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Oahu's Mark Healy caught this Backdoor Pipeline tube on the way to a first-round win.
Monster ride for Rutherford at Pipeline Pro
For David Rutherford, surfing the Banzai Pipeline is like riding a bike.
Seven years had passed since the Mexican surfer had last taken on the Pipeline, but Rutherford hit the water yesterday at the 24th annual Monster Energy Pipeline Pro and promptly scored a near-perfect 9.60 (out of 10) mark after successfully riding through the best left-breaking barrel of the contest's first day.
In far-from-idyllic Pipeline conditions and less than 5 minutes into his first-round heat, the 24-year-old pro nabbed an 8-foot-face set for his first wave and, after the bottom dropped out from under him, was able to pull in and race cleanly through the deep tube for the highest scoring ride of the event so far.
Waves ranged from only 6 to 8 feet and barrel rides were hard to come by because of tricky winds. Four trials heats, all 16 heats of the first round and the first three of 16 for the second were completed.
"It's pretty much about luck (in these conditions) -- whoever is in the right position at the right time," said Rutherford, adding that he typically prefers to surf elsewhere along the North Shore because Pipeline is so crowded with elite surfers on good non-contest days. "I saw that wave coming ... and I was lucky enough to get it and get that score."
Rutherford added a 3.50 wave later in the heat to go on to win it with 13.10 total points for his best two rides. He advanced to the second of three days needed for the prestigious 3-star World Qualifying Series event that began with an international field of 136 surfers.
In addition to getting lucky, Rutherford admitted that he's very comfortable riding in the tube as he gets plenty of practice for it at his home break of Puerto Escondido, which is also known as the "Mexican Pipeline," though it has a sandy bottom instead of a razor-sharp reef like the real one.
Peru's Gabriel Villaran -- a Pipeline Pro finalist two years ago and a close friend of Rutherford's -- also advanced through the same first-rounder by placing second (8.50 total points) in the four-man heat. The duo combined to eliminate Pipeline specialist Reef McIntosh of Kauai, who caught the most waves (seven) in the 20-minute frame, but managed only 7.40 for his best two and placed third.
"I respect this place a lot. It's not easy to surf," Rutherford said. "It has so much power even right now, and it's not really big. And I know Reef is one of the best out here, and my buddy Gabriel was in the finals a couple of years ago, so I was really thinking about it out there. But I guess anything can happen."
The contest could continue today, as there is no significant improvement for swell forecast for the waiting period that lasts through next Wednesday, and there are two more days still to run.
Among the other standouts yesterday, North Shore lifeguard David Wassell tallied the highest overall heat score (16.75) in winning his first-rounder before being eliminated in the last heat of the day.
"At any size, Pipeline can be a tough character," said Wassell. "It can make you or break you -- all in the same day, as I just found out."
California's Rob Machado -- the 2006 Pipeline Pro champ -- won both his first- and second-round heats to advance, totaling 15.25 in the latter for the second-best heat score so far. And Pupukea's Pancho Sullivan -- also a former Pipeline Pro winner -- successfully surfed through three total heats for a spot in the third round.
Defending event champ Jamie O'Brien of the North Shore has yet to surf after being seeded directly into third round. Same for some of the other big names, like three-time former world champion Andy Irons and brother Bruce Irons of Kauai.