Friday, December 17, 2004 (Pipeline, Hawaii) Reigning three-time world champion Andy Irons (Kauai, HAW) was today’s major casualty in the Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters. Competition resumed with rounds two and three completed, and this year’s final Foster’s ASP World Championship Tournament (WCT) has only quarterfinals onwards remaining. The US$260,000 event runs until December 20th, but may climax tomorrow if conditions allow.
Following gigantic waves the past few days, conditions not only subsided, but cleaned up to provide perfectly hollow 6-8 ft (2.5m) surf. With so many careers on the line, today also proved a pressure cooker for those surfers on the cusp of re-qualifying for next year’s elite WCT tour.
Irons, the defending two-time event winner, was always going to have his work cut out against fellow Hawaiian Kalani Robb, Californian Tim Curran, as well as local Rip Curl Code STL Trials winner Mikey Bruneau. With great waves and a beach packed full of spectators, the clash turned into an epic as all four pulled into some amazing barrels. Unfortunately for Irons, he focused on Backdoor’s righthanders that generally closed out, while his opponents locked in the big scores at Pipeline.
“The waves were really good, but I kept going the righthanders and wasn’t making them, acknowledged Irons. “My first wave was really good, but just pinched on me at the end, and I think that probably made the difference.
“It’s been a wild week, he continued. “Surf one day at Pipe, the next at Waimea, and then we’re back at Pipe again. Bummer to come up short, but it’s been amazing. I’m still stoked, as my job is done for the year. I took the whole enchilada home, and that’s what I wanted. Pipe would have been nice to top it off, but it didn’t happen. Hopefully my brother wins it.
Robb took the match with two eight plus scores in his tally, while Curran snuck into runner-up place following his last 8.9 ride. Bruneau deserves special mention, finishing equal 17th in the main event with an amazing 9.67 ride this afternoon.
“My head was down and I was just going for any wave I could, explained Robb afterward. “I felt like I re-qualified for next year with that one wave, as I really needed a good result. All year I have been trying my hardest, but for once it paid off.
Six-time world champion and five-time Pipeline Master Kelly Slater (FL, USA) then posted the first perfect 10 of the 2004 event with an incredible Backdoor barrel. The Floridian supported this with another near-flawless 9.83 Pipeline tube for a combined tally of 19.83 points. Rip Curl wildcard and local Pipeline specialist Pancho Sullivan also advanced.
“It turned into a dream heat, said Slater. “I didn’t get my first good one until halfway through, so it was time to get aggressive. I knew I needed a big score, and those barrels did it. It’s nice to finish the last contest of the year with a couple of heats like I’ve had so far. The Pipe Masters is up for grabs, especially since Andy is out now. We’ll see what happens.
Bruce Irons (Kauai, HAW) continued his momentum from winning the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational two days ago through both critical heats contested. The current ratings #30 survived round two even after breaking his surfboard, and then dramatically improved his re-qualification chances for 2005 with a perfect 10 this afternoon. The 2001 Pipeline Master will face Slater, Sullivan, as well as current Triple Crown of Surfing leader Phil MacDonald (AUS) in a highly anticipated quarterfinal.
“It’s been a crazy couple of days, began Irons. “Winning the Eddie a couple of days ago and now surfing really good Pipeline. From 25ft Waimea to 6-8ft barreling waves… what more could you want?
“I knew I needed to make some heats, and I feel real comfortable out here, he continued. “I thought I was too late for that wave, but I dropped in and started pumping, and it finally let me out. I was so relieved (laughs). Hopefully the waves continue for the ffinals.
1999 world champion Mark Occhilupo, who incredibly won the Pipeline Masters 20-years ago, continues to defy age and attacked waves like any surf-stoked grommet wishes they could. The 38-year-old emerged from a clean Pipeline tube and then executed a huge forehand carve for an 8.7 score and runner-up position in round three. Fellow Australian Dean Morrison took out the clash.
“It’s funny, 20-years ago exactly, laughed Occhilupo, when reminded about his incredible longevity at Pipeline. “I can remember being in the event when announcers mentioned I’d won 10-years ago, and that seems like yesterday. But it feels really good to make the quarterfinals 20-years on.
Paulo Moura (BRA) positioned himself perfectly through a Pipeline barrel to beat Toby Martin (AUS), and together eliminate Brazilians Peterson Rosa and 2004 World Qualifying Series (WQS) winner Neco Padaratz. After breaking his surfboard earlier in the match, the goofy footer showed true determination by returning to the lineup and picking off his bests ride for the win.
“I broke my board, but just told myself I had to get back out there and be brave, explained Moura. “When I paddled back, the other guys were sitting towards Backdoor and I sat deep, but got a good left and made a score. It was a good opportunity to surf Pipeline with my friends, but of course I wish Peterson and Neco could have made it too.
Former world #2 Shane Beschen posted a couple of near perfect scores to ensure his best result of the season. The current #40 has already been granted an ASP injury wildcard position for 2005, but made up lost ratings ground with a 9.67 Backdoor barrel this morning, and then another 9.33 to advance through round three.
“Those were my first good Backdoor barrels all winter, so I’m stoked, said Beschen. “It’s been a really hard year for me. I tore my MCL at the beginning of the year, which put me out for three months and made me last on the ratings. Luckily I received the injury wildcard for next year, so I’m really grateful for that and looking forward to giving my all.
Local wildcard Jamie O’Brien was another big winner today, winning both heats and causing plenty of upsets along the way. The 2001 Pipeline finalist remains a serious dark horse for this year’s title.
Unfortunately bowing out of the Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters today and missing out on re-qualification spots for next year’s WCT were Australians Michael Campbell, Chris Davidson, Luke Hitchings, Beau Emerton, Kieren Perrow and Nathan Webster, together with France’s sole representative Eric Rebiere, as well as Brazilians Armando Daltro, Guilherme Herdy and Victor Ribas. Herdy was actually leading his second round heat this morning, but suffered a bad wipeout and damaged the eardrum he perforated in Tahiti last year. The current ratings #30 was forced to return to the beach for medical attention, but was rattled more than anything.
Californian Pat O’Connell was also eliminated today, but had already decided to retire from competition after his illustrious career.
ASP wishes to thank all the above for their incredible surfing over the years, and wish them the best of luck for their re-qualification campaigns, or life after the tour.
The Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters is part of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. Contest action can be viewed by LIVE webcast on www.ripcurl.com & www.aspworldtour.com or at www.triplecrownofsurfing.com from December 8 through 20.