O’Brien scores at Pipe
Winning a surf contest at the Banzai Pipeline does not always involve solely having the skill to navigate through one large and perfectly shaped tube after another.
On some winter days, even this most celebrated of North Shore breaks can be temperamental, offering small surf and multiple barrel rides only for those who know it intimately.
Yesterday at the 24th annual Billabong/Monster Energy Pipeline Pro happened to be one of those days. And defending champion Jamie O'Brien -- who lives at a house fronting the spot -- happens to be one of those guys.
In the 4- to 6-foot-face waves that were primarily barreling only over the nearly exposed reef of the right-breaking sections known as Backdoor and Off-The-Wall, O'Brien scored several successful tube rides and scores of 9.00 (out of 10) and 7.25 points for his best pair to win his third-round heat with a 16.25 total.
His top score came at around the midpoint of the 20-minute heat and after he logged at least 5 seconds underneath the wave's curtain before shooting out the exit.
"It becomes a lot more about luck when it's this small, but you can still put yourself in the right position to make the right thing happen," the 24-year-old O'Brien said. "I definitely forced that wave. I made sure I stayed in (the tube) as long as possible -- stuck my arm into the wave to slow down in the barrel, and released it when I needed speed.
"I surf here every day, regardless of what size it is, so I know the reefs, know where it's shallow, know where to be. You spend enough time out here, you can see a good one coming in and pick it from the bunch."
After securing his spot among the final 32 for the World Qualifying Series event, O'Brien has a chance to win it for a third time (also in 2003). Top performers in the Pipeline Pro earn wild-card spots into the year-ending Pipeline Masters -- the longest-running and most prestigious professional event in the world, which O'Brien also won in 2004.
Only four third-round heats were run yesterday before organizers switched over to the Honolua Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic. Advancing out of those heats along with O'Brien were Fred Patacchia Jr., Nathan Carroll, Dustin Barca, Dustin Cuizon, Anthony Walsh, Justin McBride and Daniel Jones.
All but Walsh (Australia) and McBride (California) are from Hawaii, demonstrating how much local knowledge factored in. Further proof came when Florida's Sterling Spencer notched the highest individual wave score -- a 9.50 -- of the day for a long right-handed barrel ride, but could not back it up with another solid score and finished last in his four-man heat.
The final day of the Pipeline Pro will be held today, the last day of the competition's waiting period.
In the 36th Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic, the Big Island's Mike Stewart claimed his 11th career win at the event and the $1,000 first prize. The Classic is one of the top events in the world for bodysurfers, and resumed this year after being canceled in 2007 due to permit problems.
Stewart -- also a nine-time world champion bodyboarder -- earned his first victory at the Classic since 2004 after besting a field that included 59 other competitors. Finishing in order behind Stewart in the six-man final were: Frederic David, Gavin Kennelly, defending champ Steve Kapela, Mark Cunningham and Todd Sells. All the finalists but France's David are from Hawaii.