VANS TRIPLE CROWN
SEAN ROWLAND / ASP COVERED IMAGES
Andy Irons barely survived his fourth-round heat yesterday.
Irons advances in Hawaiian Pro
Kauai's Andy Irons competed yesterday in his first Vans Triple Crown of Surfing heat since overcoming a deficit in the last 5 minutes last year to win what many called the most exciting Pipeline Masters final ever.
And the champ hasn't lost his flair for the dramatic during the 11 months in between.
Hitting the water for the first time at Haleiwa after being seeded directly into the fourth round of the Reef Hawaiian Pro -- the first major Hawaii contest of three that make up the Triple Crown series -- and in danger of being eliminated for most of his 25-minute heat, Irons successfully squeezed his way through a barrel ride with only 2 minutes remaining for a 6.27 (out of 10) wave score.
The mark pushed the defending event and overall series winner from third place into second, allowing him to advance to the fourth and final day of competition for the Hawaiian Pro, which will be held either tomorrow or Saturday.
"I got the score I needed and I'm stoked to get through the round," Irons, 29, said. "I definitely want to do well and have a good showing again. After you get a taste of winning, you want it again and again."
A former three-time world champion, Irons is currently the fifth-ranked surfer in the world.
Last season, Irons delivered the most dominant performance in the 24 previous years of the Triple Crown by winning the Hawaiian Pro, placing third in the World Cup of Surfing at Sunset Beach and finishing with a near-perfect heat score from two rides in the final 5 minutes to take the Pipeline Masters trophy from record eight-time world champion Kelly Slater of Florida by just 2 points.
In search of his third Hawaiian Pro and fifth Triple Crown overall titles, Irons wasn't nearly as close to flawless yesterday. But in the extremely challenging and large 8- to 15-foot-face surf, he did what he had to in the closing ticks of the clock again.
Irons' 6.27 on his second-to-last wave was added to a 5.83 he received for his first only a minute into the heat, giving him a 12.10 total for his top pair and the transfer position to the next round. His final wave came with just about 20 seconds remaining, and Irons caught it only to prevent Australia's Nic Muscroft from being able to ride it and potentially knock Irons out of second place.
In a first heat of a contest, "sometimes it's hard to get a rhythm going, hard to get back into form," said Irons, who in addition to surfing in the Triple Crown, will marry longtime girlfriend Lyndie Dupuis on Sunday. "And the conditions are tricky and all over the place. Waves can be on the outside, on the inside, and there's a lot of rip (current) in between."
Roy Powers, also from Kauai, won the heat with 13.30 total points. Muscroft (9.00) finished third and Oahu's Daniel Jones (4.83) fourth, and both were eliminated from the competition.
The last six heats of the third round and 14 of 16 in the fourth were completed yesterday.
Australia's Mick Fanning, the new world champion after already putting this year's race out of reach before the start of the Triple Crown, won his fourth-rounder with 17.50 points -- the best heat total of the day.
Some of the other notable names to also move on were: world No. 2 Taj Burrow (Australia), No. 6 Bede Durbidge (Australia), former world champ C.J. Hobgood (Florida) and 2006 Hawaiian Pro finalist Mikael Picon (France).
Picon won his fourth-round heat and eliminated Hawaii's Sunny Garcia (fourth place) and Fred Patacchia (third) in the process. Garcia -- the record five-time Hawaiian Pro and six-time Triple Crown series champ -- managed to catch just one wave in the heat after not getting into the lineup until 5 minutes had already passed after reportedly getting caught in traffic coming from Sunset Beach.
"To beat Sunny and Fred -- they are some of the best out at Haleiwa," said Picon, who finished fourth in the event last year. "I went old-school style -- rode a big board to catch a lot of waves -- and tried to do my best."
Besides Irons and Powers, other Hawaii surfers remaining among the 36 overall still in the draw are: 2005 Hawaiian Pro winner and current No. 12 Pancho Sullivan, Irons' younger brother Bruce Irons, Granger Larsen, Ian Walsh, Sean Moody, Tonino Benson, Nathan Carroll, Evan Valiere, Mason Ho, Makua Rothman and Dusty Payne.
Slater is not participating in the Hawaiian Pro.