BILLABONG PIPELINE MASTERS
Pipe specialists rule the day
In terms of waves, yesterday was hardly special at the Banzai Pipeline for the 37th annual Billabong Pipeline Masters. And it was a particularly bad day to be a World Championship Tour surfer.
But it was a great one for a clear majority of the 16 "Pipeline Specialists" making their entrance into the contest that serves as the WCT finale as well as the last of three major Hawaii contests that make up the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing.
The specialists received second-round spots in the predominantly WCT draw because of the prestige of the contest and uniqueness of the break. Twelve of the 16 managed to defeat their WCT opponents in head-to-head matchups in the wind-whipped and relatively small 6- to 10-foot-face waves.
"We have the home-court advantage, we spend every day out here," said the North Shore's Mikala Jones, who scored 16.00 (out of 20) total points for his top two waves in his second-rounder to eliminate Australian WCT competitor Shaun Cansdell (12.60). "It's a very tricky wave, and in this day and age, to be a good Pipe surfer, you gotta be (skilled) all-around."
Many expert observers initially felt that the average to, at times, sub-par conditions on the second of four days of the Pipeline Masters would level the playing field between the WCT surfers and the Pipeline Specialists -- perhaps even switching the advantage to the elite tour members who compete at a wide variety of breaks around the globe.
But just as they excel when the Pipeline turns on with some of the best barreling waves anywhere, the specialists thrived also in the challenging conditions that offered nary a single tube ride in some heats and forced the surfers to execute more carving maneuvers.
All but one of the 16 specialists make their home in Hawaii. Manoa Drollet of Tahiti was one of the four who lost, but he was taken down by one of the few strong WCT performers yesterday -- Australia's Kai Otton and his nearly flawless 19.33 total, the highest heat score in two days so far.
"Everyone thinks (the specialists) are just barrel riders, but we all surf this whole stretch of beach and, if we have to do turns, we can do turns," said Maui's Ian Walsh, who defeated Brazil's Leonardo Neves, No. 18 on the WCT and the runner-up at the Triple Crown's second jewel earlier this month. Walsh totaled a mere 8.40 points for his top two waves, but Neves could manage only 5.93, proving how difficult the conditions were in some heats.
"Not to take anything away from these 'CT guys," Walsh added, "but all (the specialists) are definitely contenders in any conditions."
The group of winning specialists also included Roy Powers (Kauai), Jamie O'Brien (Oahu) and Makuakai Rothman (Oahu).
Besides Cansdell and Neves, some of the other big names to go down were Damien Hobgood (Florida), Taylor Knox (California) and record six-time Triple Crown champion Sunny Garcia.
Winners in the four-man first-round heats Tuesday -- like WCT star and two-time defending Pipeline Masters champ Andy Irons of Kauai -- automatically moved on to the fourth round.