It’s a shame all four of them couldn’t get into the main event–they could have done some damage.

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The talented trials’ field included surfers such as Braden Dias, Myles Padaca, Tamayo Perry, Danny Fuller, Tory Barron (Vans Triple Crown Rookie of the Year), Jamie Sterling, and Conan Hayes. Rob said it perfectly: “Such an amazing field, it’s harder than the main evt. You’ve got the best Hawai‘ian surfers, Pipe specialists … it’s quite an event.”

The Sideshow

Tourists are so stupid. Along with the announcer, they would shriek and scream for a flyaway kickout like it was the highlight of their vacation. They stared moronically at their mosquito-bitten feet during incredible tuberides and maneuvers. If you were too lazy or hung over to walk all the way to the beach, local artist Drewtoonz painted an enormous 50- by twelve-foot mural on the contest trailers at Ehukai Beach Park. Every North Shore character was depicted–from a caricature of Danny Fuller with “Fuller” tattooed across his stomach to shaper Randy Sleigh unsteadily holding a brown paper bag. Helicopters hover above Bruce getting slotted on the outside while Kelly does a rodeo flip on the inside. All in all, it’s a great piece of work that truly captures the frenzy and hysteria surrounding the North Shore at this time of year.

Kids are not stupid. The little hellions snatch broken boards from the shorebreak and ask their favorite pros to sign them, and, unlike jerk baseball or football players, every single pro did so with a smile–even after a tough loss. Then the little punks go sell them on eBay.

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Send Out The Lemmings

Saturday December 14 saw a raw, disorganized, and angry swell attack the sandbar known as Pipeline. Mountains of sand had invaded the reef at Pipe–causing the waves to double and triple up as they broke on ridiculously shallow bars. However, it was a Saturday, the sun shone, and more importantly, tourists and locals alike looked ready to see some action and buy some souvenirs. On a day when no one in their right mind would surf Pipe, contest officials decided to send the boys out.

Remember the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan, when the Allied troops are trying to land on the beach on D-Day? Substitute Nazi machine gunners with twenty- to 30-foot tripled-up walls of water and Allied troops with WCT surfers. The result was a slaughtering of contestants. In these conditions, one successful ride would be enough to win a heat. Mick Fanning won his first-round heat with a score of 6.60 out of a possible twenty. Rodrigo Dornelles of Brazil had a total heat score of 0.30 out of twenty. The conditions were absolutely brutal. Greg Emslie of South Africa had a bitch of a time just trying to make it out. While his fellow competitors got lucky and snuck out with the assistance of a rip current, poor Emslie took two-dozen doubled-up sand-dredging bombs square on the head. The current wouldn’t let him move, and there was nothing the guy could do except slap the water and curse in frustration. When he finally made it out fifteen minutes later, he was able to snag a heat-winning ten-foot bomb, exacting a bit of revenge on the merciless ocean.

The heat of the day was between Pacheco (the trialist), Slater (the legend), and Andy (the champ). Andy set the tone with his first wave–a fifteen-foot air drop to faceplant, which broke his board but not his spirit. Slater successfully navigated his way through some treacherous caverns until getting racked and breaking his board into pieces. Pacheco used his local knowledge to keep himself and his board in one piece. Andy wasn’t able to recover in time and got third, Pacheco second, and the legend first.

Wave-of-the-day honors went to last year’s Pipe Masters champ, Bruce Irons. In one of the last heats of the day, with the swell peaking at twelve to fifteen feet, Bruce waited patiently on the second reef for nearly the entire heat before taking off on a huge, wind-blown second-reefer. With the entire crowd on their feet, Bruce casually pulled into a monster of a tube, barely squeaking out from the pit before the entire wave deafeningly collapsed on the sandbar. Somehow, nobody was seriously hurt on this hell day, the worst injury being jovial Aussie Nathan Hedge: “It was my third wave of my first heat. After a really hard takeoff, I got to the bottom, ate shit, and hit the reef with my knee.” The result? “Eight stitches and a bad bruise, mate.” Hedgy won the heat, and because the waves started washing over Kam Highway and erasing anything that resembled Pipe, the contest was put on hold for a day, giving Hedgy and the rest of the competitors a well deserved day of rest and recuperation.

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Tube City

Maneuvers don’t count for shit at the Pipe Masters. A guy could do a hundred turns, floaters, and airs on one wave and get a two. The same guy pulls into a wedging Backdoor beast, flies out in a flurry of spit, and nets a ten. That’s the way it should be. The WCT competitors have all year (with the exception of Teahupo‘o) to rip, tear, and lacerate. After the massive waves of Saturday and Sunday, most of the pesky sand was washed off the reef, creating ideal Banzai Pipeline conditions, and the boys showed why they get the big bucks (and the chicks). Heat one of round two is when Andy and Pacheco set the bar of performance for the day. The two of them took their surfing to a level few can reach. Pig-dogging backside and weaving through section after frontside section, the two regular-footers dominated.

Next up were Australians Joel Parkinson and Luke Hitchings and California styler Rob Machado. Rob got unlucky with this heat draw, because the two Aussies went nuts. Parkinson got the wave of the day and probably the contest with a huge Backdoor beast. He was deeply tubed for the majority of the wave, popping out only for a split second before being swallowed up again in a frothy, mutating inside section, which incredibly he was able to exit from. The beach went into a frenzy–perfect tens across the board. Luke Hitchings, however, one-upped his mate with the highest heat-score total of the event–a ridiculous 19.75. That’s right a 9.75 and a 10! Normally, fifteen points out of twenty will get you through a heat, but not on this day, and trials winner Rob Machado was sent packing.

Backdoor Masters

With the swell turning more North, the famed Pipeline began to shut down. No longer were the lefts providing high scores for contestants. This didn’t bother the regular-footers, though. Backdoor was certainly contestable. Andy Irons, Mick Fanning, Shane Dorian, and Kelly Slater began ruthlessly eliminating goofy-footers. Cory Lopez and Damien Hobgood hung in there for a while, but couldn’t keep up with the shifty, walled-up rights. By the time the final rolled around, Taylor was knocked out by his buddies Kelly and Shane, and the stage was set for a Backdoor slugfest featuring four guys you don’t want to surf against in draining right-hand barrels–Kelly, Shane, Mick, and Andy.

Andy couldn’t be stopped; he was like a freight train with no brakes–no one could stop him. After the final buzzer, his bruddahs Kala and Kaiborg hoisted him up on their shoulders, swatted a couple overzealous photogs out of the way, and carried him into the now out-of-control, raging Volcom house.

On the victory stand, raising the Pipe and Triple Crown trophies, Andy was a gracious winner: “It’s incredible, a total honor. There’re too many emotions to put it into words. I couldn’t have written it better, it’s a dream come true.”

Mahalos

Special thanks to the Hawai‘ian Water Safety team, led by Brian Keaulana and Terry Ahue–these guys made sure everybody came up after each horrendous wipeout and beating. Thanks to Mike Strada, owner of “the Pipe House” for letting TransWorld SURFr. Somehow, nobody was seriously hurt on this hell day, the worst injury being jovial Aussie Nathan Hedge: “It was my third wave of my first heat. After a really hard takeoff, I got to the bottom, ate shit, and hit the reef with my knee.” The result? “Eight stitches and a bad bruise, mate.” Hedgy won the heat, and because the waves started washing over Kam Highway and erasing anything that resembled Pipe, the contest was put on hold for a day, giving Hedgy and the rest of the competitors a well deserved day of rest and recuperation.

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Tube City

Maneuvers don’t count for shit at the Pipe Masters. A guy could do a hundred turns, floaters, and airs on one wave and get a two. The same guy pulls into a wedging Backdoor beast, flies out in a flurry of spit, and nets a ten. That’s the way it should be. The WCT competitors have all year (with the exception of Teahupo‘o) to rip, tear, and lacerate. After the massive waves of Saturday and Sunday, most of the pesky sand was washed off the reef, creating ideal Banzai Pipeline conditions, and the boys showed why they get the big bucks (and the chicks). Heat one of round two is when Andy and Pacheco set the bar of performance for the day. The two of them took their surfing to a level few can reach. Pig-dogging backside and weaving through section after frontside section, the two regular-footers dominated.

Next up were Australians Joel Parkinson and Luke Hitchings and California styler Rob Machado. Rob got unlucky with this heat draw, because the two Aussies went nuts. Parkinson got the wave of the day and probably the contest with a huge Backdoor beast. He was deeply tubed for the majority of the wave, popping out only for a split second before being swallowed up again in a frothy, mutating inside section, which incredibly he was able to exit from. The beach went into a frenzy–perfect tens across the board. Luke Hitchings, however, one-upped his mate with the highest heat-score total of the event–a ridiculous 19.75. That’s right a 9.75 and a 10! Normally, fifteen points out of twenty will get you through a heat, but not on this day, and trials winner Rob Machado was sent packing.

Backdoor Masters

With the swell turning more North, the famed Pipeline began to shut down. No longer were the lefts providing high scores for contestants. This didn’t bother the regular-footers, though. Backdoor was certainly contestable. Andy Irons, Mick Fanning, Shane Dorian, and Kelly Slater began ruthlessly eliminating goofy-footers. Cory Lopez and Damien Hobgood hung in there for a while, but couldn’t keep up with the shifty, walled-up rights. By the time the final rolled around, Taylor was knocked out by his buddies Kelly and Shane, and the stage was set for a Backdoor slugfest featuring four guys you don’t want to surf against in draining right-hand barrels–Kelly, Shane, Mick, and Andy.

Andy couldn’t be stopped; he was like a freight train with no brakes–no one could stop him. After the final buzzer, his bruddahs Kala and Kaiborg hoisted him up on their shoulders, swatted a couple overzealous photogs out of the way, and carried him into the now out-of-control, raging Volcom house.

On the victory stand, raising the Pipe and Triple Crown trophies, Andy was a gracious winner: “It’s incredible, a total honor. There’re too many emotions to put it into words. I couldn’t have written it better, it’s a dream come true.”

Mahalos

Special thanks to the Hawai‘ian Water Safety team, led by Brian Keaulana and Terry Ahue–these guys made sure everybody came up after each horrendous wipeout and beating. Thanks to Mike Strada, owner of “the Pipe House” for letting TransWorld SURF chill in the best seats available–Gerry’s third-floor balcony. Triple Crown contest organizer Randy Rarrick did a wonderful job orchestrating the entire event and calling the shots, and he must be commended. And the biggest thanks of all go to the people of the North Shore for putting up with all the traffic, parties, and noise that follows the pro surfing circus.

SURF
chill in the best seats available–Gerry’s third-floor balcony. Triple Crown contest organizer Randy Rarrick did a wonderful job orchestrating the entire event and calling the shots, and he must be commended. And the biggest thanks of all go to the people of the North Shore for putting up with all the traffic, parties, and noise that follows the pro surfing circus.