PIPELINE, Hawaii (Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2006) – After a sensational finish to the second of the three Vans Triple Crown of Surfing events yesterday where Australian Joel Parkinson stole the show in huge waves at Sunset Beach, anticipation for tomorrow's potential start of the Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters is at an all time high.
The event, the last of 11 on the Foster's ASP World Tour, is one of surfing's most prestigious and spectacular as surfers risk life and limb to score some of the biggest tube rides of their lives.
And with the world crown having already been in the living room of now eight-time champion Kelly Slater (USA) for some months, his fellow tourers will be fighting like cats and dogs to climb onto the podium and be labelled a Pipe Master – one of biggest honours in the sport.
On a roll after claiming victory in the first Vans Triple Crown of Surfing event in Haleiwa, then riding home in third place in yesterday's O'Neill World Cup Of Surfing behind Joel Parkinson (AUS) and Jordy Smith (ZAF) is Hawaii's own Andy Irons who is currently sitting in fifth place on the Foster's ASP World Tour ratings and atop the Vans Triple Crown point score.
"Coming from Hawaii, everyone always says that the Triple Crown is just as important as the world title," said Irons. "I love surfing these three events. It's home. These are the waves that I grew up surfing and I feel really comfortable out there. Since the ASP world title race finished, my focus has been on doing well in here."
The exciting former three-time world champion loves competing at Pipe and always lifts his performance standards when he tackles the typically powerful Hawaiian waves.
"Pipeline is a really special place for me," said Irons. "I've won the Rip Curl Pro Pipe Masters three times and I don't know, I feel like my surfing has lifted just being in Hawaii already. Just being around all my friends and surfing everyday, I feel like I'm more confident."
Being the defending champion, Irons knows what it takes to win and over the past few years he's been a constant force in some incredible battles.
"The event has always been high-intensity for me," said Irons. "It's where I won the world title over Kelly (Slater) in 2003, and I've picked up a few Vans Triple Crowns there."
Parkinson, who sits just behind Irons at sixth place on the Foster's ASP World Tour ratings and now is in second on the Van Triple Crown showdown, has been in brilliant form for most of the year and after his win yesterday he is brimming with confidence.
"It's a really special thing for me," said Parkinson. "Everyone says winning the Triple Crown is right up there with winning a world title and I think it is. Hopefully I'll be able to win a world title one day to compare! I've come close (to winning the Triple Crown) a few times, but Andy always seems to finish just ahead. It will come down to Pipe again this time around, and he (Irons) always performs there. I'm looking forward to it."
In an interesting twist to the event, a host of local Pipeline specialists have been slotted into the draw, which will now expand from 48 to 64 and will have four man heats right through the event.
The formidable list of local chargers will include last year's finalist Kalani Chapman, Makua Rothman, Tamayo Perry, Jamie O'Brien and reigning ASP World Junior champion Kekoa Bacalso to name a few.
"This year is going to be interesting with the 64-man field," said Irons. "A lot of the local boys are in it, and they're going to shake things up for sure."
Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters
Heat 1: Dean Morrison (AUS); Peterson Rosa (BRA); Toby Martin (AUS); Randall Paulson (HAW)
Heat 2: Phil MacDonald (AUS); Darren O'Rafferty (AUS); Pedro Henrique (BRA); Kalani Chapman (HAW)
Heat 3: Tom Whitaker (AUS); Victor Ribas (BRA); Davey Weare (ZAF); Tory Baron (HAW)
Heat 4: Bobby Martinez (USA); Shaun Cansdell (AUS); Adrian Buchan (AUS); Evan Valiere (HAW)
Heat 5: Damien Hobgood (USA); Adriano de Souza (BRA); Yuri Sodre (BRA); Makua Rothman (HAW)
Heat 6: Joel Parkinson (AUS); Mark Occhilupo (AUS); Ben Dunn (AUS); Hank Gaskell (HAW)
Heat 7: Taj Burrow (AUS); Travis Logie (ZAF); Kekoa Bacalso (HAW); Dustin Barca (HAW)
Heat 8: Kelly Slater (USA); Trent Munro (AUS); Heiarii Williams (PYF); Jamie O'Brien (HAW)
Heat 9: Mick Fanning (AUS); Danny Wills (AUS); Rob Machado (USA); Bruno Santos (BRA)
Heat 10: Andy Irons (HAW); Greg Emslie (ZAF); Ian Walsh (HAW); Nathan Carroll (HAW)
Heat 11: Taylor Knox (AUS); Mick Lowe (AUS); Jarrad Howse (AUS); Tamayo Perry (HAW)
Heat 12: Bruce Irons (HAW); Jake Paterson (AUS); Roy Powers (HAW); Solomon Ortiz (HAW)
Heat 13: CJ Hobgood (USA); Chris Ward (USA); Mikael Picon (FRA); Aamion Goodwin (HAW)
Heat 14: Bede Durbidge (AUS); Pancho Sullivan (HAW); Paulo Moura (BRA); Jamie Sterling (HAW)
Heat 15: Fred Patacchia (HAW); Luke Stedman (AUS); Marcelo Nunes (BRA); Reef Mcintosh (HAW)
Heat 16: Cory Lopez (USA); Nathan Hedge (AUS); Troy Brooks (AUS); Owen Wright (AUS)