BILLABONG PRO MAUI
Australia’s Gilmore ends year with Pro Maui title
A day after sealing her first world championship in her rookie year on tour, Australia's Stephanie Gilmore ended her year by winning the Billabong Pro Maui yesterday at Honolua Bay.
The 19-year-old sensation defeated defending event champ Jessi Miley-Dyer (Australia) in the decider of the event that served as the women's World Championship Tour finale for her fourth contest victory in eight tour events this season. Gilmore received the $12,000 top prize along with the Billabong title.
The Billabong also served as the third and final major Hawaii contest in the women's Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. Besides awarding individual contest titles, the series also awards its own championship to the top overall performer in the three events.
After taking home the first jewel and making the semifinals and then quarters in the last two, Waialua's Megan Abubo won this year's Triple Crown title. She is only the second local woman (Keala Kennelly in 2003) to win the prestigious series championship in the 10-year history of the women's Triple Crown.
"I feel like I'm surfing the best I've ever surfed in my career," said the 29-year-old veteran, who received a limited-edition Chevy Colorado truck as her Triple Crown prize.
‘Occy’ goes back in time
In a year that witnessed the first Australian world surfing champion since Mark Occhilupo won the title in 1999, the legend known simply as "Occy" experienced the final heat of his quarter-century career yesterday at the 37th annual Billabong Pipeline Masters.
A Pipeline Masters winner in 1985 as a 19-year-old, the 41-year-old Occhilupo was narrowly defeated by countryman Troy Brooks in the third round of the longest-running pro contest in the world.
Brooks scored a solid ride in the closing minute of the heat to boost his top-two-wave total to 9.94 (out of 20) points, topping Occhilupo's 8.93 tally and eliminating the athlete who helped define power surfing for the past 25 years. He pushed the limits of backside turns as much as anyone in history.
"I'm happy, sad -- I don't know what to feel," said Occhilupo, after he was carried on the shoulders of some his fellow Aussie surfers to the contest stage to address a cheering crowd.
His plans for retirement after the Pipeline Masters were known and he said he's been trying to prepare himself mentally for it, but added: "It hasn't hit yet. Maybe when I get alone it might hit. ... Those emotions come in waves, and I haven't had that kind of a wave yet, but I'm sure it will happen."
Occhilupo will still compete in select events through wild cards, but will no longer be a full-time World Championship Tour competitor. His young mate, Mick Fanning, became the first Aussie since Occy to win the men's world championship after accumulating enough points to seal this year's title before the Pipeline Masters.
In addition to serving as the WCT finale, the Pipeline Masters is the third and final major Hawaii contest in the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing.
Waves were in the 5- to 8-foot-face range yesterday, and only a half-day of competition -- the entire third round -- was held before Triple Crown officials decided to halt the event at midday because of quickly deteriorating conditions. At least two more competition days will be needed by next Thursday to complete the event.
"We're expecting swells again on Sunday, and again later in the week, so with more waves on the way we opted to hold back for better conditions," Triple Crown executive director Randy Rarick said.
Florida's Kelly Slater -- the record five-time Pipeline Masters champ -- and Hawaii's Fred Patacchia were among the other third-round winners.
Slater surfed in the first heat of the morning and tallied 15.17 total points to handily defeat local Mikey Bruneau (6.10), one of the 16 "Pipeline Specialists" granted spots in the primarily WCT draw because of the prestige of the event and uniqueness of the break. After 12 of the 16 won their second-round match-ups on Thursday, only four specialists remain after the third round in the draw that was pared down to 32 surfers.
"It was a little bumpy, little 'warbly,' but there's a few waves," said Slater, who is also a record eight-time world champion and introduced the new dual-heat format that is being used in the Pipeline Masters this year.
The format essentially allows the surfers to compete head-to-head as they do in other WCT events around the world, but still satisfies Honolulu County regulations of having four total competitors in the water at a time (two simultaneous man-on-man heats, with wave priority switching halfway into the 30-minute allotments). "It creates more room in the water," Slater said.
On the verge of losing his spot on the elite WCT reserved for the world's top 45 surfers, Patacchia scored 11.33 total points to defeat fellow local and 2004 Pipeline Masters winner Jamie O'Brien (10.10). Patacchia needs to advance to at least the fifth round to qualify for next year's WCT.
Hawaii surfers Roy Powers and Makuakai Rothman were among the other surfers eliminated in the third round. Powers won the first jewel of this year's Triple Crown, and Rothman the second, but both are no longer in contention for the series title that goes to the top overall performer across the three events.
Current series leader Bede Durbidge (Australia) and Fanning are the only two surfers still with a chance for the Triple Crown title, and they -- along with two-time defending Pipeline Masters champ Andy Irons of Kauai -- surfed well enough in the first round of the contest on Tuesday to receive byes into the fourth round.