Beach, Oahu, Hawaii) This year’s ASP World Championship Tour (WCT) climax is nearing, with the Rip Curl Cup scheduled to commence next week and very likely host the crowning of the 2002 world champion. The penultimate event, now in its 28th consecutive season, will showcase the world’s top 45 surfers, last year’s defending champion, as well as two other wildcards selected from the 32-man Rip Curl Cup Trials.
The Rip Curl Cup marks the second leg of the 20th Anniversary Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, currently underway with the final 6-Star World Qualifying Series (WQS) Hawaiian Pro at nearby Haleiwa Beach Park. The waiting period for Sunset begins on November 24th, and has until December 7th to complete four days of competition.
Current ratings leader Andy Irons (Haw) commands a well-earned advantage going into the Rip Curl Cup, with a thousand points separating him from the nearest three Australian rivals still holding a mathematical chance of the crown. A victory or runner-up finish at Sunset would guarantee the Hawaiian’s maiden world title, though in reality the pressure is really on his opponents. Unless at least one of them reaches the four-man final and places highly in the Rip Curl Cup, there is no chance anyone can surpass Irons during the season ending Xbox Gerry Lopez Pipeline Masters.
Irons, 24, won back-to-back victories at Bells Beach Australia and then Tahiti to take an early lead on the 2002 circuit. A run of third round losses, coupled with a stunning burst by current #4 Mick Lowe (Aus) however, saw Irons lead whittled down to 400 points. Current ratings #2 Luke Egan zoomed into contention at Trestles (USA), with a convincing WCT win in California backing up his 2nd placing to Irons in Tahiti. The Hawaiian then broke the 17th place hoodoo on the European leg, securing a runner-up finish in France, before taking out the following WCT in Spain for his envious position far in front.
“Right now I’m super motivated,” said Irons this morning. “I’ve been hanging out a lot with my family and friends and just getting into my old routine of being at home, wearing board shorts and surfing familiar spots I’ve grown up at. It’s been unreal, and going into Sunset I’m more psyched than ever. I can’t wait.
“All my friends have been trying to pump me up, but it isn’t over until fatty Al (Hunt – ASP tour manager) comes and hands you the ratings at the end,” he continued, of the looming world title. “I’m not taking nothing for granted yet, and will be surfing every heat like it’s my last, going all out. I want to make every heat, so I’ll have to surf smart and hopefully make the final.
“I’ve got incredible boards from Eric Awakawa, about 20 of them, and have been getting used to them,” continued the Hawaiian, of his preparation. “It’s been a really good winter so far, and as long as the waves cooperate it should be a really good event.”
Egan, 33, remains Australia’s best hope at the world title, but will require huge results at both Sunset and Pipeline to break Irons’ steely grip on the crown. The powerful goofy footer requires at least a 3rd and 1st placing to defeat the Hawaiian over the coming tournaments.
“Yeah it is a long shot, as I needed another good result either at the end of Europe or Brazil,” reasoned Egan of his chances. “I needed to get in front of Andy and gain some points on him before Hawaii. Anything is possible in Hawaii though. Sunset and Pipe can break anyone down and bring them to tears. I’m still stoked to be in there with a chance.
“Andy has done all the hard work and just has to hope everyone else falls down around him,” he added. “He has had an incredible year and he definitely deserves to be where he is.”
Current #3 Taj Burrow, who won the last tournament in Brazil, together with fellow Aussie Lowe, are the only other two surfers in mathematical contention going into the final Hawaiian events. Both virtually have to win the next two tournaments, as well as rely on poor performances by the current leader on his home turf.
Equally crucial during the Rip Curl Cup and Xbox Gerry Lopez Pipeline Masters will be the race to re-qualify in the WCT, with the top 27 final place getters ensuring their position among the elite ranks, while the top 15 (excluding ‘double’ qualifiers) on the WQS join the field for 2003. An updated list of those surfers on the cusp following the Hawaiian Pro will be distributed following the completion of that tournament.
Defending Rip Curl Cup and Vans Triple Crown of Surfing champion Myles Padaca (Haw) will again be a major threat during Sunset. Having stormed the field last year, the Hawaiian will put his experience and love for Sunset Beach to the test once more, hoping to create as many upsets as he can en-route to repeating his career topping 2001 result.
The Rip Curl Trials will consist of 22 Hawaiian surfers, as well as 10 Rip Curl team riders from around the globe. The Hawaiians will be made up of select Sunset specialists, and those who have distinguished themselves during the previous two World Qualifying Series (WQS) tournaments this winter. A list will be named following the completion of the Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa.
The format for the Rip Curl Cup, as well as the year’s final tournament, the Xbox Gerry Lopez Pipeline Masters, has recently changed due to permit restrictions. Four man heats will now be held each round, including the finals, though a second ‘losers’ round will still be in place. Jet skis will not be used to help assist surfers back into the lineup following their rides.
Detailed releases will be available following the completion of eachcompetition day.
For daily updates, status and other information:www.triplecrownofsurfing.com & www.aspworldtour.com