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Three-time ASP world champion Andy Irons of Kauai defeated former world champion Sunny Garcia and reigning ISA world champion Jordy Smith today. CLICK FOR LARGE
Irons begins quest to retain title
The Kauai native ousts former champs in opener of Op Pro
What a difference a day, some decent Hawaii waves and the most elite surfers in the world can make.
At Haleiwa's Alii Beach, the highest seeds hit the water for the first time yesterday in the 22nd annual men's Op Pro Hawaii.
After feeble swell action for the first two of four competition days in the contest that also serves as the opener to the men's Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, on the third day the big names and those who survived to meet them finally unleashed their big moves in 4- to 10-foot-face waves.
With the women's series opener already over, it was the first real Hawaii surf of any kind for both the men and women's Triple Crowns so far this year.
Besides individual contest titles, the Triple Crown also awards its own championship title to the top overall performer in the three events.
"It's been really bad, so I'm glad at least these waves are here," said defending overall Triple Crown champion Andy Irons of Kauai, also a former three-time world champ, the 2001 event winner and currently the world's fifth-ranked surfer.
"I want to defend my (Triple Crown) title, and I always like to do well here," he added. "There're three events and we're a long way away, but I'm through my first heat."
The last eight heats of the fourth round and all of the fifth were completed yesterday. The Op Pro will likely conclude its final competition day today. The holding period ends tomorrow.
The Op Pro is a 6-star World Qualifying Series event. But because it is part of the Triple Crown, most of the world's top 45, surfers who normally compete on the elite World Championship Tour, also participate.
Surfing for the first time in the fifth round, Irons easily won his heat with a 13.13 (out of 20) total points for his top two waves and advanced to the final day.
Other Hawaii surfers competing for the first time in the fifth round and winning their heats were Irons' younger brother, Bruce (world No. 15), Fred Patacchia Jr. (No. 14) and Roy Powers (No. 38).
Bruce Irons notched one of the highest individual scores of the contest after successfully stringing together four critical off-the-top maneuvers for a near-perfect 9.17 in his heat.
"I'm glad to get my groove back in Hawaii," Bruce Irons said. "I got that one wave, but it's tricky out there."
A WQS surfer, Makakilo's Joel Centeio, was the only other local to move on to the final day after a runner-up result in his heat.
Other big names to win their fifth-rounders included world No. 2 and 2005 Triple Crown runner-up Mick Fanning (15.13 total points) and No. 3 Taj Burrow (16.06). Both are from Australia.
Having already sealed his record eighth world championship this year, Kelly Slater of Florida is not participating in the Op Pro, but will compete in the Triple Crown's final two jewels.
The Triple Crown "is really the second thing in my life, other than the world title, that I really want to win," Fanning said. "I'd love to win an event here in Hawaii too; I've got three (second-place results), so I'd like to get a win."
Two of the biggest names eliminated from the competition after surfing for the first time in the fifth round were Hawaii's Pancho Sullivan and Sunny Garcia.
The defending Op Pro champ and No. 26 Sullivan needed a 6.68 score on a wave he caught with just seconds remaining in his heat to advance as the runner-up, but instead got a 6.23 and finished third.
Record six-time Triple Crown and five-time event winner Garcia came out of retirement, and off recently receiving a delayed sentence for tax fraud, to again compete. While he notched a heat-high 6.93 single-wave score in the fifth-rounder won by Andy Irons, he could not get another solid mark to back it up and also placed third.