Smaller surf greets Pipeline challengers
The 35th annual Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters' main event began yesterday. But the main course has yet to be served.
All 48 international surfers in the draw hit the water at the famed Banzai Pipeline on Oahu's North Shore for the main event's first round, the only non-elimination round in the longest-running and most prestigious professional contest in the world.
Surfers who won their three-man heats yesterday automatically advanced to the third round, and the others were relegated to the second round, where four-man heats begin with eliminations for the bottom two in each.
Defending Pipeline Masters champion Jamie O'Brien was among the winners. The 22-year-old who lives at a house right at the break added a 3.00 (out of a 10-point maximum) score to a previous 8.17, for a quick barrel with only seconds remaining to snatch his heat with a two-wave high of 11.17 points.
"I was really happy to get that wave at the end," O'Brien said. "I knew the other guys were too far inside and that I only need a small score to get through. So I just took off, and luckily I got that barrel."
The Pipeline Masters is the third and final jewel in the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, a prestigious series of big-wave events at premier North Shore venues. The contest is also the season finale for the World Championship Tour.
Waves were in the 6- to 12-foot-face range yesterday, significantly smaller than the triple-overhead sets regularly rolling through the day before, when the Pipeline Masters began with its trials segment. Conditions permitting, the contest will continue today, needing at least two more days of competition to run to completion and to finish by Dec. 20.
Other Hawaii surfers to win their heats and get a round off from competition were three-time world and two-time overall Triple Crown champion Andy Irons of Kauai, who won this event in 2002 and 2003; his younger brother, Bruce (the 2001 Pipeline Masters winner); and current world No. 13 Fred Patacchia Jr.
"It was just good to have a win out of the three-man heat as the waves were really hard today," said the current world No. 2 Andy Irons after tallying 11.84 total points for his top two waves to take his heat.
"To win here again would be a dream come true," he said.
Other notables to win their first-rounders included world No. 10 Cory Lopez (Florida), No. 6 Trent Munro (Australia) and the winner of the second jewel of the Triple Crown, Jake Paterson (Australia). No. 5 Damien Hobgood (Florida) advanced straight to the third round with the highest overall heat score of the day, 17.33 points, and California's Tim Reyes won the final first-rounder after being greatly helped by the only perfect 10 single-wave score of the day.
Kelly Slater of Florida, who sealed his record seventh world title last month, is among the big names who have to surf in the second round. Slater has won the Pipeline Masters a record five times.
Pupukea's Pancho Sullivan, the winner of the first jewel and the current Triple Crown series leader, will also surf in the second round, as will Sunset Beach's Sunny Garcia, the defending and record six-time Triple Crown champ.