Irons taps into Pipe again
A tube late in the final vaults him past Slater for the Pipeline Masters and Triple Crown titles
It was a four-surfer final at the Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters yesterday. But it turned into an epic two-man battle between Andy Irons and Kelly Slater, with Irons coming from behind for arguably the most dramatic win in the event's 36-year history.
For most of the decider, Florida's Slater seemed well on his way to extending his own record with a sixth career victory in the most prestigious and longest-running professional event in the world.
But in the last 5 minutes of the 35-minute heat, Kauai's Irons amazingly delivered a 9.87 score and then a perfect 10 to snatch the win from the current and record eight-time world champion. It allowed Irons to claim his second straight Pipeline Masters title and fourth in the last five years.
"Kelly had me really beat bad in the beginning," said the 28-year-old Irons, who picked up $30,000 with the win. "I was frustrated, but things really worked out when I needed them to. I never count myself out. I was at the right spot at the right time, and that's usually what it takes. I got the last laugh."
Waves were in the 8- to 12-foot-face range and breaking both left and right at the infamous Banzai Pipeline for the third and final competition day of what serves as the finale for both the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing and World Championship Tour.
Only 8 minutes into the final, Slater scored a 9.00 after successfully getting barreled twice on a right-breaking wave in the section known as Backdoor. He added an 8.53 10 minutes later that left Irons, Cory Lopez (Florida) and Rob Machado (California) each needing a combination of high scores just to get back into contention.
Only Irons proved up to the challenge. He first scored an 8.43 with about 12 minutes remaining to chip away at Slater's advantage, and then notched the 9.87 5 minutes after that to take the lead. Both scores came after Irons successfully rode through left-handed tubes.
Still, Slater added an 8.73 so that Irons had barely more than a half-point advantage when both he and Slater paddled for the same Backdoor set with 2 minutes left. But with Irons having position priority for the wave, Slater was forced to back off. Irons pulled into the extremely deep and long barrel and, after exiting, was rewarded with the perfect mark and a near-perfect 19.87 points for his top two waves.
Irons has now beaten Slater in the final of three of his four Pipeline Masters wins, and trails him by just one victory for their careers. And he's the biggest reason the Floridian has gone without a win in the event since 1999.
"(Slater is) an amazing surfer," Irons said, "but he's out at the same spot I am. And if the waves come, I'm gonna be there and do what it takes. If Kelly had caught that wave he would've won, but I showed him I'm not going away quietly, that I'm going to fight back."
Slater finished with 17.73 total points and in second place. Lopez placed third with 12.50, while 2000 event winner Machado took fourth with 8.96.
"That was quite a shootout," the 34-year-old Slater said. "I made a few errors, like I should've been leaning harder on Andy as far as paddle battles go. I didn't let him have those (high-scoring) waves, but I could've made it more difficult. I honestly never felt comfortable with the lead I had."
After making his third straight Triple Crown contest final this year and winning two of them, Irons also won his fourth career Triple Crown championship, which goes to the best overall performer in the three North Shore events.
Irons is now tied with Derek Ho (Hawaii) for the second-most Triple Crown titles, and is only two behind matching the record six by Sunny Garcia (Hawaii).
Irons also won three straight world championships from 2002 to 2004. With yesterday's result, he moved up three spots in the final world rankings to finish No. 2 to Slater for the second year in a row. Slater sealed this year's world championship before the Pipeline Masters.
"I can't think of a better way to lose the world title," Irons said. "I ended this year on a high note, and I'm going to go home and get ready for next year."