TONY CANO / XTREMEPHOTOS.COM
Andy Irons got some air to end his 10-point ride yesterday at Banzai Pipeline.
Triple Crown means the world to Irons
The surfer seals the series by winning the Pipeline Masters after a No. 2 world tour finish
Andy Irons already knew this year would end without him claiming the surfing world title for the first time in four years. But that didn't mean the champ suddenly forgot how to win big or finish strong, either.
Irons won the season-ending 35th annual Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters yesterday, and with the victory also took this year's Vans Triple Crown of Surfing series championship.
The 27-year-old from Hanalei, Kauai, has now won the Pipeline Masters and Triple Crown in three of the last four years. He also won both in 2002 and 2003, when he picked up the first two of his three straight world championships.
"Kelly (Slater) got the world title, but winning the Pipe Masters and Triple Crown definitely means a lot," said Irons, who finished as the world No. 2 this year after Florida's Slater sealed the 2005 -- and his record seventh -- world championship last month in Brazil. "This shows I don't give up. Even with the world title being done, I wasn't over with my year. I still wanted to win events, and do well in every one. It just shows that I am a serious competitor and I love to win."
The Pipeline Masters is the longest-running and most prestigious professional contest in the world. It is also the third and final jewel of the Triple Crown, a series of big-wave events on Oahu's North Shore that awards its own championship title to the best overall performer in the three contests.
Waves were in the 8- to 12-foot-face range, with occasional bigger sets, at the famed Banzai Pipeline for the fourth and final day of Pipeline Masters competition.
In the 35-minute, four-man final, Irons tallied the only perfect 10 individual-wave score of the day for his opening ride, and he ended up winning with 17.33 points for his top two rides.
Irons scored the 10 about 13 minutes in, after nabbing a 12-foot right in the section known as Backdoor and riding through two separate barreling sections on the wave before attempting a courageous but unsuccessful high-flying aerial on the closeout section at the end. He added a 7.33 with 8 minutes remaining after getting barreled and doing a couple of hard turns on a Pipeline left -- the fourth of his five total rides in the decider.
Irons picked up $30,000 for winning the Pipeline Masters and another 10 grand for taking the Triple Crown title.
"I came into the Triple Crown wanting to do well, but had a slow start," Irons said. "I finally got some momentum (at the second jewel) at Sunset (by finishing as the runner-up), and then to win at Pipe -- I'm over-the-moon stoked."
Mick Fanning of Australia finished in second place in the final with 12.33 total points, and he also was the runner-up to Irons for the Triple Crown championship.
Fanning, who finished as the world No. 3, had the early lead in the final, and retook it again later, even with Irons' perfect score. But he could not withstand Irons' charge during the last third of the heat, when Irons reassumed the lead and continued to build on it.
"This is probably the best Triple Crown I've ever done," said the 24-year-old Fanning, who also finished second at the first jewel at Haleiwa last month. "To get my personal-best second here at Pipe, I've had a great six weeks and I'm very happy with myself. ... Andy's a pretty tough guy to beat, but I'll get him one day."
Irons' younger brother Bruce, the 2001 Pipeline Masters winner, made his second straight final in the event and finished third with 11.33 points. With the result, the 26-year-old Bruce Irons ascended three spots, to No. 9, in the final world rankings.
The North Shore's Kalani Chapman made it all the way through a 40-man trials segment just to qualify for the Pipeline Masters, and then he surfed his way through most of the 48-man, main-event draw composed primarily of World Championship Tour surfers to finish fourth overall, with 6.37.
After basically alternating one- and two-spot finishes with Slater as both advanced through heats in the main event, Chapman managed to eliminate the record five-time Pipeline Masters winner in the semifinals, largely helped by an interference call on Slater after he and Chapman battled for the same wave.
"It's pretty much been all a blur," said the 23-year-old Chapman of his experience. "I was intimidated by those (WCT) guys, but I just had to ignore it and do what I could do. It's been a dream come true for me to be up (on the finalists' podium) with these guys."
Last year's Pipeline Masters champ, Jamie O'Brien (Hawaii), was eliminated in the first quarterfinal yesterday by heat-winner Fanning and runner-up Hobgood.
Pancho Sullivan (Hawaii), the winner of the first Triple Crown jewel, finished third overall in the series after also going down in the quarters.
After winning a record sixth Triple Crown title last year, Hawaii's Sunny Garcia was eliminated in the Irons brothers' semifinal. Garcia finished fifth in the series.
The 2000 world champ as well, Garcia is now officially retired after two decades on the world tour -- as is Luke Egan, who also started in 1986.
"Me and Luke started out together, and we've been friends ever since. What better way to go out than with your best friend, and losing to the future of Hawaiian surfing," Garcia, 35, said.