The Showdown – The 2003 World Title Decided In One Heat

This August, halfway through the ASP WCT year, Andy Irons looked unstoppable. He’d just won the Quiksilver Pro France (his fourth contest in eight events), and it seemed as if the world title was pretty much in the bag with a 700-point lead. “All I really wanted to do when the year began was defend my title well and stay in the race,” said Irons after the French final. “I’m just having such a good year, so hopefully it goes through to Hawai’i where the title will be crowned.”

Two weeks later Kelly Slater won Mundaka; Andy lost in the first round to another event-sponsor wild card (Nate Yeomans). It was his third loss to a wild card, including losing to his brother Bruce at Lower Trestles. The race was back on and Kelly had a second-half comeback in full motion with a follow-up win in Brazil. Going into the Sunset Beach event, the eleventh of twelve stops, Kelly turned the tide, and created a seemingly insurmountable 600-point lead. Avoiding the hoopla, Kelly was trying to keep his head straight going into the second event of the Triple Crown: “I’m in a good place, and I’ve just got to think about what I can do in my heats at Sunset, what direction the swell is, what board I’m gonna ride—all that stuff. I’m just trying to be prepared and not get too stressed out about the situation. I have to surf like I’m coming from behind and not like I’m leading.”

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He also knew it wouldn’t come down to Sunset. “Probably Pipe,” said Kelly when asked which event would decide the world title. “If we were to be in this position ten times going into Sunset, I’m sure it would come down to Pipe eight or nine times. I would bet it would come down to Pipe.”

Maybe Kelly saw it coming. After his clinic in the first round of the Rip Curl Pro at Sunset, the stage was set for the Kelly Slater/Andy Irons showdown to move into the third round in eight- to ten-foot surf. It was expected that Kelly would just keep going through and both him and Andy would meet in the final. He was the fourth heat of the round and looking at competing against Kalani Robb, Jake “The Snake” Paterson, and Tahiti’s Manoa Drollet—all accomplished big-wave surfers and extremely tough at Sunset. After a wave-starved heat, Kelly found himself needing a six with five minutes left—usually no reason for him to panic. But Sunset let him down and any hopes of an early thriller died when the last set of the heat came up riderless—Kelly had lost.

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Going into the final against Paterson, Shane Dorian, and Taj Burrow, Irons found out he could be 78 points ahead with a win and 96 points behind with a second place. In slithered “The Snake.” Raised in the roaring surf of Western Australia, charging Sunset with reckless abandon seemed to be his goal and an early lead was his reward. Irons answered with the only perfect ten of the contest, but still required a 7.64 to catch the Snake and never got it—he’d have to settle for second.

Dead from fatigue and an onslaught of cramps during the final, Andy’s confidence, however, was stronger than ever. “My body feels like one big cramp,” said Irons after the heat. “I needed another score—usually when you get a ten, you’re pretty set, but Jake had two really good waves and I couldn’t catch him. Coming into Pipeline is a dream come true,” he added on the Pipe showdown. “I’m coming from behind and Kelly’s got the lead, but I think the pressure is more on him than me right now. I’m just psyching on it and hopefully a couple of trialists take him out early there. I’m going for it for sure. It’s on.”

Kelly never expected the title race would get so close so abruptly: “I’ve got to get my head back in it. I’ve just been relaxing the past couple of weeks and not really in contest mode or form, but I think this is probably what everyone wanted.” As Kelly predicted, it did come down to Pipe and “The Showdown” was on.

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The Pipe Trials: Local Boys Versus e WCT

Pancho got his wish. For years, Pancho Sullivan knew he had what it took to surf against the best in the world. In the months leading up to the Pipe Masters, he had been attending meetings and debating with fellow surfers, politicians, and ASP officials, fighting for a chance to surf the contests held in his backyard. As a result of his perseverance, the ASP allowed nine trialists to enter into the most prestigious contest in the world.

Making the cut was 1993 World Champ Derek Ho, who used the old-school tactics of sitting on competitors and hassling for waves to take out a frustrated Mick Fanning in round two. He won a world-title scrapping like that and defeated one of the world’s best surfers doing the same.

Underground Sunset Beach ripper Marcus Hickman used his local knowledge to get the highest score of the entire event (in the trials) with an incredible backside tube that had the entire beach, and especially his boys at the Volcom house, screaming like wild banshees. After his great ride, Hickman had the following to say about the ‘CT boys: “They better watch out!” This act of confidence caused the pro-Hawai’ian crowd to absolutely erupt again. Marcus won’t be unknown for long if he continues to nail tens in WCT events.

Kalani Chapman (Shawn Briley’s little brother) lives and breathes Pipeline and proved he could hang with the ‘CT crew, dispatching Taj Burrow in round two.

As for Pancho? He surfs with as much or more power than anyone on the world tour and was destroying sections like a linebacker, displacing more water than humanly possible. He used his brute force to advance to the semifinals, where he ran into Andy Irons and Joel Parkinson who ended his run. But the point was proven, the local boys could handle their own against the world’s best.

“Broken Board Situation!”

There are two types of surf fans: Those who know what’s going on, and those who haven’t a clue. When the first type sees a broken board or flyaway kickout, he or she takes notice and gets on with their life, waiting for a nice barrel or air. Those who show up because they heard about the comp on the radio are a bit different. For instance, a competitor gets caught inside by a three-foot wall of whitewash and snaps his three-pound twig of a surfboard in half, causing the announcer to say in a deadly serious voice, “We have a broken board situation! Let’s look for the surfer, he appears to be all right, but it’s too early to tell!” A worried hush descends on the beach while the crowd prays for the unfortunate victim of the cruel ocean and his forty-ninth broken board of the year.

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Andy Irons had several “broken board situations,” including one that was quite amazing. Waving his board to caddy Kala Alexander from outside the surf line, it wasn’t apparent what the problem was. It became obvious that his board wasn’t right when he dropped in on a five-foot drainer and didn’t have to stall to get in the tube. His board was barely moving, and it looked like he wasn’t going to be able to make it, but this was World Champ A.I., and he willed the board out of one tube and into another. He followed the two barrels with a three-foot, no-grab air to finish the wave. When he came in to switch boards, it became clear what the problem was—his board was buckled in the middle, and 75 percent of the fiberglass had been ripped off the bottom. He rode a wave better than many of us ever will—on a broken board.

Shea Lopez had a shocker. After ripping a wave from Pipe into the sandbar at inside Off The Wall, Lopez went for an ill-advised floater on a massive close-out section—the kind of maneuver someone only does in a contest. After floating the section he lost control on the landing and faceplanted directly onto his board at the same time the six-foot-thick lip landed on him—by far the most serious wipeout of the event. He ended up motionless in the water, unable to swim, and in excruciating pain. The result of his miscue was a ruptured medial knee ligament, an ATV ride off the beach from the lifeguards, and a huge roar from the crowd as he passed by—the kind relieved fans give football players when they’re carried off the field.

The Showdown

Nearing the end of the two-week waiting period, contest organizers decided that the contest area would stretch from Gums to Off The Wall, a distance of several hundred yards, because the traditional Pipe arena just wasn’t happening—there was too much sand over the reef and the predicted swell was coming from a northerly angle, not the west that Pipeline prefers. Andy was unfazed by the news and all he had to say was, “Perfect, the Gum Masters. That’s awesome.”

There were T-shirts for sale hyping it up, and a giant mural painted by artist Drewtoonz was entitled “The Showdown.” In fact, everybody on the North Shore was psyching for it, except for one guy—Andy Irons. Andy was over it: “It’s Kelly’s to lose (the world title). I don’t know, I don’t really care. I’m not gonna freak out about it. Whatever happens, happens. I’ll still get a nice paycheck for second.”

The Finals

It all came down to one heat. The closest world-title race ever, at the most prestigious venue in the world, with everything at stake. The perfect ending to the 2003 ASP season, one heat, one winner, and one champ. Irons, Slater, Joel Parkinson, and Phillip MacDonald made up the final, but all eyes were on the title contenders. Slater made the decision to paddle out far up the beach and away from his competition.

“I saw Kelly surfing way up at Gums and was wondering what he was doing, if he had something up his sleeve,” recalled Irons. But Slater’s plan backfired and he opened the heat with a three while Irons started off strong with an 8.3. After Andy’s second wave he began to pull away and gather momentum while the beach started to get antsy for Kelly to do something. If anyone could come back and knock off the champ, it was him.

As time ticked away, Kelly’s attempts to match Andy’s scores were dissipating with every low score. Coming into the last minutes, Kelly sat and waited for a wave that never came. He was comboed (needing two waves to move ahead) by Andy and nothing was coming his way. The final horn rang and the beach exploded with cheers and gangster whistles—the most dramatic surfing scenario ever was over. Kelly seemed to be in shock after hugging and congratulating Andy seconds after the final horn sounded. Afterward, Slater stayed in the water for half an hour, perhaps contemplating the future. Has the “best surfer of all time” passed the generational torch? We’ll see next year, but for now, Andy is the undisputed champion of the world. Congratulations A.I.! —Justin Cote

Final results and year-end standings on page XX.

Timeline

1. March 10

Quiksilver Pro

Snapper Rocks, Queensland

1. Dean Morrison

=9. Andy Irons, Kelly Slater

2. April 24

Rip Curl Pro

Bells Beach, Victoria

1. Andy Irons

=9. Kelly Slater

3. May 15

Billabong Pro Tahiti

Teahupo’o, Tahiti

1. Kelly Slater

=9. Andy Irons

4. June 3

Quiksilver Pro Fiji

Tavarua, Fiji

1. Andy Irons

=33. (injury) Kelly Slater

5. June 23

Quiksilver Pro

Niijima, Japan

1. Andy Irons

=5. Kelly Slater

6. July 21

Billabong Pro

Jeffreys Bay, South Africa

1. Kelly Slater

=17. Andy Irons

7. September 8

Boost Mobile Pro

Lower Trestles, California

1.Richie Lovett

=5. Kelly Slater

=17. Andy Irons

8. October 11

Quiksilver Pro

South West Coastn the water, unable to swim, and in excruciating pain. The result of his miscue was a ruptured medial knee ligament, an ATV ride off the beach from the lifeguards, and a huge roar from the crowd as he passed by—the kind relieved fans give football players when they’re carried off the field.

The Showdown

Nearing the end of the two-week waiting period, contest organizers decided that the contest area would stretch from Gums to Off The Wall, a distance of several hundred yards, because the traditional Pipe arena just wasn’t happening—there was too much sand over the reef and the predicted swell was coming from a northerly angle, not the west that Pipeline prefers. Andy was unfazed by the news and all he had to say was, “Perfect, the Gum Masters. That’s awesome.”

There were T-shirts for sale hyping it up, and a giant mural painted by artist Drewtoonz was entitled “The Showdown.” In fact, everybody on the North Shore was psyching for it, except for one guy—Andy Irons. Andy was over it: “It’s Kelly’s to lose (the world title). I don’t know, I don’t really care. I’m not gonna freak out about it. Whatever happens, happens. I’ll still get a nice paycheck for second.”

The Finals

It all came down to one heat. The closest world-title race ever, at the most prestigious venue in the world, with everything at stake. The perfect ending to the 2003 ASP season, one heat, one winner, and one champ. Irons, Slater, Joel Parkinson, and Phillip MacDonald made up the final, but all eyes were on the title contenders. Slater made the decision to paddle out far up the beach and away from his competition.

“I saw Kelly surfing way up at Gums and was wondering what he was doing, if he had something up his sleeve,” recalled Irons. But Slater’s plan backfired and he opened the heat with a three while Irons started off strong with an 8.3. After Andy’s second wave he began to pull away and gather momentum while the beach started to get antsy for Kelly to do something. If anyone could come back and knock off the champ, it was him.

As time ticked away, Kelly’s attempts to match Andy’s scores were dissipating with every low score. Coming into the last minutes, Kelly sat and waited for a wave that never came. He was comboed (needing two waves to move ahead) by Andy and nothing was coming his way. The final horn rang and the beach exploded with cheers and gangster whistles—the most dramatic surfing scenario ever was over. Kelly seemed to be in shock after hugging and congratulating Andy seconds after the final horn sounded. Afterward, Slater stayed in the water for half an hour, perhaps contemplating the future. Has the “best surfer of all time” passed the generational torch? We’ll see next year, but for now, Andy is the undisputed champion of the world. Congratulations A.I.! —Justin Cote

Final results and year-end standings on page XX.

Timeline

1. March 10

Quiksilver Pro

Snapper Rocks, Queensland

1. Dean Morrison

=9. Andy Irons, Kelly Slater

2. April 24

Rip Curl Pro

Bells Beach, Victoria

1. Andy Irons

=9. Kelly Slater

3. May 15

Billabong Pro Tahiti

Teahupo’o, Tahiti

1. Kelly Slater

=9. Andy Irons

4. June 3

Quiksilver Pro Fiji

Tavarua, Fiji

1. Andy Irons

=33. (injury) Kelly Slater

5. June 23

Quiksilver Pro

Niijima, Japan

1. Andy Irons

=5. Kelly Slater

6. July 21

Billabong Pro

Jeffreys Bay, South Africa

1. Kelly Slater

=17. Andy Irons

7. September 8

Boost Mobile Pro

Lower Trestles, California

1.Richie Lovett

=5. Kelly Slater

=17. Andy Irons

8. October 11

Quiksilver Pro

South West Coast, France

1. Andy Irons

=3. Kelly Slater

9. October 24

Billabong Pro

Mundaka, Spain

1. Kelly Slater

=33. Andy Irons

10. November 4

Nova Schin Festival

Santa Catarina, Brazil

1. Kelly Slater

5. Andy Irons

11. December 5

Rip Curl Pro

Sunset Beach, Hawai’i

1. Jake Paterson

2. Andy Irons

=17. Kelly Slater

12. December 19

Xbox Pipeline Masters

Pipeline, Hawai’i

1. Andy Irons

4. Kelly Slater

 

 

 

 

oast, France

1. Andy Irons

=3. Kelly Slater

9. October 24

Billabong Pro

Mundaka, Spain

1. Kelly Slater

=33. Andy Irons

10. November 4

Nova Schin Festival

Santa Catarina, Brazil

1. Kelly Slater

5. Andy Irons

11. December 5

Rip Curl Pro

Sunset Beach, Hawai’i

1. Jake Paterson

2. Andy Irons

=17. Kelly Slater

12. December 19

Xbox Pipeline Masters

Pipeline, Hawai’i

1. Andy Irons

4. Kelly Slater