PIPELINE, Hawaii (Sunday, Dec.10, 2006) – It was all about the locals today as the infamous Banzai Pipe and a squadron of Hawaiian Pipe specialists put on a fantastic show in round one of the Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters.
With waves of up to three metres plus (10 foot) hitting the contest arena, it was always going to be a day where a sound knowledge of the environment would be a vital component – and those who surf the break day in day out were always going to be heavily advantaged.
Keeping that in mind, the large contingent of wildcards pushed performance levels to new heights with 2004 Rip Curl Pro Pipe Masters champion Jamie O'Brien (HAW) leading the way when he put on a phenomenal display to take down new eight-time Foster's ASP World Tour champion Kelly Slater (USA).
Scoring a total of 18.86 out of a possible 20 he partnered with Slater on a few occasions to "split the peak" (share the same wave but go in opposite directions) and the resulting epic tube riding from both surfers had the huge crowd in awe.
O'Brien stated that his win was lucky as he was pushed to the inside of the break due to the surfers aggressively jockeying for position. But every time he thought he was out of position for the large lefts on offer, a large right hander "Backdoor" Pipe wave would arrive.
"In the end the result was very lucky. There was a little bit of hassling going on out there and every time I would sit deep, a right would come," said O'Brien. "And they just kept on coming and coming and coming – it was surreal!"
Perhaps feeling a little cocky after serving up Slater on a platter early (he had Slater needing two good scores to catch up) O'Brien amazing switched stance and took a meaty drop on a large lefthand breaking wave.
A slight slip and he showed that even experts must to have respect for the famous location, which has in past claimed lives as large set heavily pounded the youngster.
"It's good to have the water patrol out there," said O'Brien. "You feel confident and safe. After that one switch stance and I got pounded I was looking up and thought, oh at least they're watching. It feels good to have the best in the world watching you out there."
His main foe and fellow Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Master Slater was full of praise for O'Brien's world beating performance.
"I started out the heat and got a couple of scores, but then Jamie [O'Brien] started going off his head and I had to start playing catch up," said Slater. "It's always great to have guys like that in a heat. It pushes your surfing and you can't scrape by being average out there."
While O'Brien was all smiles after his win none were grinning harder than Bruce Irons (HAW) who grabbed some of the longest and heaviest Backdoor barrels ever seen in the event and was awarded with the largest combined of the day – a 19.90 out of a possible 20.
Irons, also a former Pipe Master in 2001, has been noted by his peers as being the best tube rider in the world to date and today he certainly lived up to all the hype as with complete control he steered through some thundering three metre plus walls of water.
"That was really, really fun," said a beaming Irons. "That's the first time I surfed Pipe all winter and I didn't want the heat to end. I've been surfing the break close by called Off the Wall, but the last time I surfed (Pipe) was last winter so I'm just psyched to get out there."
Scoring a 9.90 then a perfect 10 on the following wave Irons is oozing with confidence and will be hard to pin down as the event progresses. But like all the seasoned Foster's ASP World Tourers, he is wary that the hordes of remaining locals could inflict more damage.
"It is good that they get to come and surf against the best guys in the world," said Irons. "A lot of guys that are wildcards are the best Pipe surfers out there. Bring it on… I'm ready for all of them."
Making an untimely exit in the first round today was currently ranked world number two Mick Fanning (AUS) and currently ranked number three Taj Burrow (AUS).
Both surfers fell at the hands of wildcards or lesser ranks tourers and their demise will open the door for the likes of former three-time world champion and defending event champion Andy Irons (HAW) to leap past them into a second place tour finish.
Like his brother Bruce, Andy Irons was in total control of his heat where he blitzed, Ian Walsh (HAW), Nathan Carroll (HAW) and Greg Emslie (ZAF).
As always he lifted himself when surfing at Pipe and he revelled in the overhead conditions today.
"I feel good. I feel solid," said Irons. "I'm psyched. Hopefully the waves stick around like this for the whole event. I'm definitely after The Triple Crown and a Pipemasters win would make me happy – I think they would make anybody happy!"
On the Van's Triple Crown pointscore, Irons sits atop with Joel Parkinson (AUS) lurking just behind.
Irons took out the first Triple Crown event at Haleiwa and Parkinson the second at Sunset, and with the only other contender Fred Patacchia exiting later in the day, a win here by either will seal their Triple Crown fate.
Parkinson was in fact very lucky today when he was almost sent packing in heat six when in a nail biting finish the likable naturalfoot surfer finished in second place behind a rampaging local in Hank Gaskell.
There was drama in the final seconds when he was almost ousted by tour legend Mark Occhilupo (AUS) who snuck in tube with less than a minute to go but fortunately for Parkinson he will live to fight another day as Occhilupo failed to find the score he needed.
In yet another case of wildcard domination Bruno Santos from Brazil turned some heads when he closed the 2006 tour door on Fanning and Danny Wills (AUS).
Santos was in no way fazed by the task and after a tradesman-like performance he will now find himself alongside his heroes in round two.
"I have been travelling to Hawaii for many years and I always stay with my good friend Jamie O'Brien right here at Pipeline," said Santos. "I love surfing here, it's my favourite spot in the world. I feel really comfortable out there and I'm so stoked to get through."
Santos also defeated former tour legend Rob Machado (USA) and was abuzz with himself.
"I started out with a few good waves and then Rob (Machado) pulled ahead," said Santos. "The lefts were really open today so I focused on those. Rob got a really good one at the end and I got one just after and I was lucky that it worked out better for me."
Organisers of the Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters will return to the beach at first light tomorrow morning to make a call for round two.
It is anticipated that there will be swell tomorrow but as to whether it will be suitable for competition will be determined at around 7am.
Head to the www.aspworldtour.com media centre for all transcribed athlete quotes and heat by heat updates.
ROUND ONE RESULTS
Heat 1: 1. Peterson Rosa (BRA) 14.17; 2. Dean Morrison (AUS) 11.50; 3. Randall Paulson (HAW) 7.77; 4. Toby Martin (AUS) 5.13
Heat 2: 1. Kalani Chapman (HAW) 15.33; 2. Pedro Henrique (BRA) 9.16; 3. Darren O'Rafferty (AUS) 8.84; Phil MacDonald (AUS) 7.23
Heat 3: 1. Tom Whitaker (AUS); 2. Tory Baron (HAW) 11.00; 3. Davey Weare (ZAF) 7.17; 4. Victor Ribas (BRA) 6.83
Heat 4: Evan Valiere (HAW) 16.33; 2. Bobby Martinez (USA) 13.27; 3. Adrian Buchan (AUS) 6.66; Shaun Cansdell (AUS) 2.86
Heat 5: 1. Damien Hobgood (USA) 16.40; 2. Yuri Sodre (BRA) 9.24; 3. Makua Rothman (HAW) 8.50; 4. Adriano de Souza (BRA) 3.86
Heat 6: 1. Hank Gaskell (HAW); 2. Joel Parkinson (AUS); 3. Mark Occhilupo (AUS) 10.04; Ben Dunn (AUS) 8.67
Heat 7: 1. Travis Logie (ZAF) 16.16; 2. Dustin Barca (HAW) 10.84; 3. Taj Burrow (AUS) 9.84; 4. Kekoa Bacalso (HAW) 7.44
Heat 8: 1. Jamie O'Brien (HAW) 18.86; 2. Kelly Slater (USA) 17.14; 3. Trent Munro (AUS) 12.94; Heiarii Williams (PYF) 7.20
Heat 9: 1. Bruno Santos (BRA) 13.27; 2. Rob Machado (USA) 11.90; 3. Mick Fanning (AUS) 9.94; Danny Wills (AUS) 6.23
Heat 10: 1. Andy Irons (HAW) 17.50; 2. Ian Walsh (HAW) 9.10; 3. Nathan Carroll (HAW) 4.26; 4. Greg Emslie (ZAF) 2.53
Heat 11: 1. Michael Lowe (AUS) 11.33; 2. Tamayo Perry (HAW); 3. Taylor Knox (USA) 7.50; 4. Jarrad Howse (AUS) 7.03
Heat 12: 1. Bruce Irons (HAW) 19.90; 2. Jake Paterson (AUS) 13.24; 3. Roy Powers (HAW) 12.06; 4. Solomon Ortiz (HAW) 10.17
Heat 13: Chris Ward (USA) 13.83; 2. Aamion Goodwin (HAW) 11.77; 3. Jamie Sterling (HAW) 9.50; Bede Durbidge (AUS) 2.67
Heat 14: 1. Reef McIntosh (HAW) 18.27; 2. Luke Stedman (AUS) 15.67; 3. Marcelo Nunes (BRA) 11.66; 4. Fred Patacchia (HAW) 11.34
Heat 15: 1. Reef McIntosh (HAW) 18.27; 2. Luke Stedman (AUS) 15.67; 3. Marcelo Nunes (BRA) 11.66; 4. Fred Patacchia (HAW) 11.34
Heat 16: 1. Cory Lopez (USA) 11.84; 2. Nathan Hedge (AUS) 9.86; Owen Wright (AUS) 5.57; 4. Troy Brooks (AUS) 5.47